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Thread: gates of the artic part 1

  1. #1

    Default gates of the artic part 1

    GATES OF THE ARTIC NATIONAL PARK


    NORTH FORK KOYUKUK RIVER


    JULY 2009


    Part 1


    July 1st leaving Anchorage in the early morning I arrived in Fairbanks around 2:00pm. I picked up my fellow float companions from Juneau and after a friendly greeting we headed off to the grocery store to do some last minute shopping. We loaded everything into the vehicle and off to Cold Foot we went. The weather was absolutely great with clear skies and hot temperatures. The fireweed in the burned out areas was bright with color. Approximately were pump station 5 is we saw a moose standing in the fireweed with its hair all back lit by sunlight. Angela suggested we stop and get a picture but with me and Stan in a hurry ( to get to Cold Foot a day early) we told Angela “we will see many more moose on this trip” after all it is the famed Koyukuk. Later these words would be repeated to us several times. Once we arrived in Cold Foot we went over to the visitor’s center to have our required backcountry orientation class. This is basically a short video (should be titled backcountry travel for idiots) and a registration form. We also picked up our bear proof food containers from the park service. This is a nice service they provide for free. Once the class was done we drove up to Marion Creek campground were we stayed for the night. We did some final packing, gear selecting, and food preparation and hit the sack about 11:00pm
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  2. #2

    Default gates of the artic part 2

    GATES OF THE ARTIC NATIONAL PARK
    NORTH FORK KOYUKUK RIVER
    JULY 2009
    Part 2

    July 2nd We got up around 8:30am and after breakfast drove back into Cold Foot to refuel the truck. I feel it is good to fill the tank completely full so when someone steals it they get their money’s worth. We headed over to the air service to see if we could get flown out today (our scheduled date was July 3rd). Coyote Air said they could take us around 3:30pm. To kill time we went over and played tourist at the visitors center, reading magazines, looking at the displays, and snickering at some of the questions asked by tourists off the tour bus (yes they even get tour busses in Cold Foot) and so on. In reality we were just enjoying our last use of comfortable chairs and indoor plumbing. I do have to say if, you have never been to the visitor’s center it is definitely worth going if you’re in Cold Foot. It is a very impressive structure especially when considering were it is located. I don’t even want to know how many taxpayers dollars were spent on it. Finally the time came to fly out. We loaded all 1201lbs into the airplane (Beaver on wheels) and off we went. In route to the river the pilot informed us that the place he was landing last year had gotten wiped out by an early spring flood. After getting to the river we flew circles for about ½ hr in search of a new gravel bar to put us on. Finally he found a place to land. He said we will land on that one there (pointing to an area that looked way too short to me) eventually he dropped us off without any altercations about 5 miles lower than originally planned. Hard to complain though when the gravel bar you are standing on is between the Frigid Craig’s and Boreal mountain. These are the two peaks that Bob Marshal saw on his first expedition to the Brooks Range. He called them the Gates of the Arctic. After unloading all of our gear and the traditional hand shake and good luck off he went. Within a couple of minutes there was complete silence. Within a couple more minutes there was the all too familiar roar of mosquitoes. We installed what is common in the arctic, bug dope and head nets. Taking our time we inflated our raft and installed the frame all while taking in the great scenery and sweating our butts off in the 80+ degree temperature. We floated for about an hour and set up camp on a gravel bar on the west side of the river right across from Fishless Creek. It was about 7:00pm.
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  3. #3

