Alaska's Ultimate Wilderness
Zachary kneeling and laughing between the stark white of a dropped caribou antler. Splashing high through the one short rapid on this stretch of the Noatak. Awakening from a nap to the click of caribou feet, and sitting up to scribble in my journal. Bright sun on the next to the last day, and hanging all our gear and clothing over low bushes to dry, making camp look like a miniature carnival of color. Paddling the last miles with the wind in our teeth."The wind's blowing," Chris said, "but at least it's raining."
After a little more than 100 miles, we pulled out at Kavacherak Lake where the float planes, weather permitting (which it did), would pick us up. The clouds lifted during that evening, and the sun flooded the land in tilted, amber light, the mountains shone as if fired from within, far snowy ridges glowed, reds and yellows awoke across the tundra as the season changed around us, and those hours alone would have made the trip worth the effort.
When You Go
Plan ahead and prepare well for the Noatak River. Information and a reading list is available from Superintendent, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, P.O. Box 74680, 201 First Avenue, Fairbanks, AK 99707; (907) 456-0281. More publications may be acquired from the Alaska Natural History Association, 650 West Fourth Avenue, Anchorage, AK 99501. The maps available free from the park service show very little detail, but excellent topographical maps may be ordered from the Alaska Distribution Section, USGS, New Federal Building, Box 12, 101 Twelfth Avenue, Fairbanks, AK 99701.
Guides and outfitters are usually walking encyclopedias of the area. Contact Mountains and Rivers at P.O. Box 874254, Wasilla, AK 99687; (907) 373-5221 (firstname.lastname@example.org). They charged $2,350 per person, which included all expenses from Fairbanks and back except for meals in Bettles.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication