By Perry Massie
I was reading the news the other day and was surprised to see a story about a gold miner beingharassed by a grizzly bear in Alaska. It turns out that I know the miner. His name is Tim Jesse and hewas a crew member on the Alaska trip. I know exactly where this occurred, and the area is crawlingwith bears. It reminded me of an experience I had many years ago in the same area.
It all started sitting around the campfire one evening at Italian Bar. My dad, “The Buzzard,” came upwith the idea to go dredging in Alaska. Immediately several guys said they would like to go too. Thatwas the genesis of “The Great Alaska Expedition.”
Our subsequent 13 years together (he passed away from a heart attack in 1993), prospectingseveral locations near Nome, Alaska, building a camp and running the trip, produced a greatnumber of wonderful adventures and treasured memories.
Of all the adventures I had with my dad, one comes to mind that I will never forget. On the third year of the trip, my dad decided that it would be fun to offer a raft trip from our camp at Casadepaga downstream to Council, where the highway from Nome ends. It was a two-day trip on four-man rubber rafts. One sunny morning a group of about five rafts loaded up and set offdown the river. I was in a raft with my dad and another crew member, Andy Rogers. In a separate smaller raft was my good friend at the time, Stewart McClure (he subsequently became my brother-in-law after I married his sister Sandy).
The Casadepaga River meanders along slowly through some of the most beautiful scenery one could imagine. Occasionally when the river went through shallows, we would all get out of the raft and drag it through. As more and more tributaries dump in, the going gets much easier. Looking down into the water from the raft, I could see the river was teeming with fish. It looked like a freshwater aquarium. It was so fun to fish along the way, hooking up on almost every cast. Once I saw a huge fish breach the water near the raft and I immediately went after it with a lure, except I snagged something behind me when I cast. I turned around and was horrified to see that I snagged Andy’s nose! I am so glad he didn’t shoot me right there!
Anyway, my dad was the kind of guy who liked to use all the daylight allotted to him. It made for some very long work days when the sun didn’t go down. On this trip, it was later in August and it started getting pretty dark at about midnight. We were very far down the Casadepaga, close to where it runs into the Niukluk River. There was good current this far downstream and with the darkness we couldn’t see very far ahead. Out of the darkness directly ahead of us on a sand bar emerged three brown furry humps. As fate would have it, we beached right next to them. It turns out the three humps were a momma grizzly and her two cubs. One of the cubs woke up curious and started slinking toward us. I had my 44 Magnum up and out at this point; my dad, unfortunately was struggling with a jammed cylinder.
The mother woke up next and was instantly charging toward us. I could remember the volume of her snarl and the saliva sloshing out of her mouth as her head swung back and forth. I was so close to shooting her my finger was pressing down on the trigger. At the last second, she turned, barked at her cubs and went tearing back upstream…. directly at my buddy Stewart, who was behind us. You can imagine the helpless feeling when you are sitting down in a raft facing a very mad momma grizzly! Luckily, they all ran right past him, but not before he turned his raft over in the river. I bet he thought his days on Earth were over! Shaken, we decided to make camp right there on the sand bar. We built a big bonfire so Stewart could dry out, but also to ward offany more bears. I don’t believe I have had that much adrenalin in my system, ever. There was no way any of us could sleep that night, so we just hung out around the campfire and stayed warm until morning.
At first light, we all jumped into our rafts and made our way down to the pick-up point at Council. We saw six more bears along the way, having to fire our guns to scare them out of the river. Whenever we made a pit stop along the bank, we could see bear tracks on top of bear trackseverywhere. The last mile of the trip was a difficult slog through rain and a big headwind. We had torow downstream! Wet and exhausted, we finally made it to the trucks and dry land.
I hope you enjoy this issue of “Gold Prospectors.” We owe it all to the Buzzard — I sure do miss him!Good luck in your search for gold.