In order to get up on the ridge where Steve killed his blueberry Bear, we had to get 5 guys and 400 pounds of gear across the Matanuska River, and 5 miles up into a base camp. Our first task was to efficiently cross the river and keep our butts dry; to do this, Steve used his pack raft for his own gear, and the crew used a canoe.
The Matanuska is a big, glacier-fed river, which fanned out in three threads at the spot we crossed. The first and largest was roughly 45-55 feet across, just above waist-deep, and flowing really fast. It would have been quickest to simply wade across and carry our stuff to the other side, so I threw on a pair of waders to test the depth and flow of the river. It was a bit much, especially with a full load—not impossible, but not smart, either. We needed the canoe.
One skill that comes in incredibly handy out in the wild is being able to ferry across a river safely and efficiently. The term “ferry” simply means to go straight across a river without ending up downstream. On a still or slow-moving body of water, it’s a piece of cake — you’d simply load up, drop in, and paddle across. But, on a river that hits as hard as the Matanuska, it’s a different story, and it takes some skill. If you tried to simply point your fully-loaded canoe straight across, you’d get hammered by the current, end up way downstream, and possibly dump over. Enter ferry angles.
What you do is point and paddle your canoe (or kayak or whatever) upstream. In the Matanuska, you have to paddle hard to stand still. Then, you gently nose your bow toward the opposite shore, allowing the angle of your craft and the current to gently sidle you over to the other bank. Really, what is happening is that you turn your forward momentum into lateral movement. Crossing in this manner is safe, controlled, and sort of fun, too. You can also back-ferry (put your stern into the current and back-paddle) — it’s really just a matter of your comfort level.
We crossed the river without incident, and on our way back across had an extra canoe-load—a big fat black bear and a couple sacks of blueberry bear fat. –Dan Doty, Associate Producer