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Kongakut River Journal - Day Five

Up early, fetched pot of water for coffeee.  Overcast, peaks obscured by clouds.  A rain gear day. If not for stopping the rain, then as a windbreaker.  Chilly upstream breeze.  Showers started again.

Crew slow to get going.  No need to hurry.

Egg, chorizo, green chili wrap for breakfast.



Learned new game…. Pass the Pig.



Sun tried to come out, but showers continued. A camp day.  Crawled back in rack and took a nap, as did several others.  Rain stopped early afternoon, slow to clear.

Crew went for a hike.  I went upstream and found a fishable run.  Caught one sizable male char. Most of camp water a little to fast to fish.  Little good holding water.

Took a short hike to nearby knob just as rest of crew was getting back.

Afternoon cleared.  Great rainbow.

Big campfire after dinner.  Got coffee pot ready to go for the morning.



Kongakut River Journal - Day Four

Moving day.  Few clouds.  Mostly blue sky.  Minor rapids to confront today.

Previous days dunkings called for realignment of paddling partners.  Patrice and Kathleen.  Brent and me.  I got stern.  We eventually got the paddling routine sorted out.

Low water.  Lots of rocks.  Lined boats through several sections of river.  Made for slow going.

Arrived at rapid.  Pulled over.  Walked downriver to scout.  Rapid was more of a wave train.  Strategically poorly located rocks made for a challenging run.  Wave train no problem.  Easiest course was on river right.  Unfortunately, a rock wall with ninety degree left turn waited at the end.

Girls went first.  Caught wall with back third of canoe, bounced off and made it through ok.

We went next.  Brent pulled like hell, me too.  Hit wall anyway.  Learned not to throw elbow out at wall.

Mario and Cheyne shot through no problem.  Mario took course closer to river left.  Eased into eddy with big grin.  Show off.

Henrik and Shelley lined boat thro…

Kongakut River Journal - Day Three

Group went for a hike today.  Lunched along the way, then pushed on higher along ridgeline. Everybody made it.  Got up to 3500 feet or so.  Not quite to top, great views nonetheless.    North Slope is perfect for hiking and cross country travel.  Henrik and I took group photos.





Crew started back.  I hung back admiring the scenery.  Took a few more photos. Encountered a little shower on the way down.  Not enough to get wet.

Enormous piles of enormous bear poop in river bottom brush not far from camp.  Hmmm….didn't notice it earlier.
Bunch of sheep ran through camp when we got back.  Ewes, lambs, a couple of sickle horned rams. Ran up and bedded in cliffs above camp.  Earlier in the day, raft with guide (?) and hunter floated by with nice set of ram horns lashed to top of gear.  



Still early.  Went upriver.  Crew wanted fish for dinner.  Kept two.  Both turned out to be female char full of roe.  Mario said it was good to eat.  Really?  Several of us tried it.  Surprisingly it had l…

Kongakut River Journal - Day Two

Up early, hours it seems ahead of crew.  Heavy dewfall, lots of condensation on tent fly. Took camera and hiked above camp trying to get sunrise shot of camp.  Fog rolled in.  Temp dropped, frost settled.    Pulled rainfly to dry.  



State Trooper/Warden flew in and landed on strip.  Good to know these guys are out here, they patrol enormous territories.  Hunting season open, he was out checking camps and hunter activity along river corridor.  There was a vacant sheep camp upriver.


Knocked down camp, inflated SOAR canoes.  Stowed and secured gear.  Paired off and started paddling late morning.  SOAR's pretty stable, not as responsive as a real canoe.  Learned hard way that bow paddler needed to paddle only when told to do so.  Sorry Kathleen.  Other than a few three-sixty's and occasionally going downriver backwards, we had no mishaps.  Patrice and Brent, Shelley and Henrik, no so joyfully swamped and experienced invigorating swims in the Kongakut.


