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Showing posts with the label North Slope

Kongakut River Journal -- Random Parting Thoughts

The showers had stopped during the night.  The morning was relatively warm, no gloves needed to do camp chores.  Got coffee going and proceeded to break down camp.  Rest of crew did a good job getting it together and we were packed and on the river by nine a.m.. The float downriver to the takeout was short and uneventful.
Flight service arrived at 1:30 p.m.. A long day for the pilots. They sent three planes.  The flight out was nice.  I regretted packing away my camera.  The clouds parted.  Remaining fog would have made for some nice scenic mood shots.  The jagged western peaks were snow covered. Termination dust.  Winter is not long off in this country. The lower mountain slopes were beginning to show a little more color too.  Only spotted one small group of sheep on the way out.  Some of the others saw a few caribou.
The flight path was out through the Kongakut and into the headwaters of the Sheenjek.  Trees again! Smooth flight.  It was sunny and warm in Arctic Village.  The Carav…

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 Nine

Got up real early.  Clear sky.  Moon.  Big time frost.  Made coffee.  Got fire going from last nights coals.  Sun rose over upper drainage.  Then fog rolled in.  Made rounds around camp with coffee pot.

Big hike today.  Incredibly clear.  Sunny and warmed quickly, the warmest day yet.  Maybe hit sixty-five degrees.  Saw distant griz.  Once on top could see ice in Demarcation Bay.  This was the end of the continent.  A sobering thought.  There was a vessel of some sort making its way across the bay.

Saw five wolves on the way back to camp.  Three black, two gray.  They flushed a flock of ptarmigan, then systematically went about hunting for and re-flushing them in the willows.  The birds got pretty wild after being flushed a few times.

Back at camp, the rainfly had blown down.   It was put back up easily. Camp was ship shape in no time.

Saw three ptarmigan on gravel bar by camp.  A hen and two chicks.  Not very good brood survival. They blend into stream rock extremely well.

Caught s…

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 Seven

Nice moon last night.  Wind died down and switched to breeze from south out of mountains. Clouds and fog blew out.  Beautiful blue sky morning.

Up early again, didn't want to miss the start of another great day.  Mario made sunflower nut pancakes.

Bear appeared on river bar, swam to our side of river and ran off.

Took a nice hike today.  Comfortable.  Picked and ate blueberries along the way.

Found some excavation activity by the local griz.  They go to a lot of work just to dig up a ground squirrel.

Windy on top, great views though.  Backed off to get out of wind to enjoy lunch and bask in the sun. Bagels, lox and cream cheese.

Got back to camp early enough to take a bath in nearby shallow puddle.  Rest of crew lounged around camp, relaxed and read.

Kongakut River Journal - Day Six

No photos today.
Wind died down.  Woke to fog.  Not quite as cold as previous morning.
Started water for coffee.  It takes a while for the MSR stove to boil a big pot of water.  Lid to food barrel is a real stinker to get back on.  Jumped back into sleeping bag to warm up.
Coffee done, got settled in under fly with a cup.  Watched griz feed across river.  Looks like same bear from day before.
Moving day today.  Should be shorter float.  Less than twenty miles to takeout.  Still have two layover camps  to make.
Turned out to be a relatively short day on the river.
Mario found an entire skin of a large racked caribou bull submerged in the river.  Antlers were still in velvet.  Could see tooth marks on neck area of hide.  Lower legs still attached.  Welcome to the food chain.
New camp had nice spot for cook area.  My tent site was so-so.  Good sleeping pad helped with the lumps.
Tried to fish but current too fast.  Not much holding water.  Hooked one char but it got off.

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 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…