We tried to get across the Twitya River for five days. Five days of rain. Five days of swollen water. Five days of frustration.
Camped on a gravel bar, and with the water rising, we worked and waited and swam back and forth against the roaring current more times they we remember. We watched the rain failing. We watched the gravel bar get smaller.
After our first failed ferry attempt, Mike and I spent the night on opposite sides of the river. Mike swam across that afternoon with one end of the ferry line–the other end secured to my quad. The current drag on the rope was so strong that Mike couldn’t work it up the river to our desired anchor point. He found an alternative, but by the time we were ready to set sail night had fallen.
In the dark I sent the first quad into the river. The ferry angle was off. This is how it should have worked:
Instead the line held the raft and quad in the middle of the Twitya. I grabbed a spruce pole and jumped in the river. I tried to pole the raft over to no avail. The current and line held the raft in place like concrete boots. I attached a towline, swam back to shore, and pulled the raft back to my side with the other quad.
“Can’t do it! The ferry angle is off!” I yelled across the river. Mike was in no mood to swim back in the current, in the cold, in the dark. Who can blame him? With just a lighter and Leatherman he spent the night in the rain, next to a small survival fire.
The next morning, after breakfast, I swam across the river with food and gear. We rigged a four-to-one pulley system further up river and managed to get the rope to a better anchor spot. The river drag on the line was unbelievable. Something we didn’t expect, the force staggering.
I swam back to secure the new ferry line to the raft. My plan was to pull the rope straight with my quad. What I didn’t notice was the rope pinched between two logs of the raft. When I drove the quad and line up the gravel bar the line rubbed and snapped. At this moment in my mind, the trip was over. It was the proverbial nail in the coffin. The rain kept coming. The water kept rising. Swimming the river was killing the both of us.
Success on this trip was tied to water levels. We knew this going in. Shortly after the line snapped, outfitter Stan Simpson landed his helicopter on the beach. It was like a messenger from the heavens touching down in the middle of nowhere. He told Mike under the whirl of chopper blades that he’d never seen anyone even attempt to cross with water this high. Mike and I debated going forward or turning back. We guessed at least ten days to get to Norman Wells, if we could ever get across the Twitya, and five to get back to Whitehorse.
In both directions there were rivers. The second and third largest, after the Twitya, were unknown – and between us and Normal Wells. To steam forward would mean facing them with all this rain and all this high water.
Mike wanted to press on. We both did. Then didn’t. Then did. Then didn’t. He left the decision to me. In my mind, time and rainfall just wouldn’t allow it.
That evening Mike and I swam back across the Twitya for the final time. We swam the river toward Whitehorse.