This will be my fourth trip down the Noatak, and believe me it is one spectacular river.
I am looking for a crew with the right stuff. Eight people seeking unparalleled adventure in one of the few remaining truly wild and pristine places in the world. And a wilderness where we will encounter grizzly bears, weather and unknown challenges, but none of the creepy terrorist or gangsta threats that are becoming more and more common even at farthest reaches of the globe.
I have completed 22 far north canoe expeditions. Never lost a crew member and never had a bad trip. Mostly my far north trips have been in arctic Canada, including rivers such as the Hood, Mara-Burnside, and a challenging 763 mile pan-arctic trip in 2010 up the Taltson River and up an unnamed tributary and down the Elk-Thelon. But none have been more exciting than the Noatak, and that’s why I am going back for an unprecedented fourth expedition.
A 2013 scouting trip. We saw the great eight of arctic wildlife- dall sheep, grizzly bears, arctic wolves, muskoxen, wolverine, lynx, moose and a caribou and not just from a distance. We were close to many including six feet from a lynx. Plus, we discovered remnants from the era of megafauna and had decent weather.
We had some adversity in 2014. The aboriginal people, the Inupiat, claim that July 2014 was the coldest and rainiest July in seven generations. The river was at flood stage the entire trip. It was one wild adventure and one of my most memorable trips ever.
2015 “the perfect expedition” After 2014, I had some trepidation about paddling the Noatak again. But my perseverance was rewarded with spectacular and bugless weather. Great views of grizzly bears, wolves, foxes, moose and musk ox and absolutely perfect water levels.
For birders every year we have had great raptor and waterfowl views and twice we have seen the Siberian Tit a rare add on to anyone’s birding lifelist.
There are some changes in the expedition itinerary for 2016. I recommend you paddle the entire river, but for many people getting time away for three weeks is just too difficult and it is a long time to be sleeping on rock. So four crew members can choose to paddle the upper (9 days) or the lower Noatak (11 days). Six other crew members must sign-up for the entire 400 miles (19 days). Paddling 400 miles in 15 days was also a push so this year we will have more time for hiking and fishing and resting.
It’s a commercial and insured expedition in full compliance with the National Park Service and the state of Alaska. I became re-certified last month as a Wilderness First Responder and we will take a two-way satellite communicator. However, crew should know that evacuation from the Noatak River is never a quick or inexpensive undertaking. In true expedition style we take a very cautious approach to rapids and any wilderness challenges we may encounter. Although we have never had a problem with aggressive wildlife, a firearm will be carried and pepper spray is recommended for the crew to carry.
Here are the details:
Fee is truly all-inclusive. Unlike many other “all-inclusive” trips there are no added taxes, permits or side trip fees. The group size is kept to an absolute maximum of ten (8 crew and 2 guides) Included in the fee are all provisions, canoes, paddles, PFDs, tents, group gear, maps, nav aids, everything. Also, a flight from Fairbanks to either Bettles or Coldfoot and then a bush flight to the headwaters of the Noatak. And at the conclusion of the expedition a charter flight from Noatak Village to Kotzebue on the Arctic Ocean. The crew is responsible to get to Fairbanks on time and to get home from Kotzebue (or in the case of those travelling only the upper Noatak, Fairbanks) Everything is included (except your personal gear and fishing license, if desired) You just need to show up in Fairbanks. This is a real expedition not a tourist trip and not for the faint hearted. There are no passengers, only crew.
The river is quite small at its beginning. The mountains and glaciers of the Brooks Range are close and it’s a spectacular landscape. 80% of the white water will be on the upper Noatak, mostly class one, some class two. Typically we can run everything. We may want to line one rapid, but I’m confident that we will be able to run everything if water levels are anything near normal. Depending on water levels there are upwards of 75 sets of rapids, novice whitewater paddlers will become intermediate whitewater paddlers by the end of the run. At this stretch of the river it’s possible to see Dall sheep, wolves, maybe a Caribou, and an excellent chance for a mountain grizzly. Fishing is spotty and mostly for Grayling. Crew must arrive in Fairbanks no later than 3:00 pm July 15. Accommodation the night of July 15 is your responsibility but I will host an orientation dinner at the Fairbanks Hampton Inn. We leave by scheduled flight early on the morning of July 16. That same day, weather permitting, we will fly by bushplane to the headwaters and begin our journey. On July 24 we will reach our pick-up point for the first half, and those choosing to paddle only the upper Noatak will be flown back to Fairbanks on an extraordinary float plane flight over the Brooks Range.