    Default gates of the artic part 3

    GATES OF THE ARTIC NATIONAL PARK
    NORTH FORK KOYUKUK RIVER
    JULY 2009
    Part 3

    July 3rd I awoke a little before 9:00am from the sun baking me inside of my tent. It had to be at least 95 degrees in there. Today we decided to hike up Redstar mountain. We ferried our raft to the other side of the river and secured it at the mouth of Fishless Creek. The hike started out real easy by hiking up Fishless Creek on a combination of small gravel bars and shallow creek crossings. We had all wore our waders anticipating that we would have to do this. We saw several small grayling in the river. This later would become a joke because these were literally the only fish we say the entire trip. The farther we went the harder it became. The gravel bars began to give way to loose round boulders and the slow water gave way to fast water. It was hard to believe at this point that this was going to be the easiest hiking of the day. About ½ to ¾ of a mile up river we left the creek and started bushwhacking through the alders. Fortunately we only had about 400 yards of brush before we broke out into the tundra. As typical for arctic tundra the open meadow that looked so good from a distance was choked full of tussocks. Thinking to myself oh well at least it is not that far to the base of the mountain were the hiking would get much easier I pushed on. Boy was I wrong. Once at the base of the mountain the tussocks gave way to sponge tundra moss. This was exhausting because for every step of 18” that you took you only gained an elevation of about 6”. It took a long time to gain any elevation at all. The weather was also excruciating on us. It was between 85 and 90 degrees with absolutely no wind at all. This combined with the fact you had to be smothered in deet, sun screen, head net, and lip balm it felt like you were cooking from the inside out. Our water was quickly consumed long before the hike was over. Finally after several hours I made it to the lower rock out cropping on Redstar Mountain. Stan and Angela decided to continue up to the lower false peak of Redstar mountain (I hate people who are in shape). This gave me about an hour to relax and enjoy the view which was stunning. The Gates of the Arctic to the north and Moving and Eroded mountains to the south with the north fork of the Koyukuk flowing through the middle. It was awesome. I would glass with binoculars looking for sheep, moose, and bear (which I saw none of) then hike over to the other side and take pictures of flowers or look at the loose boulders that all the mountains seem to be made of it was great. In one spot I was looking down and something caught my eye it was a small tin can kind of like what was in the old sea rations. Because it was almost completely grown over by moss which I am told grows very slow I assume it was maybe 30 years old? It would sure be neat to find out the story behind it. One can almost see Bob Marshall himself sitting on that rock outcropping enjoying the same view I was. Once my friends returned we headed back to camp. Going down was much faster even though we were exhausted. We were slowed down by Angela’s gold fever (I think she looked under half the boulders in that little creek) but secretly I enjoyed the slower pace. By the time we got back to camp I was very dehydrated and felt like a boiled lobster. We ate a good diner and enjoyed catching up on each other’s lives stories. We all felt better when we retired to our tents around 11:00pm. The sun was still high in the sky and the temperature was still above 80 degrees. Are we sure we are in the arctic?
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  4. #4

    Default gates of the artic part 4

    GATES OF THE ARTIC NATIONAL PARK
    NORTH FORK KOYUKUK RIVER
    JULY 2009
    Part 4

    July 4th After a breakfast of instant oatmeal we packed up camp and were on the river around 10:00am. Today’s river conditions were nice with swift water and several small rapids with some minor rock dodging. All the water would be easy in any craft with the exception of one of the rapids (class II). In this set of rapids the water makes a very sharp bend with a large boulder sitting right in the middle of the bend. Even with our raft it was hard to avoid. I would not want to do this one in a canoe. This is a very short rapid and could easily be portaged. I and Stan particularly enjoyed laughing at Angela (who had never rowed a raft before) tense up as she went through some of the rapids. Eventually we decided to camp at the base of Eroded mountain after we were chased off of the river by a thunder storm around 3:00pm. We should have got off the river about 2:30pm setting up the tipi in a deluge of rain, hail, and blowing silt is not a lot of fun. By the time we got everything inside and all the mud washed off of everything the rain stopped! The air was a little cooler as we celebrated the 4th of July and my friend’s anniversary (the day he lost his independence). We had a nice dinner with jiffy pop for desert. Today we saw one cow moose with two calves. This is the only wildlife so far. We haven’t even seen many birds. The whole area seems very desolate as far as wildlife is concerned.
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  5. #5

