Utukok River to Pt. Lay

USPacific region
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Brian Johnston
Trip Date : 
July/Aug 2017
Route Author: 
Brian Johnston
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
300 km
Duration: 
21 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
0
Total Portage Distance: 
0 m
Longest Portage: 
0 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Intermediate
Lake Travel: 
Advanced
Portaging: 
Not applicable
Remoteness: 
Advanced
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Unknown
Route Description
Access to Put-In Information: 

Commercial flights to Kotzebue. Air charter to the river. Return via commerical flghts from Pt. Lay to Kotzebue and beyond. 

 

 

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Summer 2017 Utukok River to Pt. Lay, Alaska

From Wiki. The Utukok River is a 225-mile (362 km) long stream in the North Slope Borough of the U.S. state of Alaska. It empties into Kasegaluk Lagoon on the Chukchi Sea of the Arctic Ocean, 20 miles (32 km) southwest of Icy Cape.

Overcast conditions image

Saturday 17 June 2017

It’s time to be off, driving to Winnipeg. At the last minute I tossed in dried strawberries and chickpeas. Once in the city, I stop at a food store for GROP, tropical dried fruit mix, a second box of fig cookies and a bag of cashews. 

Sunday 18 June 

After a frightful night I’m at the airport shorty after 5 am—it was still quiet.  

I pre-weigh my two packs. Both were less than 60 pounds. To one I added a bag of cashews. There is no room for the tortillas or fig bars so they remain in my carry-on bag. Paid baggage fees. The big Seal Line pro pack just fit into the baggage bin otherwise it was going to oversize. 

Clearing security with two open lines took time. Apparently more lines open after 6 a.m. when the airport gets busy. Within minutes of waiting at the gate my flight boarding began. I had time to eat a banana, boiled egg, one sandwich and a muffin with cheese but only enough time. Boarding my zone was already in progress. 

Our departure was a head of schedule. A few drops of moisture fell on my window as the plane taxied. Otherwise it was a fine day to travel as well as for all the Manitoba Marathon runners. Family members are running in the full marathon, as relay teams and in the Super Run. 

I put my seat back and rested for a couple of hours. No inflight aircraft entertainment system and thus no power for charging my iPhone or Polar watch. I did several Ken Ken puzzles during my wait in Vancouver. Also discovered a hot water dispenser. I think the green tea aided my logic solving abilities. 

Leaving late and have head winds so we will be in late to Anchorage. With the three hour time change, my 4:30 wake up was 1:30 a.m. local time. That's an early start to the day. 

Arrived Kotzebue on a combi Boeing, as did all our gear—We are now together, my usual trip partner and I, our 6 bags, which includes everything from the canoe to the kitchen pack. It’s a tiny crowded terminal. People coming and going, shuffling around. The flight is continuing onward to Nome.  

We could see tomorrow's air charter building but no one was around. On a borrowed phone we tried to get through to someone but failed. 

After we decided to forgo dropping our extra gear at the air charter hanger we head directly to Bibber's B&B. A Honda truck rolled up and Stacey the driver opened with are you the guys I’m looking for? In no time we were loading and off the hanger, then she dropped us at the B&B and pointed us in the direction of the store. Checked in. Off walking. Proved streets and the odd sidewalk. A community of 3000 I hear. 

At the well-equipped store, open to 9 on Sunday, we grabbed two cans of white gas. More than enough but no wanting to run out. Onions, margarine and a bottle of lime juice as mix for an evening drink. 

Back to repack one of our food packs that had a note on it of inspection. Other than being all toss around, the contents were all there. 

Monday June 19

7 a.m. Marylyn and her husband are the stand-in keepers at the B&B while Vivian, the owner, is on holidays. Stacy at Arctic Backcountry air charter is the ex-wife of author Seth Kantner. Eric pilot is a no nonsense guy. 

We visit the National Park visitor centre and are entertained by Allen Beaver, who also is a B&B operator. I buy two books for my nieces. At the Art gallery my trip mate bought a wolverine pelt for a good ruff. 

Lunch in the waiting room, we pulled out leftover travel food and supplemented it with cheese from a food pack. The Cessna 206 returned from a 4 hour National Park whirlwind private tour. Eric changed the engine oil. Loaded up. With an apple in hand and a bottle of something he was let's go. 

Air Charter loading image

It was a shorter than excepted 1 hour flight. Great view of Kotzebue. It's occupies the island. Could see Allen's B&B building. 

Landed on gravel unloaded image

We landed RL upstream of the driftwood strip because that site is getting old and overgrown. Unload and Eric took off, climbing fast without a flyover. Two p.m.

We walked over to check out the river and then carried our gear. Mosquitoes are out. Light airs. Cool temperatures. The odd rain drops. 

Tent up. We forgot the ground sheet. It’s the first year for self-standing Hilliberg tent. We moved stuff around that was packed for airline travel, not river travel. Found my air horn broken but useable. 

More rain so it was nap time. Silence. So quiet. Cool ground. Rested an hour. Tent warmed up quickly once the rain ended and the summer sun came out. It’s only two days to June 21, longest day. Not that that counts for much when you are already north of the Arctic Circle. 

Up to mosquitoes. We assembled the Pakcanoe forgetting to install the chine rods. It all worked out. 

Next was the Mantis shelter. There was a quick question as to where is the pole—it suddenly occurred to me that I forgot it. It was at home!

We tried it without the pole we didn't have. It was mediocre. I suggested we try a chine rod from the boat. Surprisingly, this time in a good way, not only did it fit inside the pole sleeve but it was also a pretty good length—only a little short.  

It then took us some time to make a plan for the pole ends. In my repair kit I pulled out two items we could use for pins. I pulled out the end plastic cap. It was unsustainable as a pin base. We each made a wood insert and then drilled a hole for the pins. One pin is the drill chuck sleeve insert for smaller sized bits. The other pin is the T-drill handle. Once done, the Mantis shelter looks great. 

