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Wild Revelations

Last Modified: 24th April 2014

June-July 2012, the Revelation Mountains (Andrew Mattox)

The prospective route.

The Revelation Mountains rise from interior Alaska like J.R.R. Tolkien's bad dreams.  Fronted by sweeping tundra slopes and backed by the bulk of the Alaska Range, this soaring range of ice-clad, 9,000+ foot spires spawns serpentine glacers and is cut by wild rivers.

Beginning on June 1st, 2012, I walked and packrafted more than 525 miles through the Alaskan interior, from the remote shores of Lake Iliamna to the brush town of Mcgrath, by way of the Revelations.  

Excepting stops in Nondalton and Port Alsworth, I saw a total of 16 people in 42 days, 14 of them Twin Lakes (12 of those at one location - Proenneke's cabin).  For the roughly 300 foot-miles between Telaquana and McGrath, there was... no one.  On a given day, along this stretch of mountains, the number of caribou taken by wolves may outnumber the people.  

The Revelations aren't the end of the world, but you can see it from there.  

Really, you can.  One of the mountains is called “The Apocalypse.”  You can see it.  

The prospective route. Dots show the nearest towns, helicopters show mine prospects, and the faint red areas are the claims near Pebble.  Last resupply is at Telaquana Lake, marked with a green tent.

The Challenge:

This was very remote country.  There were many obstacles, but paradoxically few challenges.  It was beautiful, relentless, and primal.  

The obstacles included almost continuous gray and rainy weather, cold, glacial river crossings, long distances, an uncertain route, and a heavy load.  Blisters, tussock grass, marshes, slashing rain squalls, the biting wings of Lake Iliamna, and the uncertainty negotiating thick river valleys, full of bear and moose sign.  

Visibility at times (including in one high pass) dropped as low as 100 feet.  The weather is unforgiving.  Weather converges from Bristol Bay and the Bering Sea on the Revelations, driving huge masses of oceanic and arctic air up over the peaks.  In the entire route, I estimated I had 8 miles of human routes - mostly ATV trails.  On most days, I was on the move 10-15 hours a day.  In some areas, the underbrush was composed of willow or alder,  but in other places it was mostly mosquitoes.

By "few challenges", I mean that obstacles come from without, and challenges comes from within.  We all adapt to isolation differently.  I react with an emotional quietude and utility, and a longing for others that is strangely without loneliness.   This trip was both physically difficult and inhabited by a form of grace.  No matter how cold, wet, far, or uncomfortable it was - it just was.  

The Route

This trip began  with paleoseismic research around Lake Iliamna, relating the Pebble prospect, where in the first days Hig and I found impressive liquefaction evidence of unknown origin in Lake Iliamna's wind-scoured bluffs.  After the first five days, Hig left by floatplane.  After surveying Iliamna's ancient stranded shoreline terraces and traversing through the Pebble site itself in search of the remains of ice-age Lakes, I turned towards Nondalton, and raced thunderstorms over the highlands and into town.  From there, my route followed Lake Clark via raft, then went over the old Telaquana Trail native trading route, as far as Twin Lakes, where I rerouted to visit Dick Proenneke's cabin.  There, I ran into friends caretaking (and, oddly enough, the son of Billy Graham).  With their beta and the aid of a Dall sheep's tracks, I crossed high route to Turquoise lake in whiteout, descended into the braid-plains that front the massive Telquana Peak, then walked up the broud mountain forelands to Telaquana Lake.  Floating the Telaquana River down to the Stony, I passed out of Lake Clark National Park and into the deepest wilderness of the trip, and began the trek to the Swift River, and Revelation Mountains.

My route led up the Swift River, through its headwaters under the high Revelations, and finally up snow-choked canyons and over a pass right beneath the Apocalypse.  I didn't know if the Pass of the Apocalyspse would go.  It was recently glaciated, and I'd never heard of anyone crossing it, so I carried food for a possible 50-mile reroute.  I'd also committed to walking off my map for the last 200-odd miles of the trip, and my mapped ended a few miles short of the pass.  From there on out, I had the route memorized.

 It did go - this time with the help for following a bear's tracks down steep chutes, and across a relict glacier.  After descending through moraine-choked gorges to Big River, I lay on the floodplains within sight of river's glacier-mouth birthplace, and the lunatic 9,828 foot pinnacle of Mt. Hesperus.

From there, I followed the rivers.  7 days and 200 miles laters, I reached McGrath.

What’s It About?

The fundamental impetus for this journey was personal.  It was a journey to a distant land: beautiful, pristine, primal, dangerous, a giant playground, and not built for me.  However, there was also a much bigger issue involved:

Pebble Mine Seismic History.  This trip begins as a scientific expedition.  The Lake Iliamna region is home to the Pebble Prospect, a proposed mega-mine.  Pebble, if built, would be one of (if not the) largest open-pit metal mine in the world, producing an estimated $400 billion in gold and copper, and 50 billion tons of highly toxic waste.  Sitting in wilderness at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay fisheries, the fate of the Pebble Mine is of global economic and environmental significance.

 The seismic history of the region is poorly established.  If Pebble is built, the engineering specifications of its facilities, including its massive tailings impoundment lakes and dams, will be partly determined by seismic hazard.  Under-engineered facilities could rupture catastrophically in a quake, severely impacting the regional environment.  

From June 1st to June 18th, I did geological work looking for evidence (or non-evidence) of paleo-earthquakes in the area.  This work is hard science, not advocacy for or against Pebble.  For the first four days of research, I was accompanied by Dr. Bretwood "Hig" Higman, GTT's primary geologist and a very close friend.  The long-term objective of our work is to more clearly establish seismic hazard in the region.

Unfortunately, I didn't have time to visit the Revelation prospect: a metal-mine claim that is emerging from under a retreating glacier.  It’s arguably the most remote mining prospect in Alaska, one of the most obscure, and an unusual mash-up of metal mining and climate change.  It might even qualify as "zany."  If you get there, send me a postcard. 

Andrew Mattox is a geologist, ex-smokejumper, and a former businessman.  His previous wilderness journeys include a human-powered transect of the Olympic Peninsula, WA, and two descents of the Grand Canyon.  He currently works as an environmental consultant.  Andrew has been published in Off Piste and Backpacking Light.  He also Vision Quested several times, trained at Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracker School, and studied yoga and meditation in Kathmandu, Nepal.

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By Andrew MattoxGround Truth Trekking

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Date Created: 19th May 2012