Last updated: December 7, 2021
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Day 0 - Late August is ideal
Meet your guide(s) in Kotzebue for an evening preparatory meeting.
We fly north from the Chukchi Coast at Kotzebue across the Noatak Valley and into the DeLong Mountains. Following the Kugururok River from above, we assess water levels and choose the optimal starting location for the trip. Once the plane is unloaded and has departed, we are alone in the vast wilderness. Then we can set up a comfortable camp, the fishing rods and enjoy the solitude.
Day 2 and 3
Two days on the Kugururok to bask in the beauty and catch some fish. We have about 20 miles to cover on the Kug so we have plenty of time to day-hike into the hills, explore the tundra or walk the river flats. Instruction for packrafting will be provided and the Kug is a good place to hone your skills. As we head south on the river the mountains recede and the floodplain grows broad.
Where the Kug hits the mountains on the west side of the valley we pull over and roll-up the packrafts. Then strap everything to your pack and begin the backpacking portion of the trip. It is about 5 miles from the Kug to the Avan River through a fringe of forest, across tussocks, over a small ridge and then down to the clear and small Avan river. The effort will be worth it!
We have a full day to explore and enjoy the Avan without packing up camp. Fish the pools, climb the far ridge, or relax in camp. With luck there will be wildlife to watch and fish to eat.
Paddle the Avan River. It is about 12 miles from where the first backpacking section ended to where the Avan gets close to the Kelly River. If the water is high, it will be a relaxed day and the current will do most of the work. If the water is low we may have to nudge the rafts through the shallows and hop in and out of the boats to keep them moving down-river. Working hard or hardly working, either way we will get to enjoy a nearly untraveled portion of Alaska.
We have the morning to enjoy the solitude, fishing and scenery of the Avan River. Then we pack-up once again and backpack through the woods to the Kelly River three miles distant. It is a flat and forested hike. There is a little brush and some blow-down but after a few hours we find ourselves at the Kelly River with stunning views back into the mountains. Resume fishing and relaxing riverside.
Our third river is a gem. The Kelly is broad and clear. Its many channels braid through colorful gravels, broad willow islands, and mature spruce forests. Bear tracks and salmon mark the shallows and eagles adorn the snags leaning over the river. We have a dozen miles to paddle on the Kelly and then 2 or 3 miles of the much bigger Noatak River. Once we arrive at the appointed gravel bar we can set-up camp one last time and enjoy a final evening under the arctic sky. Maybe we will get to hear wolves howling under the aurora.
Pack-up and take a final stroll down the gravel bar in search of wildlife. Take a few more casts for a record Dolly or examine the mud-flats for fresh tracks. Mid-morning our pilot will return for us (weather permitting) and will fly us three at a time down the Noatak River and into the village of Kotzebue where the trip concludes and you can take a shower.