Pakcanoe chin rod modified for the Mantis shelter pole image

Two caribou are meandering upstream towards us. Without existing the Mantis we loose sight of them. On and off intermittent rain and sun. Drinks in celebration. Eight p.m. cooking supper. Reading in the tent until 11 p.m., Adam Shoalts' Alone Against The North. 

Tuesday June 20th JUNE, I was typing July for the remainder of the June!

Woke after five a.m. ready to go but never got up. Next thing I knew it was eight a.m. Up to a little rain and similar patchy cloud cover. During breakfast the Mantis shelter blew over.

All day it was a little chilly and wet. Only a few times was it really raining continuously otherwise the rain was on and off drizzle. Saw a few birds and ducks. Ptarmigan, robin, rough tail hawk, harlequin ducks and so on. 

There was interesting derelict tundra tire vehicle at the old landing strip. We spent a minute scrounging for possible metal pin items and left with a nail, two bolts, and piece of rod. All spare parts for our jury-rigged Mantis shelter pole. 

Lunch RR around noon in part because it looked like rain and darker clouds were approaching. 

We pause at a riverside camp of possible hand glides who are also travelling down the river. According to our pilot they are the other group on the river having started a few days ahead. No one was around. Nice electric fence with two-piece poles. 

Packraft camp and bear fence image

Camp RR at the foot of a taller bank at three p.m. We do a short hike up the riverside rise to gain a view both up and down stream. Stronger winds in camp. Heavier rain shower systems are passing by throughout the evening. 

We continually adjusted our clothing and tent ventilation—opening and closing zippers—as the sun warmed us, or the clouds and rains chilled us to the bone. Although we have experienced this effect before the extremity of it took us by surprise. No doubt we are not yet acclimatized to the place. 

Wednesday 21 June 

Windy with showers. Rose after seven a.m. After breakfast the sky was clearing up. Wind to the South so we packed up. 

The river water level is up—the canoe is floating more than last night when I tied it up. Departure was with a strong tailwind. 

At a quarter to eleven we pulled over at a creek RR. Time for sunscreen and a short ridge top hike. A couple dozen caribou graze. Not the first ones we have seen but we are well positioned for viewing. 

Lunch RR near a ridge spur for a post noon hike. Grizzly bear den. Many flowers. 

Saw more geese today. Two peregrine falcons. A couple of 50 gallons fuel drums. Fast progress with current and powerful tailwind. 

Camped RR at the foot of a hiking opportunity. By 2:30 p.m. we were talking a pre hike nap. Warm when out of wind inside the sun blanketed tent. 

Two hour hike. Insane winds higher up. Strong blue lupine scent. Sik siks. Great views. Tons of mountain avens and other flowers. 

Packrafts image

When returning I noticed people at our camp so we hurried back to find five pack rafters—the glider group we had known about, all from Anchorage. Nice short visit. Avid Alaskan pack rafters. Birders. Two are also hang gliders. 

My partner unfortunately has a cold. For this trip he's sporting new Muck boots and a military surplus $8 Gore-Tex heavy rain jacket. He packed the old shot gun but with a new hard travel case and pistol grip and a Pelican Case of shells—rubber slugs, beanbag, rubber shot, rifled slugs and birdshot. 

I have yet to mention the fact that there is plentiful driftwood along the river for cooking by fire. Also, there is super high high-water mark—as in it’s half a dozen feet above the current river height. 

Thursday 22 June 

My trip mate’s cold is very noticeable today. Left around ten a.m. after oatmeal, casually packing up and me doing my Seven app workout as well as Polar mobility static stretching. Last year I had started trail and ultra running to complement my newfound interest in adventure racing and orienteering. 

Four hawk nests RL. Stopped to say hello to the alpacka raft and glider group and ended up camping RL. We were invited on a hike to Archimedes Ridge so up went our tent, out came our lunch and we were off with daypacks. Nearing two hours my travel companion turned around heading back to camp. I continued with the others achieving the Ridge and the following it to Wolf peak where I found a survey marker. The walk back was warmer than expected despite the wind—gusting to over 60 km/h. 

Utukok River Archimedes Ridge hike image

Back at camp we rested, read, relaxed and put the Mantis up and enjoyed a pasta supper. 

I moved a package of Wasa crackers to the lunch bag, which by the way we discovered had some water in it because it has three holes in the bag. We finished the first package of Euro bread. 9 p.m. all done. 

Friday 23 June 

Up at half one a.m. for a bathroom break—in full daylight. Awake at half seven a.m. Light drizzle. Oatmeal and hot drinks. Hillside covered in blueberry bushes. 

Said our goodbyes to the other group, who had just erected their Black Diamond single pole tarp for shelter. It was eleven-ish. 

Extreme headwinds leaving camp and at other times similar headwinds as the direction meanders. Otherwise we had a downstream wind assisting us going downstream. No doubt pack-rafts don’t fair as well in the wind as a canoe. 

Lunch RR high up at an interesting little rock outcropping at one p.m. 

Muskox image

Spied a single musk ox RR. Quick photo before finding a place to eddy out downstream. Surprisingly it was right there when we scaled the bank before it trodden off towards the point. The next thing I noticed while walking back to the canoe was it speedy through the water to RL whereupon it continued at a great speed once on land. 

Grizzly bear image

Camp RR four-ish after finding wolf and grizzle bear tracks. Today the rain ended, clouds cleared but the strong wind remained. Then it slowly clouded over. Still hope to bath and wash a couple of clothe items. I changed camera batteries and charged my iPhone. 

Darker clouds rolled in and I was chilled all evening. Finished reading Alone Against the North. Nearing midnight the sun returned and warmed the tent. I have a tiny sore feeling in the back of my throat, will a cold develop? 

Saturday 24 June 

The howling wind blew all night rattling our tent, which seemed little and weak against the powerful gusts but nevertheless it held up—every single guideline was staked into the tundra. It was our first real tundra ground campsite—all the other sites being more exposed gravel bars or silty mud with the shoreline willows. 

