Six Miles from Where?

Six Miles from Where?

Six-Mile 1 The 49 Faces project celebrated the launch of our website, Facebook Page, Vimeo Channel, and submitting our Kickstarter project for approval with an 800 mile weekend road trip from our homes in Alaska’s Interior heartland, through the Alaska Range, Talkeetnas, and Chugach Mountains, around Cook Inlet to the root of the Kenai Peninsula and back again. Could there be a better place to find a collection of Alaskans who love outdoor adventure than a whitewater and music festival at Six-Mile Creek near Hope? Adele and I loaded my Tacoma with kayaks, boating and camping gear, a few groceries, and embarked on a whitewater boater’s pilgrimage.


Six Mile Creek is a proving ground. Alaskan whitewater paddlers who think they are ready to “step it up a notch” often test their mettle in Six Mile’s three progressively challenging canyons. Third canyon rapids like Staircase, Suckhole, Zig Zag, Merry Go Round, Jaws, and Junkyard Dog offer lessons in humility to many aspiring boaters. If you have a bad day, it’s much easier to hike to the Hope road and put out your thumb, than it is to discover what the “Fly and Hour, or Walk a Week” air taxi sign hung over the bar in Talkeetna’s Fairview means deep in the Alaskan wilderness.

Six-Mile 2On my first kayak run of Six Mile in the late 1980’s, two Fairbanks paddling partners and I got up the nerve to see what the legendary creek was all about. We were excited to meet kayaking friends from Anchorage and Girdwood at the first canyon put-in to join us on the run. We appreciated their local knowledge and patient encouragement.  At the take out, we reveled in the satisfaction and beauty of our first trip down all three canyons.

On the long road trip home, one proud comrade swaggered into an Anchorage Mexican restaurant. As the cute waitress seated us, he boasted: “We just got back from Six Mile!” Unimpressed, she casually asked, “Six miles from where???”.  (Insert sound of deflating ego.)

Hours later and 200 miles north, I pulled my pickup over near Panorama Peak wondering what had become of my road tripping companions. When the Toyota wagon with yellow and orange roof-mounted torpedos finally appeared in my mirror, I had to ask, “What took you so long?” My ego-deflated but heavy-footed buddy replied, “We ran out of gas six miles from Cantwell”.  I couldn’t resist… ” Six Miles from where???”

Six-Mile 3Twenty-seven years later, Six Mile still feels like a proving ground to me. Never mind that my 28 year old son, Paul, and his paddling buddies regularly do laps in Six Mile’s second and third canyons in six-foot play kayaks. They run it at extreme high water levels when rafts stay away. As early as April or early May, they probe third canyon when it is choked with ice bridges and shelf ice.  Other friends run it in six-pound ultralight pack rafts. And, at last weekend’s 4th annual Six Mile Creek Whitewater and Bluegrass Festival, a few of them even raced down first canyon’s rapids in colorful vinyl pool toys.

With 30 years of kayaking Alaskan rivers under my belt, I’m still intoxicated by the whitewater and rugged beauty of Six-Mile’s canyons. I love the anticipation as I read lines in each drop, adrenaline-fueled reactions to powerful hydraulics, and the serene joy of relaxing in eddies with grinning friends.  Emotional pendulums swing as the river moves you from pure Zen life-in-the-moment, to reminiscing with friends who’ve “got your back” over stories of past epics and misadventures. Celebrating at the take-out and music festival was sweetened by a  quiet pride of paddling the three canyons with a new generation of boating companions.

For Adele and I, our road trip to Six-Mile Festival offered a different kind of proving ground.  We’ve collaborated on the 49 Faces project for months. As we committed to a shared vision of the project, we met over coffee or lunch, talked on hikes and ski-jor outings, developed on-line collaboration tools, texted, e-mailed, chatted and pulled many independent late night sessions on creative project tasks. Intent on honoring deadlines we’d set,  we both blasted out storms of effort before heading south.

Besides celebrating significant milestones (and Adele’s birthday) with a mini “Fun Tour”,  we shared stories, ideas and feedback from friends and family.  We listened to one another pitch our project to hitchhiking backpackers we rescued from a rainy roadside. Introducing one another to old and new friends, we took turns handing out new business cards and sharing the 49 Faces story. Our riverside and campfire conversations with a few people who inspired our iBook project revealed enthusiastic responses to our ideas.Occasionally, Adele peeked at  her iPhone screen, smiling as little red Facebook badges popped up. We high-fived as the 49 Faces page passed the 100, 150, and 200 “like” counts in our first 49 hours!

Rain, a truckload of wet camping and boating gear, and dwindling cooler contents couldn’t dampen the return trip. Fueled on omelets, caffeine, and the audiobook version of Jon Krakauer’s Eiger Dreams, we headed north. Adele napped as I listened to Krakauer’s stories of desperate climbs and insightful adventures. Old friends’ names surfaced in stories of Valdez Ice and Brooks Range trips. Adele drove through Broad Pass and Denali, as I pointed out streams and ridges to explore. After a last rest break for soup, smoked salmon, and coffee at a friend’s cabin in Healy, I took the wheel of the truck, while Adele drove her laptop keyboard.  We mapped tasks and timelines for the next phase of our project, and discussed the challenges that lay downstream. As we pulled up to Adele’s Goldstream cabin, her dogs yipped excitedly under a few of the first stars to appear in deepening late summer twilight. As we unloaded her gear and I headed home, our road-weary eyes couldn’t dim the sparks of excitement about the journeys ahead of us.

We’re looking forward to sharing coming adventures and new stories with our friends and supporters of the 49 Faces of Alaskan Adventures project.

By the way,  if you are an adventurous kayaker or packrafter who loves paddling Six-Mile, I know of a rarely run gem of a creek in the Alaska Range. It’s a bit of a hike in for a stretch of quality whitewater, and it’s only about six miles from our cabin in the Deltas…. “Six miles from where???”


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