    Default gates of the artic part 5

    GATES OF THE ARTIC NATIONAL PARK
    NORTH FORK KOYUKUK RIVER
    JULY 2009
    Part 5
    July 5th this morning we awoke to another 80+ degree day. Our 5th in a row. Around 10:30 we rowed across the river and secured our raft. Today we will climb Eroded Mountain. The conditions are much better than Redstar Mountain was two days ago (thank god). Although I am still reeling from the effects of the climb two days before the first section is through spruce and birch forest and the ground is relatively solid with light moss. This is the best conditions we have found so far aside from the large gravel bars on the river. We were able to gain a lot of elevation and fast with little effort (relatively speaking). Once above the forest we had a short section of tussocks about 100 yards and then hit the ridge. The ridge was soft tundra slowly losing out to gravel and loose rock the higher we went. Today we even had a slight breeze which felt great. About halfway up we found the left over remains of moose bones and antlers about a 50”. Eventually we made it first to the false peak and finally to the highest point. I know why it was called Eroded Mountain because near the top the rock is all loose and broken. This would be very dangerous if you had to scale any large cliffs. Luckily for us it was just a narrow ridge about two feet wide with the occasional cliff or scree slope on one side with a steep hill on the other. Mostly not death defying but you could definitely break some bones which up here would not be good either. Once at the top we were rewarded by 360 degree views including some very large mountains to the west southwest. As we sat up there we just kept commenting on how many different hiking opportunities there are. You could easily spend several summers and not climb them all. After finishing our lunches and the rest of our water we made a quick decent back to camp. We decided to pack up camp and were on the water by 5:00pm. There is plenty of day light to float all night long if you wanted. Around 10:30pm we made camp near Bonanza Creek. With a quick bath I was in bed by 11:30pm. It was still very hot with the sun shining bright.
    July 6th We got up ate breakfast and broke camp (we are getting good at this) and started floating about 10:00am. The sky was overcast with the temperature in the mid 70s. The wind was blowing upriver at about 10mph (yeah no bugs). As we pushed off I thought that today is going to suck, slow water and upriver winds make for a lot of rowing. I was wrong again. Today turned out to be one of the best on the river. This section of river I would describe as slow flowing with some huge deep holes. Probably over 15ft deep in many places. There were large rock cliffs lining the river in many places. The rock all being twisted and distorted over time by the geologic forces. We stopped for about an hour at Ipneck Creek. The creek and the rocks around the creek are very red in color. The area must have a lot of iron in it. By the afternoon the overcast skies had cleared and it was back to 80+ degrees. I never thought I would be in the arctic in my t-shirt, shorts, and bare feet, with my feet in the water and still be hot. Later in the day we saw a couple of great horned owls (I think they were great horned) and a couple of other birds of prey. Falcon’s maybe? We stopped at the base of Ipneck Mountain and made camp around 7:00pm. It was a long day for only 15 river miles but very enjoyable none the less. Sometime during the night I awoke to some noise behind my tent. I slowly crawled over to look out the window with my pistol in hand only to see a moose calf staring at me probably wondering what in the heck that blue object was on the gravel bar. The next morning I saw the tracks and figured out that there were two calves and one cow moose.
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  6. #6

    Default gates of the artic part 6

    GATES OF THE ARTIC NATIONAL PARK
    NORTH FORK KOYUKUK RIVER
    JULY 2009
    Part 6

    July 7th Today is very hot again. It is over 80 degrees before noon. We slept in today as best you could wile sweating in the tent (I had brought my 4 season North Face thinking it would be warmer in the cooler temperatures of the arctic). By the time we got camp broke and everything loaded in the raft it was around noon. The strongest winds of the trip were today but luckily they were down river winds. Today’s water was swift with several rapids but all very easy even with a canoe. Today we are supposed to hit Squaw Rapids which is class III in some guide books. We waited with anticipation. Around ever curve we would look ahead straining to see the upcoming fury of white water. Curve after curve it never come. Literally it never happened. I knew there was nothing we went through that could have been called class III even if the water had been twice as high as it was. Later the pilot told us that a couple of years ago there was a large spring flood on the river that completely wiped out the rapids. They simply no longer exist. The power of water is sure impressive. Together with the high winds and swift water we made really good time. Eventually we made 21 miles in four hours. This includes screwing off trying to soak each other in the small waves that did exist. At our camp near Winnie Creek we pitched the Noah’s tarp instead of the tipi. With all the wind and no chance of rain we decided we did not need it. Off in the distance maybe 2 to 5 miles away we could see some fires burning but the winds were blowing the smoke the opposite direction.
    July 8th Today we awoke to cloudy skies. We had some rain sprinkles in the early morning but everything was dry by the time we packed up around 9:30am. Shortly after getting on the river it started to rain. It continued to rain most of the day until about 5:00pm. If I had to pick a day when we encountered rain this would have been it. The river today was very slow with a long section through a large swamp. If I did this river again I would request a pick up before this section. I think there are a couple of gravel bars you could get a Beaver off just before entering the swamp. The one real cool thing about this section of river was all of the owls we saw. I think it was around 8 total. I don’t know if it was the area or the fact that this was the first day that the sky did not require sunglasses and sunscreen. After several hours of paddling in the rain with no great camp sites in the swamp we all decided just to push on to the pickup point. We figured there we could set up a nice camp and dry everything out. Besides the biggest mistake I made on the trip was not asking what time the air service would pick us up at so we had to be there the day before the pickup anyhow. The closer we got to the confluence of the middle fork the denser the smoke got. Hard to complain though because this was the first smoke we have had all trip. Right before the middle fork we heard this screeching noise. When we come around the bend there were two owls sitting on this branch right above the river trying to pick off a bunch of little ducklings below. That was pretty cool to see. I think the ducks were glad to see us to because the owls retreated to the forest. About a half hour before we stopped the rain quit. Our final day on the river was 23 miles in six hours all on slow water most of it in the rain. I did catch my first grayling today in spite of trying every day. One fish for 100 river miles I guess I can safely say don’t do this trip for the fishing.
    July 9th woke up today in the sun drenched tent. Hot yet another day. Today we just hung out around camp and packed up everything for our trip home. The temperature was in the low 80’s.
    July 10th The air service picked us up around 10:00. We were able to get into Fairbanks with enough time to shower and enjoy a pizza for dinner.
    Final thoughts The River was everything I expected it to be other than a few exceptions. The fishing was much worse than I expected I caught 1 grayling in 100 river miles. I did not try real hard but I definitely spent enough time with a fly in the water I should have caught many more. The other thing that surprised me was the mosquitoes. I knew they would be bad in the woods and out in the tundra but I never expected them to be bad on the river and out on the gravel bars. The last thingthat caught me off guard was the weather hot, hot, and hot almost every day was over 80 degrees tough to deal with when most of your clothes are for the mid 60’s. The wildlife was few and far between but considering the weather that was not a huge surprise. This area is some of the most remote of anyplace I have been in Alaska. Other than one group that floated it 1 ½ weeks before us there wasn’t any other people on the river. In fact we were the only group scheduled for the whole month of July. In one week we never saw any sign of humans other than the tin can I found on Redstar Mountain. We would see one to two airplanes per day but all at high altitude well above singling range. If you were to get hurt early on it would be a grueling 40 to 50hr float to reach Bettles.
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    Default Great Read !

    Great read. Thank you so much for sharing...

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    Member Birdstrike's Avatar
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    Awesome pics and a great description of an epic trip. Thanks!

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    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default Amazing trip.

    Wow. What a trip. What a place.
    Thanks for all the work you put into this post, man.

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    Member danattherock's Avatar
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    Awesome trip report man. Just awesome. Wish more folks would take the time to share in the way you did. Wonderful pictures too.

    Everyone that reads this thread should be sending you rep points!
    The two loudest sounds known to man: a gun that goes bang when it is supposed to go click and a gun that goes click when it is supposed to go bang.

  11. #11
    Member Vince's Avatar
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by slow reflection View Post
    GATES OF THE ARTIC NATIONAL PARK



    NORTH FORK KOYUKUK RIVER


    JULY 2009


    Part 4


    July 4th After a breakfast of instant oatmeal we packed up camp and were on the river around 10:00am. Today’s river conditions were nice with swift water and several small rapids with some minor rock dodging. All the water would be easy in any craft with the exception of one of the rapids (class II). In this set of rapids the water makes a very sharp bend with a large boulder sitting right in the middle of the bend. Even with our raft it was hard to avoid. I would not want to do this one in a canoe. This is a very short rapid and could easily be portaged. I and Stan particularly enjoyed laughing at Angela (who had never rowed a raft before) tense up as she went through some of the rapids. Eventually we decided to camp at the base of Eroded mountain after we were chased off of the river by a thunder storm around 3:00pm. We should have got off the river about 2:30pm setting up the tipi in a deluge of rain, hail, and blowing silt is not a lot of fun. By the time we got everything inside and all the mud washed off of everything the rain stopped! The air was a little cooler as we celebrated the 4th of July and my friend’s anniversary (the day he lost his independence). We had a nice dinner with jiffy pop for desert. Today we saw one cow moose with two calves. This is the only wildlife so far. We haven’t even seen many birds. The whole area seems very desolate as far as wildlife is concerned.
    we were in cold foot having dinner when those storms hit.. all i can say was WOW> a deluge it was.. i had to change after sprinting across the parking lot to get the truck to the door for the wife and kids
    "If you are on a continuous search to be offended, you will always find what you are looking for; even when it isn't there."

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  12. #12
    Member Vince's Avatar
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    great report all the way through.. in your final thoughts...


    i too have not had much luck fishing IN th koyukuk. up around Cold foot.. however south of there we had done very well.. and some of the lakes up around detrick

    we did VERY VERY well during our road trip down through the Jim river area and stayed the night down south there rather then up near Chandler where we planned due to the thunder storms... which was fortunate as my 8 yr old was catching 18 inch grayling..the missus was so NOT used to High noon at midnight and 1 am and 2 am and 3 am....

    the arctic is a wonderful place i love all the time i spend there and look forward to every trip i am GLAD you got to share it...



    but your right that Vis center is something else eh?
    "If you are on a continuous search to be offended, you will always find what you are looking for; even when it isn't there."

    meet on face book here

  13. #13
    Member power drifter's Avatar
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    Smile really great story

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip with us all. You may not have had fish for dinner but what a great trip. I to wish more people would share such a good read about their float trips.

  14. #14
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    Default Nice write!!

    Hey VDZ Mech

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your Gates float trip. Sure wish I could have done a bit this year. And you were right, This web site is a great wealth of info for the kind of stuff I enjoy.

    D.H. (ex GKN pilot)

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    Hi

    It was a great pleasure to read your report, I paddled the NFK a year before (also July) with a friend. We started at Pyramide Creek, used Brooks Range Aviation from Bettles, 30 min after landing at Pyramide Creek, Dirk from Coyote Air was also landing. This was the only group we saw.

    Most of the time, weather was bad, but we had 2 sunny days in a camp at the confluence with Clear River. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do any hikes, because I had some problems with my back (we had a little “rendez-vous” with a sweeper on our first day, and after that we had to rescue our Ally…). Fishing was bad too (we had a lot of dirty water because the rain), we often tried to catch fishes with blinkers but we had no luck. The same experience with the animals, no bear, no moose, but one lynx and to owls. I agree with your description of the rapids; the Cladonia Rapids must be class 2 (we lined), the Squaw rapids have been “nice”, even in an open Ally, class 1-2, depends on water level. Something will never happen on the next trips; we have not packed any waders, so we used our sandals for lining…very, very cold…

    Next time we would spend more time in the upper part of the NFK, after the confluence with the Koyukuk, the river and campspot's are not very attractive. Bugs were not a big problem, to much rain and wind.

    I loved this trip and I often remembering this adventure….but I am also looking forward to paddle my next river in Alaska 2010.

    Stefan, Switzerland

    Picture 1; Camp at Clear River
    Picture 2; Noth Fork Koyukuk at Kachwona Creek
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    and some more Photos

    Stefan,

    Picture 1; North Fork Koyukuk at Fishless Creek
    Picture 2; Linig the rapids at Cladonia Creek confluence
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    and some more....

    Picture 1; Flight through the storm, Gates of the Artic on the horizon
    Picture 2; view from Clear River camp against north, Red Star Mountain in the background
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  18. #18

    Default thanks for posting

    Thanks for posting your pictures Stefan. What river are you going to do in 2010?

  19. #19
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    I hope we can paddle the Wind / ANWR, but it is not so easy to find a pilot...

    Stefan

  20. #20
    Member Buck Nelson's Avatar
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    Default Outstanding trip reports

    Thanks for the stories and photos! Very nice country indeed.

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