At seven a.m. the tent was warm, such a nice feeling and experience after the constant coolness of sunless hours when the cold powerful wind robs you of any and all heat your body can generate. Breakfast was hot and comfortable in the Mantis shelter except for the fine dusting of silt that slowly blanketed everything. 

After packing up the tent pack we are hiking up the rise behind us. It was all we could do to stand in the wind. Took a panoramic iPhone photograph. 

Somewhere between nine and ten we pushed off, front ferrying to move RL for the nearby CI rapid. As per usual, we are switching bow and stern paddling positions daily. In the stern, I used a rudder to keep the canoe on course against the wind. The downstream rapid current provided much of our speed. 

After almost two hours we crashed into the RL shoreline. We could not overpower the wind. Pinned again a gravel bar we kept our outside edge up. With much effort we were able to push ourselves along using our paddles. A little further downstream we stopped. There, timing our departure between wind gusts we were able to break free of the shoreline. 

Not much further the river turned right into the wind and we were unable to control our canoe. After spinning around and failing to make progress backwards and unable to pivot the canoe around left or right we managed to get to the shallow gravel bar shoreline. There we hopped out and assessed our situation. 

Full exposed. Wind driven mud. River flowing almost directly into the wind. We could not paddle. We could not stay put. I quickly state that our best option was to work ourselves to the corner, lining the canoe. 

Strong Winds image

It was easy enough, compared to all other options. We took a couple of rest breaks but made the course to the corner. Once there we scouted our camping options and took a granola bar and water break. 

With then canoe unloaded and secured on land we tried without success to put up our Mantis shelter. Our chosen stop was right next to the bank and apparently it created downdrafts and turbulent winds. As much as we love the Mantis shelter, it does best with its low end, its tail into the wind. The two sides can handle some wind but the tall front collects more wind than it can deflect. The Mantis isn’t stable in winds on the move, clocking around and forever changing directional winds. We left it on the ground and ate lunch in the lee of the bank. 

The tent went up pretty good on the gravel bar. Out of the wind and in the sun the tent's interior warmed up too much—it was hot. We are both into new books and will no doubt be napping in the greenhouse effect tent heat. We will both have to wash the silt driven grime off. In the tent I was down to a shirt and boxer shorts and still too warm. Outside the tent it was cold with a fleece sweater and jacket. What a difference! Just the way we like it, as one of my past Arctic canoe tripping friends likes to call it. 

Pan fried bannock image

Without the Mantis erected we did an open-air kitchen. First drinks with nuts as we read our books, then soup and bannock. We found a suitable site without airborne silt and simply dressed for the outdoor conditions. 

Strong Winds stats image

Re the weather, it can't be helped, as the Inuit say. 

Sunday 25 June 

It rained overnight. Yesterday may have been our first day without rain of some kind. By seven a.m. it was pretty still and overcast. The river looked like something different from yesterday’s wind swept waves with their tops being blown away. Sure it was cool but it was optimal for our liking. Our thinking is better too cool than too hot. 

Without the sun reflecting off the water it was easier to figure where the current flow was going and thus stay in the deeper water. Saw a loon, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, swam and ptarmigans on two occasions. Took a hike up a ridge on RR to view the river and saw two musk oxen and a downed solar-powered data-recorder radio-uplink of some kind. 

Hike to solar image

Lunch was RR behind the riverbank out of the wind. Camped RR shortly thereafter. After getting camp organized we hiked up the ridge, which was approximately 2.5 miles away. Saw a couple lesser golden plovers, shed caribou antlers and survey markers with an aerial cross marker. 

The hike was from two to half five. Nearing camp upon our return it began to rain lightly. After the short and light rain the wind dropped and mosquitoes came out. We had forgotten about them.  After drinks and nuts we did pesto pasta with a pineapple carrot almond salad followed by ginger and chocolate. 

Monday 26 June 

Still. Quiet. Other than day number one there have been powerful winds. It's strange to be noiseless. Not even a strong mosquito hum. My cold is still with me. A little reluctantly I stir after seven a.m. motivated by a full bladder and the prospects of a promising day. We are slower this morning. Both having colds doesn't help. 

We fished for over half an hour while I manoeuvre our canoe in the current. No fish caught. 

We noticed all the songbirds’ songs. So loud without the sound of the wind noise. Saw two peregrine falcon chicks in a nest, one bald eagle chick, hawk, jaeger, and gulls. 

Disappointment Creek had little volume and flow and no fish. It was clear water. 

Camped at Carbon creek, four p.m., after exploring the area including an old trappers cabin. It was another gravel bar campsite. 

Tonight we visited and relaxed in our open air kitchen starting with pre dinner drinks and salty snacks, coleslaw, chili with Cache Lake “Onion Fryin' Pan Bread” and shaker cheese. Dessert was crystallized ginger and chocolate with tea and Jamison Scotch whisky. 

Gradually the clouds have been giving way to blue skies. The evening is warm with the sun. The gravel bar rock faces are beginning to shine as they are reflecting the sunrays. 

Last night I finished the book called Julie that I bought in Kotzebue. Tonight I will start the other book that I purchased there, Julie's Wolf Pack. 

Tuesday 27 June 

3:30 p.m. We are sitting in our chairs in the tent listening to the rain on the tent. 

The sun warmed the tent all night. No need for much of a sleeping bag. 

The very slight breeze along with the vegetation-less gravel bar meant we could tolerate the few persistent mosquitoes in our open-air kitchen for breakfast. 

In the heat of the day clouds continued to build upriver of us. 

We hiked to the Colt elevation maker. There was our first good sign of Inuit stone structures. Many fresh caribou trails. Bald eagle, peregrine falcon pair, small flock of geese, geese with young. 

Lunch was RR. It was too hot, even with hat dunking. At least we could manage the few mosquitoes. The Inuit would say, it can't be helped. 

Back on the river it was a little cooler. Soon after the sun was blocked by clouds and the temperature became pleasant. There is less current and flat sections have begun. We see a single female caribou. 

We took a short break on the gravel bar RL and noticed its height. Also numerous caribou tracks in the mud including many calf tracks as well as a small antler. 

Caribou tracks image

With the looming rain clouds and our daily plus mileage done we camped RR on a gravel bar close to a rise for potential hiking. I saw part of an ivory tusk on the gravel bar. It would have been washed down stream from an eroding bank having been from the Bering Land Bridge, 8-10 thousand years ago, when wooly mammoths roamed this land. 

Still have my cold. After being tent bound, reading and a nap due to the rain, we exited for happy hour, which very slowly merged to spaghetti supper with fresh fried onions and olives. All in an open-air kitchen. 

We walked the gravel bar and headed for the hill or ridge step. The wind was down after supper so the mosquitoes were in abundance. It was through dwarf birch and wetlands to reach dry ground. Whole sik sik families of at least half a dozen were out standing tall or erect. Up top there were chert flakes from an old chipping station. Hiking with whistle and bear spray. Air horn in the tent. Bear spray also in the canoe deck map case.  

Back to the tent at ten p.m. After midnight we hear an animal. It was a lone bull caribou in the water. 

Wednesday 28 June 

It was warm in the tent as well as outside by the time we got going. We had two Critter Gitter alarms, both false. We use a small motion detector in camp to alert us of bears. 

Breakfast was in the open air. After my exercises we pushed off into a current and a bright sunny day. We still have favourable tail winds. Loon, bald eagle, Northern harrier, geese, falcons, arctic terns, peregrines, raven. 

Hiking on the land image

Lunch RR on larger rocks was followed by a ridge hike—chert chips including a good sized arrowhead body with missing head or tip as well as attachment end. Owl pelts. Bear scat. 

We are not following the map closely and with the brood valley it's difficult to place our exact location on the map. 

Camped RR at 3 p.m., positioning ourselves higher up nearer the bank and vegetation because of the strong wind, which had built during the day. I hiked inland to the winter trail that was marked on the map, called the “Deam” elevation marker. Never saw the trail or the marker but I turned around once a found an old oil drum half buried in the ground. 

Also saw a white wolf and a column of smoke from a fire, perhaps from the lightning strike I saw as we pulled ashore to camp. Back at I washed. 

Supper was another grand fair, drinks, snacks, coleslaw, curry rice with fried onion, veggies, turkey and tuna. Ginger, chocolate and tea concluded the open-air event at 8 p.m. We finished just in time because the wind died and the bugs come out. 

Thursday 29 June 

I woke to no wind and rolled over taking the opportune brief that it would pick up. Next thing an hour had passed and the wind was up ever so lightly, just enough for an outdoor kitchen although I ate my granola standing and facing into the wind. 

We packed up. It was a dusty campsite with a fine clay sill sticking to all things. On the water with a light tail wind and mostly cloudy skies.

A couple of ravens, gaggle of geese, loon. Surprised by a young bald eagle that I heard it wings before seeing it, as it took to flight close by. We noticed an object with a pole off in the distance behind us on RR. Viewing through binoculars we identified it as a building with antennas. Passed by a couple of raptor bird nests. 

Lunch RR followed by a RL shoreline bank walkabout to investigate falling tundra—the shoreline tundra was subsiding into the river. It smelt like a barnyard. The melting permafrost kept the soil wet and heavy. Without the ice structure the bank slowly gave way to gravity. Looking up we could see the permafrost. Picked up a tussock or hummock. Its root ball was tight and similar to its top. Also picked up pet moss.

Snow image

Stopped RL to visit a snow bank. We've seen snow everyday but had yet to investigate a snowdrift. Shortly thereafter I pointed out a grizzly bear on a snow bank. 

Camped at half two on a RR gravel bar. After finishing the two wolf series books I pulled out The Plague by Albert Camus—a classic high school literature parable. 

We had a wolf cross the river just below our campsite during our pre dinner drinks. Pesto pasta—always a hit. Our open-air kitchen works well because the wind picked up a bit driving the mosquitoes away. 

Into the tent at 9 p.m. A light rain began. Thunder, at least half a dozen times, could be heard loud and clear. There were even bursts of light to medium rain showers. 

Friday 30 June, yes June, the end of June…now I’m correctly typing July. 

There is smoke in the air. Tundra must be on fire from last nights thunder storm lightning strikes. We should have either pulled the boat higher last night or tied it off. In this case, with nothing to secure it to taking it out of the water would have done the trick. The river water level rose after the rain. We know better. 

A slow cook breakfast, our first. Using half a carton of potatoes and mixing in onion and eggs instead of cooking the whole batch of potatoes and cooking them and the eggs separately. A entire box of hash brown potatoes overwhelms us. 

Saw a couple of young bald eagles and a wolf. Lunch at noon. On RR across the land in the distance is a trapper looking cabin. 

Although we had decided to pass on hiking to the cabin, at some point, we seemed close to it so I suggested we pull over to assess how for it was and what was involved in trekking there. Once above the riverbank it was in fact pretty close so walked there without charging our footwear and without contemplating our route. Similar to most cabin hikes, it was typical, clapboard, door held closed with bent over nails, messy and junkie but useable. 

Again today we passed melting snow banks, young eagles, many gravel bars, slumping riverbanks, visible permafrost and big river meanders. Some sort of midges were buzzing around us but not biting. Just enough wind to make the mosquitoes tolerable. 

Camped RR on a gravel bar. A wolf was across the river. I paddled across to hike to a couple of single fuel drums that were along the high water mark. There are few hills or ridges to hike as we approach the coastline so a fuel drum make for a destination or target feature.  

It's more humid today and even after an upper body birdbath it's sticky. Small systems of rain and storm clouds pass. Some rain on us. 

I transferred food from my food pack to the food pack we are using. I cooked up a potato supper with mushrooms and onions. Very good and simple. Rain systems continue to pass. Referring to one, we stated, someone's getting it, but not us. 

Saturday 1 July 

Pitter-patter, the light rain can be heard on the tent fly. It's already after three p.m. We just returned to our tent having been up and out for lunch. No change in the low overcast clouds or the persistent falling moisture. At least the wind and rain are both light and the temperature more warm than Arctic cold. Two sweaters in the tent are all I need for warmth. 

