Cook Inlet to Bristol Bay trip report
In late July my buddy Brent and I set out to fat bike/packraft the Iliamna portage from Cook Inlet to Bristol Bay. We began our trip with a free ride across CI on the Helenka B. landing craft, captained by Bruce Flanigan. Access to Williams Port in Iliamna Bay is only possible during spring tides. In July this gave us a window of tides around the 23-25th. We ended up crossing from Homer, on the evening of the 24th and arrived around 5:00 AM on the 25th.
The trip across the inlet was beautiful and calm and the company was great, so neither Brent or I slept during the crossing. Once we disembarked from the boat we waited for the light and began riding the well maintained dirt road over the coast mountains to Lake Iliamna. This 17 mile road is perhaps the prettiest road in Alaska. The portage has been in use by Alaska Natives for millennia and is currently maintained by the William's family, who for three generations have operated their shipping/transport business.
After a brief visit with the William's we inflated our rafts and began working our way West along the North shore of Alaska's largest lake. Our goal was to bike as much as possible and after a night of sleep the cycling began. Until we reached Iliamna village we often had to be creative in our route selection, often going inland or swimming with our bikes to avoid using the rafts. Once past Iliamna/Newhalen however the cycling was straight forward beach or tundra trail riding. It took us 7 days to reach the Kvichak River.
While we were traversing the lake the daytime temperatures were in the 70s but when we began paddling down the river the weather changed and got worse and worse the further down we got. The Kvichak is intertidal very far upriver. This in conjunction with gale force headwinds and bottomless mud made the second chapter of our trip much more difficult than the first. We paddled 6 hours, nonstop, at one point to make 4 miles of progress. It would seem logical to just wait for better conditions but the land had absolutely nothing to offer, other than mud and grass growing in mud, so we kept going.
It ended up taking us 4 solid days from Igiugig to Pederson Point where we were able to ride a dirt road to Naknek. I had grossly underestimated the river and wished we had brought a tide book.
We met many awesome and inspiring people on the trip and were invited to use shelter cabins and stay with people more than once. This is an area of the state that is in remarkable transition. If Pebble Mine is permitted this whole route will be transformed and I am incredibly thankful to have seen it as it is. Another bonus to this route at this time of the year is the availability of sockeye. We were able to coax them out of the streams and into our dinner with our very primitive means.
All told the trip took us 11 days from Cook Inlet to King Salmon where we flew back to Anchorage from. I have yet to calculate how much distance we covered on the bikes verses the rafts but I believe that we rode over 80% of the North shore of the lake.
This is an amazing route that I would recommend to anyone looking for a wilderness route through a large and diverse swath of the state.
Here are a few images: Mjölnir Photography: Cook Inlet to Bristol Bay
and here are screenshots of map(s): Mjölnir Photography
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