In the far northwest corner of Alaska near the Chukchi Sea is the seldom-traveled Utukok River. Draining the wildlife-rich Utukok Uplands, the area boasts the highest densities of grizzly bears and wolverines in Northern Alaska. It is also home to Western Arctic Caribou Herd of 200,000 animals, which tends to cross the Utukok in mid June on its way to the Chukchi Coast.
Last updated: June 21, 2018
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Pre-trip meeting with your guide in Kotzebue at 6:45 pm.
Our trip begins with a beautiful flight over the Noatak River and into the Brooks Range. We fly on and on, watching the world’s largest terrestrial wilderness pass below us. We will land on a gravel island where the Utukok and Driftwood Creek converge. After unloading the plane and pitching camp, we will have nothing but time to explore the area.
Assemble the canoes and head down river. There is a bit of fast water at the very start of the trip but no rapids at most water levels. If water levels are high, the river requires our full attention but the majority of the paddling is relaxed, leaving time and attention for birding, and scanning for wildlife.
We will mix paddling days with hiking days. We have some miles we must cover but the schedule allows ample time for exploration on foot and leisure time in camp. The river traverses first one mountain range and then another. We will have the opportunity to ascend some of these broad colorful ridges. As we travel north the river grows from a large creek to a meandering river. The river cuts through many small sub-ranges of the Brooks Range. In between each of these ranges are broad valleys where you feel as if you could be swallowed by the sky. In previous years we have seen big aggregations of caribou at Carbon Creek in mid-June. Hopefully our timing will be good for seeing caribou every day of the trip and in increasing numbers each day.
Weather permitting, we fly back to Kotzebue. A shower is in order!
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.
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Temperatures vary from the 70’s to below freezing. Snow is possible; as is rain. June is usually sunny and windy on the Utukok. Strong winds from the north are common. It is not likely, but there could be bugs, so bring a mosquito head net and a small bottle of DEET repellent.
Being Caribou by Karsten Heuer; Land of Extremes by Alex Huryn; People of the Noatak by Clair Fejes; Caribou and the Barren Lands by George Calef; Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner; Alaska Wilderness by Robert Marshall; Last Light Breaking by Nick Jans; Arctic Wild by Lois Crisler; Path of the Paddle by Bill Mason. More Alaska reading is available at our bookstore.