Poor conditions for my daily exercises. Read and then had a short snooze this morning. Happy Canada Day—150 years old. 

I've noticed before but failed to record my thoughts on the fact that I like this trip for its lack of noisy camping at rapids and falls. Tonight the soft and repetitive rainwater continues to dance off the tent. There is, as there has been on our previous nights, a welcome absence of roaring rapids and cascading falls. 

Before venturing out of the tent and into the Mantis shelter we listened to wolves howl. I've been wondering if we've set a record for our number of open air kitchen or cooking site this trip. Either way, with our erecting the Mantis this morning, our open-air meals came to an end or at least we took a break from them. 

Tonight was wild rice, an excellent supper thanks to my wife's preparation of it at home. It was also simple, easy and fast to cook. 

Sunday 2 July 

A wolf call woke us up at half six. Otherwise it was still and quiet. Pancakes were the first order of business. 

The sky similar to yesterday was overcast but the clouds were higher. We paddled from half nine to noon taking one short break to stretch our legs along a gravel bar. A couple of eagles, arctic tern, geese and goslings, sik siks. 

Lunch RR at noon. Far off in the distance the horizon holds promising weather. We camp on a gravel bar at 2 p.m. As the sky clears the sun warms us as we gather rocks to weight down the tent and Mantis. Just enough wind to hold off the mosquitoes, which are back out in force. Solar charging camera battery as well as the battery pack. Did a triple set of core exercises—was it an easy and short day. Bath and wash clothes. We were able to stand in the water without freezing our feet. 

Chili and rice—a fine combination. I started reading one of trip mate's spy novels, a type of book I seldom pickup. Forgot to add that here, where the land is low sloping, a compass or similar device would be helpful is keeping a hiker on route due to the lack of other prominent way markers.

Low lying land hummocks and cotton grass image

Monday 3 July 

Slept in a bit. My trip partner was still sleeping and I figured we need the rest given our colds that we are still recovering from. 

Camp awash image

Water in the tent vestibule—I could see a reflection. The look on my face said it all. Overnight the river rose horizontally at least a couple of boat lengths and more than a vertical foot. Wowee. The canoe was tied to a smallish rock that was still out of the water but it was surrounded by water. Lucky our gear was dry. The tent floor held back the rising river water. In the vestibules our boots were upright and our daypacks were closed. Nothing floated away. 

Fox. We could both smell a musk odour before I spotted it. We had oatmeal for breakfast—with blue berries, very enjoyable—and we let the tent dry out, leaving camp at half ten. 

We hiked up the creek at mile 70. Never saw the old winter trail but there were lots of mosquitoes and the walking was hummocky. 

At the creek we gathered water, filling our water bottles, as well as our empty Platypus liquor containers and three dry bags. With the rapid rise in water levels, the river is murky and flushing down debris. 

After lunch I spotted a bull moose. Bald eagle, geese with goslings, ducks etc. And a big group of ptarmigan, 30+. 

You could hear the silt crinkling against the hull—a soft continuous sound. The river was holding and carrying as much in suspension as it could. 

Camped before three pm RR on a gravel bar, now an island due to the higher river level. It was fast traveling—we noticed the in-flood increased flow volume and rate. 

Just enough wind to make the tent temperature tolerable as the sun beats down on us. A strong hum of mosquitoes means light airs. 

We used the Mantis for a big bug free evening meal. Quinoa for supper. The raisins and cashew nuts were a hit. Nearing the evening end, the rear shelter anchor let go—unburying the rock. The wind was up. 

My trip mate pointed out that our clear river water for washing and bathing ended. We started using our first dry bag of carried water. 

Darker clouds towards the sea. I walked the entire gravel bar after supper in vain looking for tie down rocks. 

Tuesday 4 July Independence Day 

It was another day that I waited for my tripping partner to awake before I stirred. Outside the tent it was windy and thus cooler. Mostly overcast skies with the odd sucker hole when the powerful sun warmed everything. 

I swung the Mantis shelter 180 degrees and we were ready for breakfast. We opted for granola given the choice of oatmeal, granola, pancake and what we call a slow cook breakfast—eggs with hash browns and bacon. 

At ten o-five we pushed off. When we stopped to check out two "cabins" on RR my trip mate pulled out his fleece—he was borderline chilled. The cabins appeared to be a project that never fully got off the ground—more like two structures that were dragged here but never converted into cabins—no interior, no stove pipe/chimney, etc. 

Eagles, caribou, sik siks, two swans, peregrine falcon, geese. 

Then we exited the main river flowing a cut through the bank. The side channel, of course, did eventual led us back to the main river flow, where we paused for lunch on top of a knoll, which provided us with a less mud sitting option as well as a little willow to shelter behind. We did not linger—the wind was cold. 

Airing out feet and boots on a gravel bars image

Shortly thereafter we camped RL at the upstream end of a gravel bar because I found a small collection of rock—to which we could anchor our tent and Mantis. It was the second gravel bar we checked for camping potential. Of course it was also early, before two p.m.

Once the boat was secure and the tent was up we napped for 90 minutes. Then our next task was to put up the Mantis and enjoy a hot drink and our books, which gave way to hot pre dinner drinks, a salty snack, purple coleslaw and Rice-o-Roni with Dal. The Dal was an excellent addition to which we topped it with cashews. Tea, ginger and mint chocolate with Jamison and warm water finished off our evening meal. 

I walked the gravel bar and found a backwater channel with clear water. Tomorrow we plan to stop there to replenish our fresh water supply.  Ten p.m. Journaling and reading. 

Wednesday 5 July

Can I type? My figures are a bit cold but in fact they are more sticky or clammy because of the moisture and humidity. To start off, it's Thursday—We are weathered in—grey skies and windy but not at an insane velocity. I can hear waves beyond our sheltered ocean side creek mouth. 