Floated past a party of su…

Kongakut River Journal - Day One

Day one, a day of transition.  From pavement to gravel.  Sounds of the city to the sound of silence. Water running from a tap to water running from its birthplace in the mountain headwaters of the North Slope.
Should backtrack.  Met trip participants previous night in Fairbanks.  Got dry bags for packing personal gear.  Went to dinner at Thai restaurant. Crew consisted of guides Mario and Kathleen, ski patrollers from Washington and Colorado, respectively.  Henrik and Shelley, newlyweds from Australia.  Brent and Patrice, marriage veterans from Ohio. Cheyne, a retired schoolteacher from Oregon.  Yours truly, skinny human from Montana.  That made for a party of eight.
Departed Fairbanks via Wright Air flight aboard Grand Caravan.  All of our gear and crew fit on plane. White Mountains were pretty, then came the expanse of the Yukon River lowlands.  Nice flight.  It's a pretty good haul to Arctic Village.  

Unloaded gear.  Flight service would arrive with smaller planes later to fe…

The Farthest Away River

The native Inupiat called the Kongakut "the farthest away river."  In North America, it may just be. It's a long way from the lower forty eight.  The basic routine involves getting to Fairbanks, Alaska, boarding a smaller commercial flight to Arctic Village, and finally climbing into a supercub, courier, or some such small aircraft capable of landing on a remote gravel strip. 
The Brooks Range had long been on my life list of must see places.  With my sheep hunting days largely behind me, and lacking the desire to pursue another white ram, I needed another excuse for a visit. Fortunately, hiking, camping, river exploration and fishing (see Arctic Char - An Underrated Game Fish) are continuing passions.  I initially dabbled with the idea of rafting the river solo.  But, common sense prevailed, and I signed on with Alaska Alpine Adventures.  With trip logistics no longer a concern, all I had to do was get my personal gear together. 
Much has been written about the North S…

First Casts….First Fish

As much as I enjoy fishing for trout in running water, I look forward to the day when I can get back into the mountains and fish the high country lakes.  The timing varies from year to year.  Some years, the lowest elevation mountain lakes will be ice free by mid to late May.  In southwest Montana, that's around 7500 feet.  But, after a particularly cold and snowy winter and spring, access to these same lakes can be delayed by up to three weeks or more.








When I was younger, I pretty much ran into the high country.  A twenty mile day was nothing.  Now, I know better.  What I once took for granted, I now value.  Alpine fishing is a special experience earned through sweat and toil and time on the trail.  The clock is running, the window closing, if ever so slightly.  The siren song of the high country beckons. I can hear it. I'm not one to hasten the passage of time, but May can't come quick enough.





Brook Trout Heaven

Here's a sight to gladden the heart of any trout fisherman, especially a brook trout fan.   Hundreds of trout rising on a calm mountain lake.  In clicking my way around the blogosphere, it's apparent that there are many ardent brook trout anglers.    Here in Montana, brookies don't get much love.  Indeed, in many locales, they are considered vermin.  They were introduced with good intentions, while trying to create fisheries in places that were formerly barren.  The most notable place is in the Beartooth Mountains where they were packed in on horseback, in milk cans.  Naturally aggressive, and able to pioneer new water readily, they spread quickly.  Any interconnected lake trickle served as a conduit for fish movement.  A good convenient means of getting fish into new water cheaply.  But not so hot when one considers the aggressive nature of these little guys, with little being the operative word. Brook trout breed prolifically, overpopulate, and eat themselves out of hou…

Arctic Char - A Most Underrated Game Fish

In Alaska, where glamorous game fish abound, some fish are overlooked, or just plain don't get the respect that they deserve.  Usually taken incidentally, a by catch if you will, while pursuing other game fish, few trips are undertaken strictly with char as the target species.  However, a few years ago I did just that.  I travelled to the North Slope with the intention of fishing specifically for char. North Slope waters generally lack the various salmon and headline grabbing rainbows.  And, while char exist elsewhere in Alaska, it just seemed most appropriate to fish for them in the arctic.

After dinner, at our first camp, I strolled upstream with my five weight.  Earlier, I'd noted a few rising fish tucked against a rock wall.  Expecting grayling, I returned, armed appropriately for trout sized quarry.  That's what I got.  Nicely trout sized at that. Fit. Fat. Scrappy. They came willingly to a Stimulator.  Noting an occasional rise midstream, I rolled out a cast, expec…