The valley is broader on the lower Noatak and the mountains are more distant and more majestic. There is a range of these incredibly beautiful purple mountains that is my favorite view on the whole river. The river is still very quick, but braided and the problem is not rapids but just finding the proper channel. We pass through two major canyons. We will likely see muskox, moose, wolves and as the salmon should be in full run we will see big brown grizzlies for sure along the shorelines. Fishing will be mostly for salmon, some char, big fish, big tackle, big fight. We will stop at Ricky’s cabin, Ricky is an Inupiat who lives on the land with very interesting artifacts and a unique lifestyle. The canoe portion of this trip will end at the Inupiat village of Noatak on August 3 where you will fly by chartered aircraft to the town of Kotzebue on the Arctic Ocean (included in fee). The crew needs to arrange their flight out of Kotzebue no earlier than 7:00 pm August 4 and if crew members choose to fly to Kotzebue the evening of the 3rd they will be responsible for a hotel or B&B in Kotz. If you choose to spend the night of August 3 in Noatak Village, we will camp at the airport (no charge). There are no showers in Noatak Village
Crew paddling only the lower Noatak, must arrive in Fairbanks no later than July 23. A chartered floatplane (included in fee) leaves the Fairbanks Float Base for Noatak pick-up point early on July 24 (weather permitting). This is a three-hour float plane ride over the spectacular Brooks Range. People have remarked that this flight alone was worth the fee. Your pilot is an Alaskan legend.
Those deciding to do one section often want to know which section is best? Hard to say, the scenery is a little more spectacular on the upper stretch and if you like whitewater that’s the place. Salmon fishing is only possible on the lower section and the wildlife (especially bears) are much more abundant. Both options are perfect. If you cannot decide, join me for the entire river!
Entire River $6995
all-inclusive from Fairbanks
Note: The full expedition runs the entire length of the Noatak. 400 miles! (from just below the headwaters to just above the delta)
Some people ask, “Why so little?” It is true that joining the crew of a Noatak expedition is the less than a tenth of a guided trip to the top of Mt Everest. Fewer people will paddle the Noatak in 2016 than summit Mt Everest, and your chance of not only completing the expedition, but coming home with all your fingers and toes is much greater. I strive to keep the cost down so that an expedition experience is available to a broader spectrum of people. There are no middlemen. I market, guide, and outfit the entire expedition. I also have a strict cancellation policy. I cannot afford to monkey around with refunds. You sign up and you go. If something stands in your way, it’s up to you (with my help) to find a suitable replacement. We did have one cancelation, at the last moment, last year and were able to fill the spot at minimal cost, but there are no guarantees. I am counting on you. I have expectations of the crew to contribute to the toil of the expedition. Cooking, cleaning, wood gathering, shelter pitching and striking, are shared responsibilities. But it goes farther than that, crew often come with skill sets that add immeasurably to the efficiency and fun of the journey. Engineering skills may be needed to repair equipment. Navigation competency, medical skills, storytelling, fishing, berry picking, birding, photography and more, all bring something special to the experience and those crew talents will be tapped. Joint decision making is also part of my expeditions and quite singular in the trade. When you successfully complete this expedition it will be the result of what you have done. My crews almost always rank a sense of accomplishment as one of the greatest gifts of the journey. This expedition strategy also makes economic sense. No one will be asked to do more than they are capable of, but there are no passengers, only crew.
Some people ask, “Why so much?” The easiest answer is all the chartered bush flying north of the Arctic Circle. The cost of these flights is astronomical. Alaska is expensive and arctic Alaska very expensive. You cannot compare the investment in this expedition to a float in southern Alaska. There are beautiful rivers you can float for less, but they won’t be the Noatak – the largest untouched watershed in North America. One fair comparison is with Blackfeather’s Hood River trip in the Canadian arctic. I respect Blackfeather and they do some great trips. The Hood is one example. The fee $7,795 CDN plus GST. Depending on the exchange your cost will be about $7,500 USD. Plus, the trip is farther south than the Noatak, shorter in time, shorter in length, includes some killer portages, harbors much less wildlife, and Blackfeather often takes much larger groups. The jump-off point for the Hood is Yellowknife, which is a more expensive and difficult destination than Fairbanks.
The fee to join the crew of the 2016 Noatak Expedition is not chump change, but if you want to be a crew member on a true arctic expedition, this is the real deal at a very fair price. I have never had a crew member regret the investment in a Noatak Expedition. Quite the contrary, they often describe it as the best two weeks of their life.
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Lakeville, MN 55044 USA