We arrived here at midnight after an adventurous day of travel. It begun as usual, up at approximately seven a.m. The day looked better than expected. We had checked the weather forecast on his Inreach device—strong winds with rain. 

So we were quick to exit, having granola and hot drinks before packing up our gear, including the Mantis, which we have not used everyday. The tent and Mantis were pretty wet as rainwater fell as we packed up and continued to wet us for the thirty minutes on the water. Surprisingly, for the rest of the day little rain fell. 

Our first action, before we passed the end of the impressive sized gravel bar we had camped on, was to investigate a backwater channel I had seen the evening before, when it looked like clear water—not silty, as the river water had become due to all the recent rains. Good news, it was still clear even though the river water level had risen overnight. 

After filling water bottles and a couple of 5 L dry bags we padded on. The lack of elevations and features of land and on the corresponding map meant it was difficult to follow our progress on the map. 

Slumping shoreline image

We saw bald eagle, peregrine falcon, several families of geese, jaeger and lots of slumping peat tundra riverbank and extensive gravel bars. Sections of vertical mud cliff-like river right shoreline helped position us on the map while current moved us along. 

My travel partner was chilled so at noon, when we stopped for lunch, he pulled out his fleece jacket. Warmer and fed, we continued downstream keeping to the left in order to stay on the river south delta exit channel. 

Spying some tundra to camp on and having just checked our old faithful gravel bar for camping potential, which was a little too wet and too muddy, we jumped at the opportunity to once again camp on land verse gravel. With the tent up and drying by two p.m. we were enjoying hot drinks in the Mantis. Then reading and napping in the tent, followed by our standard supper routine starting with our pre dinner drinks with a salty snack. 

After a successful Orzo evening meal my trip mate surprised me by suggesting we should pull up stakes and paddle onward. He had a good point. The wind was down and the sky looked stable albeit overcast but the ceiling was higher than low. 

It was pretty quick to tear down camp because we had not yet unstuffed our sleeping gear nor inflated our Therm-a-rests. But a little rain wetted the tent and us when we packed it away. 

Again, similar to the morning, the rain let up shortly after we started to paddle. Already today we have broken our longest mileage day and now we find ourselves back on the river adding more miles to our daily total. 

We had switched paddling positions, similar to the start of everyday, at my suggestion. It felt like a new day having already canoed approximately twice our daily allotment—20 miles compared to 11 miles. 

River delta image

With a keen eye on the map, we stayed left and felt the awe of canoeing out into the river delta as we approached the ocean. Nearing the end of the river mouth we had to walk a very short bit due to shallow water at our insistence of staying left. For some time we could hear the far off, ocean swells braking on the ring reef that protects the inland waterway. 

Surprising us, as well as bringing home the fact that we are not that far from coastal communities, I noticed two small motorboats, both of which turned towards us. 

They were heading up the river, staying close to shore. We waved to each other off in the distance. No doubt they were locals hunting caribou. Half an hour earlier I had watched silhouetted caribou swim across the river and continue northwards on the delta. There were many—say a hundred. 

After pausing on the coastline for a minute to stretch we headed off to finish off another six miles to the nearest shelter bag, a creek entrance. The sun was still high for ten p.m. The wind barely strong enough to keep the mosquitoes from biting. 

We are now on Kasegaluk Lagoon, the protected area landward of the Chukchi Sea, and the Arctic Ocean. A thin ring-like island snakes along the coastline. It's a few miles off the shoreline, ideally positioned to provide a breakwater for our coastal paddle. 

With tired paddling muscles and wearing eyesight, we followed the nondescript coastline. We passed on small point and then an orange cabin at the tiny creek. Only a few more miles to go. 

With overworked muscles and no river current to help propel us along our progress slowed. At midnight we landed safely inside, protected from the open waterway, just as the wind was picking up. Among bits and pieces of garbage and driftwood we camped and crawled in for the night. 

Thursday 6 July

After a good rest, we rose and cooked up pancakes listening to the wind and on and off rain. Temperature was okay. 

By noon breakfast was cleaned up and the food and kitchen kit were packed—back into the shelter of the tent to catch up on Inreach messages and journaling. By 1 p.m. sleep time. It was difficult to rest as the wind picked up to a howling and forceful torrent—rattling and buffing the tent. At least things are drying out now that the rain had held off for a bit. Three p.m. I've given up on tossing and turning in my sleeping bag and pulled out my trip mate's book that I'm reading—Vince Flynn American Assassin. 

Weather bound ocean image

Out for tea and fig cookies. We rotated the Mantis to align it more parallel to the wind. Back into the shelter of the tent and my book. 

Shortly after six pm it was time to get ready for evening drinks and snacks and supper of sesame seed soy ginger and rice topped with cashews and concluded with crystal ginger, chocolate and tea. 

After dropping and securing the Mantis shelter for the night, I trekked up the inlet to find freshwater. Along the way I scarred up many ptarmigans, birds and geese with goslings. In the end, I did find a little creek flow into a basin and scooped two 5 litre dry bags of water. The walk back, into the forceful wind carrying weight, stretched my arms and strengthen my legs trying to balance as well as make headway. It was a forty minute round trip adventure or task. Back into the tent just before ten p.m. 

Friday 7 July 

Windy all night. It has shifted a bit inland and lessened in speed but it's still keeping us pinned down. No rush to get up. 

We are within a long days reach of the end or a couple days paddle. Our plan remains the same, get to Pt. Lay on Sunday, Monday latest. 

A double round of tea for me. The single usual big coffee press for my travelling buddy. We eat cooked oatmeal with blueberries, strawberries, raisins and cranberries. To that we also added almonds and milk (me only) plus a bit of maple syrup after it was cooked. Washed up dishes. Cleaned teeth, etc. Did my daily Seven exercises. We walked to investigate the point and ocean. Shortly after noon, back into the tent to read and charge my iPhone. 

Saturday 8 July 

The wind never let up last night. I woke with cold feet or toes. My best guess is there was too much moisture in the air and I had slid downwards towards the end of the tent with my feet pressing on the tent door. It was time for breakfast, which I cooked oatmeal for the two of us. A light drizzle was blown by the wind, wetting everything in its path. 

