Rolling on the River: Inside Filmmaker Mike Hoover’s 1968 Attempt to Run North America’s Wildest River

With the gear and the itinerary, it was crucial to keep the weight down. They were packing just one toothbrush, with the handle sawed off. Hoover decided to dispense with life jackets too—they looked dorky on camera, and if the raft flipped, he thought they could hang on until it washed up somewhere. Once they got to Dry Bay, they would have to go overland with huge loads, lugging the Avon 50 miles across wild Pacific beaches and bear country until they reached the village of Yakutat, where they could arrange transportation back to Haines Junction. The Avon weighed 80 pounds; the Bolex with lens, tripod, and film, 34 pounds. Their tent, ax, knife, stove, stove gas, cooking pan, waterproof bags, sleeping bags, air mattresses, rain ponchos, hip boots, flashlights, Kelty aluminum-frame packs, a pair of Leitz binoculars borrowed from Gary’s mom, and the two guns with ammo totaled 77 pounds. That was 191 pounds of gear. If you figured 1.5 pounds of food per person per day for two weeks, they’d need to carry more than 40 pounds of provisions. They had packed a 10-pound bag of dried mashed potatoes, five pounds of butter, some oatmeal, raisins, tea, and beef bouillon cubes. To supplement the meager pantry, they planned to hunt. Arctic ground squirrels most likely. Neither of them had ever eaten an arctic ground squirrel, but they were sure some could be shot, skinned, dumped into a pan with bouillon cubes, butter, and mashed potatoes, and provide a tolerable, if not a happy, supper.

All things considered, they would be traveling light. 

Hoover makes camp on the banks
of the Alsek.
Courtesy of Mike Hoover

The initial stretch of the Dezadeash River ran in one slack, unbraided channel. As they shoved off, the sun was hidden behind an overcast sky. The water was quiet, the wild country silent and serene. Gary glanced around with nervous birdlike movements as they paddled past tangled thickets of willow and alder. Treeless, snow-patched mountains rose beyond the sharp green fringe of spruce and hemlock. 

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