Adventures on the Yukon and Kuskowim Rivers

by Greg Lincoln

Last week we featured the Yukon/Kuskokwim adventure canoers 22 year old Thomas Dyment and 23 year old Luke Wenger from Bethel who paddled all the way from Fairbanks to Bethel via the Paimute Yukon/Kuskokwim Portage from May 13th to June 9th, 2022. We were able to meet up with them to ask a few questions about their trip.

Congratulations on your epic trip. How did you come up with the idea of canoeing from Fairbanks to Bethel?

Thomas: First we like planned out doing the lakes over by Dillingham in Wood-Tikchik Park.

Luke: Yeah, we were going to go from Aniak to Dillingham, that was the first idea. Then we bought the canoe. It was so expensive to fly it to Bethel.

Thomas: The pilot he didn’t want to fly it out until June or something, or maybe it was July. Something really late, not for us.

Luke: Man, why do we have to spend money to get the canoe to do a trip with this canoe back to Bethel? We should bring it to Bethel.

Thomas: So then we decided we’ll just drive it up north to Fairbanks and try that.

So you went to Anchorage and then drove to Fairbanks?

Luke: Yeah, rented a giant Uhaul – they only had the giant ones left for one little canoe.

Thomas: It was like 27 feet. There was so much space all around it.

People could see your routing online and that was very cool. What kind of GPS system were you using to track your progress?

Thomas: Garmen In-Reach.

Luke: We had two In-reaches. We were using them for maps and also the Gaia GPS app.

Can you tell us about your routing? Starting from Fairbanks, and all your pitstops, I know you stopped in Galena.

Thomas: Yeah, that was our biggest stop coming down (Galena). We stopped in Tanana for a split second and bought some snacks there.

Luke: And Nenana was the first stop.

Thom: Oh yeah, Auntie Leah came by and brought us a battery. A solar panel – we had this battery that connected to charge up, it broke the first day.

Luke: Yeah, say thank you to Auntie Leah and Jack in the newspaper. It was an old battery. So we passed by Galena, Kaltag, Anvik, and Holy Cross. We stopped in Holy cross really early in the morning. We got there like at 6:30 in the morning.

What was the last village before portaging?

Holy Cross was our last stop.

Did you take a detour on the Innoko River?

Thomas: Our original plan was to go up the Innoko River from the Yukon, and go up the Iditarod River all the way to Old Flat – an old mining town, and portage that to Crooked Creek. That would have been about like a 20 mile portage.

Luke: It was 200 miles up the Iditarod. We wanted to see Kyle Inman in Crooked Creek. He used to work at the fire department, really cool guy. We were going to say hi to him. We thought it would have been so cool, he would have been so surprised.

Thomas: We went up the Iditarod River and it was so flooded, the water was so high. We had some folks telling us that there were some floodlands over there. The water was above the willows over the tundra.

Luke: They weren’t lying. There was this much willows sticking out, you couldn’t even see where the channel was and you couldn’t even camp. Even the Innoko was really high – we were having trouble camping there.

Can you tell me about the Paimute/Yukon Kuskokwim portgage? I heard that there were three lakes that were dried up and the fourth one was okay. How did you cross those dry lakes?

Luke: Yeah, that was like a big cross right there. Just really slow dragging the boat. It was all muskeg tundra. It just took a long time.

Thomas: We were trying to find little streams and little ponds and it was so difficult.

Luke: The map. We used an old US geological survey map and I think it hadn’t been updated in a really long time because all the sloughs were different and all the lakes were all dried up and different. Even Bethel looked different from when the old Airforce base was across the river. Oh man, old map.

Thomas: The map we used was not very updated.

Did you run into anything scary? Any mishaps?

Thomas: Lot of cows and calves hanging around in the sloughs.

Luke: In that portage section there was a cow and calf that kept going down the slough for a long time.

Thomas: It wouldn’t leave.

Luke: There was one grizzly but we were in the boat so it was cool.

What would you say to others who want to do something like this? Any advice or words of wisdom?

Luke: Anyone could probably do it. Once you get there you have to keep going so it’s not quite so bad, it’s like you can’t really turn around. Bring a lot of food, a lot of snacks.

Thomas: Snacks is a big thing. Be ready with snacks and a lot of sun.

Luke: Bring sunscreen.

Were there a lot of mosquitoes?

Thomas: They were really bad. We had these shirts, a Canadian company makes these – it’s called the Original Bug Shirt Company. A super nice shirt – that really was a savior.

Luke: Yeah, towards the end they started really showing up.

Okay, what is next? What are your upcoming plans?

Thomas: We got into the paddling community and there are some folks who want to start a race from Fairbanks to Bethel.

Luke: That would be really cool to get that started up.

Thomas: If that gets going we said we’d probably get into that and we also got school coming up in August.

850 river miles of paddling, was it tiring?

Luke: We got used to it after a while. At first we were really slow.

Thomas: We were following the current all the way down until we were trying to go up the Innoko and Iditarod River.

Luke: We did a 150 mile detour doing that, really slow. Innoko was so flooded that going up Paimute Slough was good.

What about choppy water?

Luke: The Kuskokwim was the choppiest ever. Coming up to Church Slough was the biggest water we hit in the whole trip. We couldn’t even hit Church, we tried to cross over and it was so big. We couldn’t even turn we had to keep going up and we went around the big bend.

While you were camping you were cooking some ribs – where was that and where did you get the ribs from?

Thomas: It was a porcupine.

Luke: We were eating mostly birds, we were trying to eat a bird a day at least. We were catching a lot of birds. Geese and ducks, every kind of goose and every kind of duck almost.

Thomas: I saw snowgeese for the first time.

Luke: They were really fat, so marvelous, really good. We got a bunch of them.

Amazing, what a great adventure. Quyana and we wish you the best in all your future endeavors.