After brushing my teeth, etc. the air was drier so I did my Seven app exercises as well as my Polar running program Core exercises. I’m warm, finally warmed up, feet included. There was a lone swan in the bay. 

I spent the rest of the morning reading. My trip mate had finished his book so he napped. 

We were out of the tent, early afternoon, for a hot lunch of grilled cheese (with sausage for the meat eater, not I). Then off to fetch more fresh water from the same creek I visited before to get water. En route, right by our camp we found a Japanese hand blown and plugged fishing float—a small one. I had heard of such but never witnessed one. Saw a jaeger. At the creek we both take a quick upper body sponge bath in the chilly wind before heading back with the 5 L dry bags and a 1 L Platypus bottle. 

Time to nap in hopes of paddling later this evening as the wind forecast via our Inreach is calling for low winds.

By 4:30 p.m. we were honed in on the sound of the wind—it was lessening—so we started to pack up our gear that was inside the tent. Once done one of us continued with the tent, taking it down, while the other cooked supper. The mosquitoes were back—a very good sign—the wind was really down and the air temperature up. A small group of caribou walked close to our camp. After our usual supper, this time it was cheese filled pasta with a veggie red sauce, coleslaw and ginger and chocolate and within two hours, we were packed up and off paddling. No happy hour today. 

It felt good to be back in the canoe after several days rest due to strong winds and whitecap waves. We were paddling into a headwind and there were still waves including whitecaps but the wind was in the neighbourhood of 5 miles per hour and few waves got the paddler wet in the bow.

With miles to make, we paused only three times, to stretch and once to don more clothes. As the evening progressed into night, the sun stayed high and the temperature slowly cooled off but never got cold. The wind pulsed a bit. 

Caribou hunting image

We stayed out from shore at times to pass sandy crescent beaches and shallow points. I was surprised at the number of caribou we saw here and there. A motorboat with four people from Pt. Lay stopped en route from caribou hunting. 

With clouds shielding the sun, it was difficult for the bowman to navigate. The night light was flat. Objects silhouetted. The fact that he was still wearing his sunglasses didn't help. 

Twice we had to walk the canoe because of shallow water. The footing was super-slippery. Caribou tracks could be seem everywhere in the delta-like mud and silt causeway floor. With leaking wet boots, my feet were very cold. 

Shallow ocean image

I could taste the salt water whenever I accidentally splashed the top of a wave. 

It was with difficultly that we landed, struggling to figure out where we were in relation to the village of Pt. Lay. Sure we could see buildings as well as the airport beacon flashing its white light but we were not sure where we were. But the area was campable so that is what we did. It was 4 a.m.

Sunday 9 July 

Although I was really to get up at 9:30 a.m. my trip mate did not stir until something like 11 a.m. After breakfast of oatmeal we walked into the village, which required skirting wetlands and a waterway channel. With the wind now at our backs, as it had swung around from SW to NE, we jumped over little wet depressions as we made our way to the snow fence and the nearest road with houses. 

Snow fence image

A couple people came out to ask about us and sell rings made from walrus ivory. We checked out the boat landing area for possible camping. It will work but it was definitely not something we wanted to risk investigating in the wee hours of the night as we approached town by water. 

The village of Pt. Lay has a population of only 250 people. There’s a nice looking newer school. It's large. Little Native Store, which is closed on Sundays, as is everything else. Fire hall. Post Office. Etc. We pulled on the police station door—it was locked. As we left it opened and we meet Tracy, the single officer in the village, on a two-week rotation. We chatted for several minutes. 

Back to camp, walking into the cold wind, for a late lunch. We are going to rejig our packs in preparations for travel home. Tomorrow we'll move camp to the boat landing area as then we can get a ride to the airport on Tuesday morning for our flight out. 

Burr, supper of chilli and rice is done. It's 8:30 p.m. into the tent after securing the canoe that flipped over in the NE wind. It's a cold, chilling, powerful wind. The tent guidelines are zipping. Everything is rattling. 

Monday 10 July 

After an early entrance into tent, I slept well from 9:30 p.m. to just after midnight. From then onward I tossed and turned. The sun come out from behind the dark clouds and warmed the tent. Plus it bathed us in bright daylight. Then it clouded over and the temperature dropped. All of that did not help with our efforts to sleep. 

My trip mate was first to rise. In fact he was keen—all packed up before heading to the Mantis shelter for breakfast. 

No time for exercises. We shifted our gear towards deep water as the tide or wind driven water had revealed mud flats where we pulled our canoe out the other day. Into the biting wind. At least it was a short paddle. 

On shore near the boat landing, we dried out and disassembled the Pakcanoe. 

I ventured to dump garbage and check in with Tracy at the police station, passing her our extra food and books before inquiring about a place to stay for the night. Camping is an option but rain is in the forecast and we are flying out on the morning flight. She'll make a call after lunch. 

I stopped at the teleconference centre. No Wi-Fi but was told to check the school. At the school, I meet Morgan, a summer kids circus worker, who is staying at the school. She spoke with a teacher Sandy who directed me to find Steven, the plant manager. 

We are all set to overnight at the school. Steven even used his pickup to shuttle our gear to the school. I’m trying to recall if the Wi-Fi at the school was turned off after school hours or the opposite, turned on. Anyhow, I do recall kids outside on the steps using wifi, but I cannot remember if it was because wifi was about to be turned on or off! Lunch, our usual dry bag style, at the teacher desk in the classroom we are using. 

Repacking and organizing. We took the Pakcanoe to the post office to mail it home, as we figured that paying airline overweight fees out of Pt. Lay and then again out of Kotzebue would total at least the postage fees, which turned out to be $126 for 70 lbs. max. You gotta love the USA Postal Service, much cheaper than Canada Post and much faster. 

I walked the isles at the Native Store. No souvenirs. 

