Revelation Range, Big River to McGrath

In May of 2008 I joined Joe Stock and Cathy Flanagan for a traverse of the Revelation Range, the westernmost sub-range of the Alaska Range. I had been trying to figure out a trip to experience the transition from peaks through foothills to the marshlands that were familiar to my childhood on the Kuskokwim, and when I heard Joe was planning a traverse in the Revelation Range, we teamed up. Snow conditions were too spooky to allow for the intended direct traverse, so we skirted the range on the western flank, which ended up being stunningly beautiful. After floating Big River to the Kuskokwim, Francis, my step-dad, picked us up for the three-hour boat ride to McGrath, where we ate infinite pancakes and sandwiches featuring a 9$ head of iceberg lettuce.

Check out Joe’s write-up, photos, and other trips

The Debt of Pleasure

There seem to be two end-members for backcountry food planning: gourmet over the top (guided trips), and scrape-by-barely-enough-hope-to-find-some-berries-on-the-trail. I usually shoot for something on the scrape-by end of the spectrum, saving food until I know I’ll get out and then eating the last of it so that I am on empty at the finish.

Three days into a trip in the Revelation Range I realized that I would be a little short on food. We were expecting a 7 or 8 day trip, but had time for 9. I carry two pounds of food per day, and started with 18 pounds. A few days in I noticed my two pounds of salami was starting to turn, so I buried it. At this point I started splitting my ‘one serving’ dehydrated dinners into two meals. At the same time the weather was beating us down and we started spending more time in the tents.

My college friend, Alex Masulis, is an editor in NYC. Every now and then I ask him for a book recommendation. His previous recommendation was The Cloud Atlas, which I really enjoyed. In true trip-planning form I waited to the last minute to find a book for the Revelations. With a destination like ‘Revelations’ I had high expectations for finding some insights of my own. I really did, this was a trip long in the making, an opportunity to transition from the bold peaks of the Alaska range, through the foothills, to the broad, meandering rivers and swamps that I grew up in.

I called Alex while walking from car to bookstore, and left a message when he didn’t answer. I roamed directionless inside the store until I got a message from Alex: ‘The Debt of Pleasure, John Lanchester.’ I grabbed the book without bothering to read the cover and moved on to the next last-minute errand.

Four days into the trip, after a light meal, wedged in the tent with Joe and Cathy, I cracked open The Debt of Pleasure. The first line reads, ‘This is not a conventional cookbook.’ I closed the book, layed it on my chest in the sleeping bag, laughed, and thought, ‘Oh shit. Alex sent me on this trip with a cookbook.’ During the remainder of the trip I lost a pound each day while reading a murder tale interwoven with chapters like, ‘Roast Lamb,’ and, ‘A Luncheon on the Theme of Curry.’ I remember dreaming about huge banquets with fancy meat platters, chicken dinners, and people offering me jobs.


  1. hi Luc, I’m wondering what packraft did you do when you rafted Big River? Was it a Denali Llama? I’m looking to do a similar trip, and was wondering if a spray deck is necessary (i’m kind of tight on money). Also how challenging was the Big River and should it be attempted by a beginner? Any tips that you wish you would have done/had after the trip was done.
    -Connor Clements

    1. Hi Connor-

      I used an old Llama, leaky deck. A spray deck is not required, but I very much prefer to have one. Without a deck, I’d want a drysuit, or at least know that I was going to be sitting in water in rain pants. But Big River is pretty mellow. From where we put on there were a few miles of splashy class II, then ~30 miles of ~swift but flat class II, then the rest was mind-numbing class I. In terms of technicality, Big River is appropriate for beginners. In terms of remoteness, etc., it might not be.

      I can relate to being tight on money, but I can’t imagine a packraft without a white-water deck. They are much warmer, drier, more enjoyable with the deck.

      Feel free to email me with more questions (

      (I’ll remove your similar comment/question from the pimp-my-packraft page.)

  2. Hi Luc,When you started your float at the head waters ,you didn’t happen to take photos near the Lyman fork of the big river ? I want to make the float myself and there is a property a mile north of the tributary.If you would go onto a website called Alaska remote properties LLc under the western and interior section you can see on the map where it is.I would really appreciate any photos it might save me a trip to look at the property.

    David Madson

  3. Hi, Joe, I recognize your stepdad Francis and his wife from my time flying an airplane based at McGrath for Alaska Forestry back during 1995-2001.

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