Western Arctic Packraft

GUIDED ALASKA Packraft

Western Arctic Packraft

DATES

July 27, 2024 - August 4, 2024

REGION

Western Brooks Range

TRIP COST

$6,900

calendar

DATES

July 27, 2024 - August 4, 2024
region

REGION

Western Brooks Range
price

TRIP COST

$6,900

Single person packrafts allow us to explore the wildest portions of Alaska and to fish where few have ever cast a line. This week-long adventure in Northwest Alaska has it all: fun packrafting, mountain hiking, and outstanding fishing.

TRIP DETAILS

Come explore the northwest arctic with us this autumn. Combine backpacking, packrafting and fishing for a wild adventure in a nearly unexplored corner of Alaska.

The entire watershed of the Noatak River, including the Kugururok, and Avan are protected within the Noatak National Preserve, one of the largest wilderness areas in the country. It is a sprawling, roadless wilderness of mountains, rivers, lakes, and rolling tundra hills. We will start this adventure on the “Kug”, which begins as a series of small rocky creeks flowing from dramatic mountains with enigmatic names like Inaccessible Ridge and Copter Peak.

As we descend the river in our single person packrafts and leave the mountains behind, the tundra is slowly populated with spruce trees. At the northern edge of the forest we will roll-up our packrafts, stow them in our packs and head cross-country through the foothills of the Brooks Range to the rarely visited Avan River. This 5 mile hike will be a challenge, but if you thought the fishing on the Kug was great, you are going to love the Avan! Some years there is more fish than water in this small watershed.

After resting up from the hike, we re-inflate our packrafts and make our way down this small river. The current is swift in places and we will need to be careful of overhanging trees, but the only tracks on the sandbars are of wolves and moose. We will have the entire river to ourselves and are likely the only ones to venture here this year. Days are spent on the clear waters of the Avan, and evenings spent river-side at the edge of the forest enjoying views of the distant peaks and the smell of fish cooking on a driftwood fire. Wilderness fishing at its best!

Near trip’s end we meet our 3rd river, the mighty Noatak and paddle a few miles on the broad flat current. Before packing-up one last time and flying back to Kotzebue.

The Kugururok, and Avan support impressive fisheries. Dolly Varden are often confused with the nearly identical Arctic Char. In this part of Alaska Dollies can reach 20 pounds and many years, run numbers in the autumn exceed 10,000 fish. Fall spawners are beautiful with bright white leading edges on their fins and brilliant red bodies. We also catch lots of bright silver fish fresh from the Chukchi Sea. In addition to the great Dolly fishing we can fish for grayling, pike, chum salmon and burbot. Of these, the grayling are the most plentiful and fun to catch. We sometimes find big grayling which are almost black in color with impressive deep bodies and outlandishly large dorsal fins. The numerous spring-fed creeks and upwellings in this part of the Brooks Range make for diverse and productive fishing.

Wildlife is wild so we never know what we will see on a wilderness adventure like this, but grizzly bears frequent all of these rivers searching for salmon in the fall. In recent years we have had frequent sightings of a large pack of wolves on the Kelly River. Moose, beaver and otter all frequent the lowlands and it is possible that caribou may be moving through the area in long strings. It is a rich area and the runs of fish are sure to attract wildlife to the rivers we are paddling.

Packrafts are light-weight, single person rafts that allow us to explore some of the most remote areas in Alaska. They are fun to paddle, comfortable, and give us an unmatched freedom in the wilderness, opening up rivers previously inaccessible. These responsive and stable little boats are the ideal way to explore rivers and creeks too hard to access or too small to navigate with larger craft. And weighing just six pounds, we can strap them to our packs and explore several rivers in a single trip, a feat unthinkable with any other type of boat. You need not be an expert paddler to venture into the world of packrafting. Packrafting trips offer the simplicity and challenge of a backpacking trip without carrying a heavy pack every day. The backpacking portion of this trip is short in milage but packs will be heavy and the terrain a challenge.

Between the backpacking and the autumn weather this will be a fairly challenging trip and all participants should be in good shape with a good attitude and a thirst for adventure. The rewards for those who love wilderness will be huge.

Last updated: January 11, 2023

Itinerary

What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.

July 26

Meet your guide(s) in Kotzebue for an evening preparatory meeting.

July 27

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.

July 28 - 30

Three 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.

July 31

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 6 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!

August 1

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.

August 2

Paddle the Avan River. It is about 12 miles from where the first backpacking section ended to where the Avan melts into the Noatak and Kelly Rivers. 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.

August 3

Our third river is a gem, though we only get to paddle 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.

August 4

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.

Stellar guides!

They went above and beyond the typical guide responsibilities and there was never a demarcation between guide and client–we were one pack of unruly rabble-rousers, loving every breathtaking minute on that wild river.  One of the best trips of my life.
Thank you!

- Nancy, Indiana, USA

DETAILS

WHAT'S INCLUDED

Transportation beyond Kotzebue

Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils, water filter

Packraft, life jacket and paddle, safety & repair gear

Professional guide service

Select camping equipment

WHAT'S NOT INCLUDED

Non-camp lodging

Non-camp meals

Personal clothing and gear

Backpack, tent, waterproof bags, wading pants, and clothing

Gratuity for guide(s)

WEATHER & BUGS

Arctic weather is extremely variable. Rain is nearly assured, but we also get lots of sunny bright clear weather in the late summer. An average “nice day” would be in the high 50’s with sun and a light winds. Hot weather is possible. Lows in the 20’s are also possible and stormy conditions with high winds and snow are not out of the question. On the upside, the fish are running and bugs on the wane. For a climate summary of the nearby Noatak Village click here.

RECOMMENDED READING

Nunamiut, Helge Ingstadt

Land of Extremes, Alex Huryn

Ordinary Wolves, Seth Kantner

Arctic Wild, Lois Crisler

People of the Noatak, Clair Fejes

"The wilderness was spectacular, the leadership perfect."
"I am just finishing my tenth trip with you guys. As always, the trip was more than I expected and I had a great time. See you next year!"
"Of all outfitters with whom we have worked (and that is quite a number), you were by far the most organized and responsive."
"That feeling of wide open wonder, the possibilities for nearly limitless wandering, and the image of those proud caribou...that will stay with me a long time"
"Our guide was an encyclopedia on legs. He was always willing and ready to teach, to talk, to listen, to do another hike, or to lie low in camp if we were beat. He truly gave us the trip we wanted!"
client client client client client
Eileen - Canning River