Happy hour led to supper of Dal and stuffing with salad and salty snack. Next we somehow ended up browsing the bookshelves in the library. Their Arctic collection is impressive for a small school library. I borrowed Unbroken, the movie on DVD and a player with one broken sound jack/lead from the library collection. 

In our classroom there were no speakers connected to the Smartboard and the projector did not play sound so I found another open classroom that had Smartboard and speakers. On the floor, I sat and watched. My travel partner joined me for a bit but having already seen the film and being tired he headed off to sleep before it ended. When I returned the movie and player, Daniel and Morgan were returning from a walk. We chatted and then at Morgan's suggestion we played the game Spot It. 

It was a restless night. I guess that’s what you get for sleeping in a school. 

Tuesday 11 July 

The two of us, anxiety for travel, were up early and ate the granola breakfast we had saved for our departure day only to hurry up and wait. Steven the plant manager was busy keeping his crew on task and dealing with sub trades who arrived, had kindly offered to take us and our gear to the airport. In time, after suggesting we would wait at the airport, we found out that there is no airport to wait at. So waiting there would be waiting in the vehicle. When the incoming flight is near, word spreads in the village and people drive out to meet the plane. 

Once the plane was close he toured us around the village roads. Of interest was the village’s drinking water lake that drained into the river due to erosion. After it drained it was discovered that the US Military Due Line Station had disposed of many items in the lake, which were resting on the bottom. Most likely the machinery etc. had been left on the ice and sank when the ice melted. 

On the airplane turnaround edge of the Tarmac, all the vehicles lined up waiting for the flight. The single engine Cessna Caravan arrived, unloaded and loaded, and we were off. Our five packs were in the underbelly carriage whereas the interior cargo was coolers and boxes of muktuk, whale blubber. We were the only two passengers.

Loading the Caravan image

Flying above the clouds we slept. Coming through the ceiling we got a good look at Pt. Hope. The entire village is on the point with the runway spanning across the land from beach to the beach. Similar to Pt. Lay, vehicles meet the plane, people and cargo were moved and the plane took off. Before the pilot left, he said our connecting flight was weather grounded in Kotzebue but it would take one hour to arrive once it left—whenever that was. It kind of gets you wondering, what happens if your connecting flight doesn’t arrive….

In quick order, everyone including the plane left and we were alone. I pulled out warmer clothes. Ate a granola bar. Then we walked the beach until we got whiff of the garbage dump and then turned around. While walking back I noticed an incoming plane. Hurrying directly back to the airstrip we arrived shortly after the Bering Air Caravan. Apparently Bering Air and Ravn Air don't work together so the pilot shared nothing about our missing plane but offered to take us Kotzebue for a fee. We continued to wait having already paid for our connecting flights. 

In due course, our Ravn Air Caravan arrived, and did a quick turnaround. This flight had a third passenger. Again we flew high due to the low ceiling, only dropping below the clouds as we approached the runway. We are again staying overnight at the Bibber’s B&B.

Before I could cook supper my trip mate placed a call to Seth Kantner and the next thing I knew I was packing away for our last supper and enjoying our evening of food and visiting with Seth, Stacy and Seth's parents. It was a late night by the time we returned to our B&B because a NPR, National Public Radio, interviewer showed up to chat with Seth about climate change. 

Wednesday 12 July 

Up early again, after a short night of less than five hours. We helped ourselves at our B&B to a simple cold cereal and toast breakfast and headed off to the Alaskan Air terminal. 

We were surprised that TSA opened all of our bags and unpacked them to swipe and swab to test for chemical residue. Then they repack the bags but canoe packs aren’t as simple as a zippered suitcase to secure and we have a certain way of packing the likes of stove pots, solar panels, binoculars, and so on, after all, we have multi city flights. Unfortunately it’s out of our control. 

After clearing security our flight was cancelled. The jet did not land due to weather. I’m happy about that as I prefer airlines to prioritize safety over scheduling but not all passengers were happy, to say the lest. We waited for the airline staff to reorganize the next flight this evening, from a passenger and cargo combination to an all passenger jet before rebooking could commence. It took about an hour. The time delay again irritated many passengers even those the airline was specifically making changes to benefit the passengers. You can’t please everyone. 

Now we get to wait until 7 p.m. before we hopefully will be airborne. The terminal closes for three hours so we spent our time at the National Park Centre—which was a much more welcoming environment. In addition to the impressive displays and informative information, there was free Wi-Fi, I made tea, we snacked on our travel food and I did my exercises. Then we walked about and stopped for coffee and Chinese food. 

By six p.m. we were back at the airport. Our flight left a bit late but continuing our journey home is a good thing. The flight had a quick stop in Nome before continuing onward to Anchorage. I spent my entire stopover in Anchorage trying to get my boarding pass. Although the agent printed it she was unable to give it to me until my ticket was fixed, which took something like 90 minutes. It was taking so long that they gave us both $12 food vouchers so we left to purchase carry on food and returned and still waited longer. I got my boarding pass minutes before boarding and I was dealing directly with a supervisor who had to enlist the help of her boss as well as calling the ticket agent. All good in the end. What was the issue? When my ticket was rebooked in Kotzebue it was done incorrectly and unissue-able. It was only my ticket. My travel mate’s ticket was okay. I had missed all my connecting Canadian airline flight whereas he was continuing with Alaskan Air. Anyhow, he waited with me and then headed off for a beer as I boarded my flight. 

Thursday 13 July 

Originally I was flying from Alaska into Canada to Manitoba but now I was heading 3.5 hours southeast of Manitoba to Chicago. I arrived Chicago after a poor onboard sleep. There I read until well after midnight in an attempt to position myself dog tired after the previous short night. But it didn't really work. 

In Chicago, I was switching air carriers but no United Airlines desk wanted to issue me my boarding pass. I was directed to my flight gate but the gate changed several times. Finally half an hour before boarding I got my boarding pass and then purchased duty free gin. I assume the ticket issue still stemmed from the Kotzebue ticket rebooking. Let’s call it a fiasco. 

This is it—I’m on the last flight and I still have a few pages left to read in David Baldacci’s The Hit.