The Kongakut River is a classic wilderness trip in arctic Alaska. With fun rafting, endless hiking and great chances for seeing caribou, paddling the headwaters of the Kongakut River is a great way to experience the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the eastern Brooks Range.
Last updated: June 21, 2018
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guide(s) for a pre-trip meeting in Fairbanks at 4 pm at Arctic Wild headquarters.
Fly 200 miles north from Fairbanks, across the Yukon River and the Arctic Circle to the Gwich’in Athabascan village of Arctic Village. From there, we board a smaller plane and carry on through the Brooks Range to a river bar alongside the Kongakut River. Tonight, take a hike, and settle into your surroundings. The sun won’t set!
Here we are, in the mountainous headwaters of the Kongakut River! It’s not a big river at this point, but it will get bigger and bigger as water is carried into it by a dozen tributary valleys. Once we inflate and launch the rafts, we may need to drag the raft in spots, especially early on if the river is low. Caribou should be all over the country as we paddle north. They should be our companions for the rest of the trip.
We will plan to enjoy three layover days on this trip, moving down river the rest of the time. As we travel, we see the many faces and moods of the Kongakut. There are areas where the river course narrows and the river swings from valley wall to valley wall, cutting rugged bluffs.
Sometimes we pass through great fields of auf eis (ice that builds up as the river freezes layer upon layer during the winter). In the spring the river carves through the auf eis and we float past frozen blue walls of ice five to ten feet high.
We run fun Class III rapids on several different days. The blue water is very cold, and our boats are heavily loaded, so we avoid the holes and waves. From each night’s camp we can explore our surroundings – quiet cottonwood glades, small waterfalls, flowery willow forests, and jutting outcrops above the river make for great hiking destinations.
Each of the layover days will start from a camp at the base of a mountain, this gives us lots of time for mountain climbing. At each camp, we have choices of easy climbs or harder, longer, higher climbs. The guides will lead informal natural history hikes on moving days and on the layover days. The last day, we will be able to hike to a sweeping view of the Arctic Coast and the pack ice of the Arctic Ocean stretching off to the curved horizon.
Weather permitting, our bush plane will arrive by noon to fly us back to Fairbanks. We’ll re-cross the Brooks Range, the Arctic Circle and the Yukon River.
Such a joy to spend days where time was meaningless. A wonderful adventure and I would like to return next year for a longer, more challenging trip.
You mentioned to me in an email that you have terrific guides - you do indeed. Dave is a superb guide. He is personable, knowledgeable about the Arctic, and has excellent group management skills. I appreciated the time he spent teaching me to read the map, which is not easy without trails. He allowed Adrian and me to hike at our own pace and he encouraged all of us to explore the area surrounding our campsites. I know the others would concur in my praise.
Transportation beyond Fairbanks
Outstanding guide service
Wholesome, delicious, and mostly-organic food while in the wilderness
Stoves, cooking & eating utensils
Repair and safety equipment such as firearm (guide will carry) and one bear spray per guest
All boating gear, including boats and paddles
The use of one life jacket and one medium-sized dry-bag per guest
Temperatures vary dramatically in the Arctic. It could be hot, but it isn’t likely to be. Temperatures will range from the 20s to 70s. When the wind comes from the north, the temperature can drop to below freezing. Cold rains and snow are possible, but we get lots of sunny weather this time of the year. This trip is before mosquito season, but bring a mosquito head net and a small bottle DEET repellent just in case they hatch early.
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by Alaska Geographic; Being Caribou by Karsten Heuer; Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez; Caribou & the Barren-Lands by George Calef; Fifty Years Below Zero by Charles Brown; Midnight Wilderness by Debbie Miller; Seasons of Life and Land by Shubanker Banjeeri; Arctic Wings by Stephen Brown; Naturalists Guide to the Arctic by E.C. Pielou. More Alaska reading is available at our bookstore.