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UMIAT, AK—Umiat is a strange little ghost town. A generation ago the oil industry made it famous, but now no more than three people live here. O.J. is the town’s only year-round resident and self-proclaimed mayor. The town is full of abandoned trailers that look similar to those you find on construction sites. The front of the office we met at had several moose and caribou racks above the door along with a sign that read “Umiat Hilton.”
We paid $1,000 to rent three small rafts, life jackets, and paddles (plus a few patch kits and foot pumps), which we rented from Bob and O.J. (Our rental fee also including O.J. flying to Nuiqsut to pick up the rafts ten days later). Quickly we were off to the Colville River, which is only slightly smaller in width than the Ohio or the Missouri. It is a large river, draining the entire north side of the Brooks Mountains. It was cold (from snow melt) and very muddy. We loaded our rafts, said our goodbye’s, and began our journey.
MAYDAY! MAYDAY! Within fifteen minutes of our departure onto the Colville Buddy and Dan’s raft was out of sight. I was in the small red raft and Mike and George were in the other. Without warning Mike and George’s raft suddenly began to sink. The raft nearly sank before they were able to get to shore. George had to hold up the side of the raft and Mike had to paddle frantically to get there. It was certainly only because of God’s help they were able to get to shore before certain catastrophe. They discovered that some of their gear was on top of a valve and apparently had dislodged it, causing the leak. After getting it pumped up and rearranging some gear, they were on their way again. Knowing how cold the water was and how dangerous hypothermia would have been made Mike choose to ride in a different raft for the remainder of the trip—always listening for that foreboding sound of hissing air.
Because the Liscomb Bone Bed was still far downstream, we wanted to make as much distance on the river as possible. (The Colville flows from south to north and ends in the Arctic Ocean.) As we drifted, we saw occasional rubble tumbling down the one hundred and fifty foot bluff to our left. Falcons soared high above. When the air was still, mosquitos were thick
As evening approached, we decided to make camp on a high sand and gravel bar about 9:00. We were all tired and slept hard, despite the cold weather and short hours of darkness. At 3AM I was awakened by the sun shining brightly into my tent!
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