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Thread: Johns River vs NF Koyukuk

  1. #1
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    Default Johns River vs NF Koyukuk

    We are planning a float trip in a four person raft in late June/early July on the Johns or the NF Koyukuk. We have seven total river nights and are wondering if anybody can provide any information on these two rivers in terms of length of float, etc. I know it really depends on where you get dropped, but sounds like the NF has a faster flow in a typical year, and also is perhaps more interesting in terms of rapids (but stilll class II at most flows). My questions:

    1. Is there a long carry to the river if you fly in to Huntfork Lake for the John?

    2. Is it a long carry to the NF from Gates Bar or Redstar.

    3. Is one choice better than the other if we wanted a leisurely pace and not to be too rushed?


    4. Are we ignoring a more logical/flexible choice? we liked those because we were not likely to get weather-delayed on the back end, since we were floating into Bettles. We have a tight connection back to the lower 48 on the back end.

    Any insight you can offer would be greatly appreciated. And if I can help in the other direction around the Wrangells or the Cascades (or anything in the east), let me know! Thanks!

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    I worked for Gates of the Arctic for 5 years and have floated the North Fork of the Koyukuk a couple of times, but not the John. It is much easier to get dropped off on the Gates Bar to start your float than Red Star Lake. There really is no portage to speak of since your already on the river essentially. That being said, your only looking at 2 or 3 nights on the river from Gates Bar back to Bettles. Another option is to combine a hiking trip with a float at the end. One of my all time favorite trips was one in which myself and a coworker were flown into Summit Lake which is on the upper Itkillik drainage. We hiked down to the upper North Fork to Gates Bar where a plane came and dropped our canoe for us. The upper North Fork is one of the most spectacular places in all of Alaska. It is something you will not soon forget. The biggest highlight for me was Bombardment Creek; a truly breathtaking spot.

    Just a suggestion. Enjoy your trip. Gates of the Arctic is truly magnificent.

  3. #3
    Member Phil's Avatar
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    Default Opposite

    So I'm just the opposite - I've floated the John but not the other. The distance from Huntfork lake (in Gates of the Arctic National Pass) is really short so it's easy to get gear to the river. There is lots of wildlife and beautiful scenery. The float is easy and there are lots of places to camp. If you take your time (we were hunting) you could spend 5 or 6 days on the float back to Bettles.

    Forget what some river guides say and get towed back upstream to Bettles - don't try to line your rafts back upstream. The people at Sourdough Outfitters (in Bettles) can help you with lots more information.

    The guides say there is fishing in the John but I can't confirm that.

  4. #4
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    Default thanks!

    This is very helpful...and we are definitely looking for a pace that allows side hikes. We are looking at a jetboat option to get back up to Bettles if it's the John, and I have heard that there are fish if the river is clear. Sounds like the scenery is better higher up the NF, but that the pace is better on the John.

    One follow-up, the kind of question that could only be asked by an easterner. Are bugs likely to be appreciably different between the two locations? Probably not, but sometimes there is more prevailing wind in one canyon than another.

  5. #5
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    If you go in June or July, it wont matter where you are in Gates, the bugs will be bad. In fact, they have to be experienced to be believed. I recommend synthetic quick-dry clothing. It is lightweight and breathable, but the mosquitos cant bite through it. Where pants and a long sleeve shirt and a cap, then put 100% deet on your cap , ears, and hands, and you'll be good to go. I know a lot of folks dont like 100% deet but I would not have survived 5 years of work in Gates without it. Just minimize the amount of skin you put it on by following the afforementioned suggestions. By the way, if its side hikes you're interested in, the upper NF of the Koyukuk has them in abundance. Bombardment Creek alone is worth the whole trip. I recommed Bob Marshalls book "Alaska Wilderness" as required reading. He talks in detail about many places in Gates, the upper NF included. No matter where you go, this book will fire your imagination for this place. Enjoy!!

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    Default Thanks

    Aaah, I thought you might say that! We'll have nets and will also have some clothes pre-treated with premethrin (sp?). I'm sure it'll be a new experience but really just part of the adventure!

    Thanks a lot for all of the info.

  7. #7
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    Default

    I have floated the John, and you will be pushing it if the water is down to make it in seven days. During low water that river is really slow. The portage from Hunt Lake to the creek is not too long. It took us a couple of hours to haul everything over, for a two week hunt.

    Might want to consider the Wild River instead, shorter float. That way you can take your time and enjoy the float.

    We always go through the Beattles Lodge, they pick us up at Prospect Creek, with a 206. Then haul us out with a Beaver, to start our float. Then they pick us up at old Beattles with a jet boat and haul us back to the lodge. Then take us back to our trucks at Prospect Creek. They also take people to Wild Lake to start the Wild River float.
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    Default good suggestion

    Excellent, hadn't even considered it but it looks interesting and a good shorter option. Would love to get deeper into the range if we can...but may well depend on how high the water is. Did you fish in Wild Lake at all? one of our party is a big fisherman, so that could factor in as well.

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