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Kongakut River Journal - Day Ten

The last full day on the Kongakut --- The day that I've been waiting for.  Not because it was the last, but rather because it would be devoted strictly to fishing.  I noticed fishy looking pools on the downstream float.  I'd be back if the hike from camp was not too great.

The sun was already on the river when I got up.  It was breezy.  There was no fog.  No condensation.  Another blue sky morning.  The warmest yet. We had berry pancakes for breakfast.

Most of the crew took off and hiked south of camp.  They later indicated that getting to higher ground was tough due to the tussocks.

I had all day to hike upriver to fish, explore and take photos. Solo. Just me and the grizzlies.  I didn't run into any, but their numerous tracks indicated that they too preferred to travel along the river.




I climbed a bluff that overlooked the river and surveyed the route upstream.  It was a good opportunity to have a snack and take a few photos.  Looking over my shoulder I could see the hi…

Kongakut River Journal - Day Eight

Moving day, today is August 18.  After a foggy night, it turned out to be a beautiful blue sky day. Windy though.

Low water made for several major drags.

Pulled over for lunch.  Mario indicated that he had seen some fish. Water looked marginal but I rigged the eight weight and was soon fast to a char.  Several more followed.  Kept two for dinner.

Valley opening up as mountains draw back from river.  River shallower, more braided.  Channel selection more challenging.

Eventually made it to Caribou Pass.  A most beautiful spot.  Great view…. upriver and down.

Got dinner going after setting up a nice camp.  Mario did one fish over stove and griddle.  I did bigger fish wrapped in two small pieces of foil over fire.  A grill would have been handy.  Fish cooked unevenly, so we just kept pulling off done pieces.  Good smoky taste.  Everyone seemed to like it. Fish only fell in fire once.

Passed chocolate bars after dinner.  Good cup of coffee too.

Took a few casts in pool below camp.  Expecte…

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…

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…