2016 Noatak Expedition – a Big Success

Writing this blog in the Seattle airport after a red-eye flight from Anchorage. The first darkness at night in over a month seems as if it is the closing curtain of a great Broadway play. Curtain drawn tight, the applause already fading. It’s all over now.

We successfully completed an 18-day, 400-mile canoe expedition down the Noatak River in arctic Alaska. It was a strong crew of ten with excellent weather and perfect water levels. Wildlife count included 14 grizzly bears, six muskoxen, two wolves (playful pups), six foxes, numerous sic sic, raptors, loons, ptarmigan,and three moose and three Dall sheep seen from the air. Fishing was also excellent for Salmon, Grayling and Dollies – yum. It is a spectacular river with different challenges and rewards around every bend.

Those familiar with my tripping style, especially on far north expeditions, know that I prefer an expeditionary regimen. I meticulously plan … Continue reading


Making final preparations for the 2016 Arctic Noatak Canoe Expedition. 400 miles, all north of the Arctic Circle. You can follow my crew’s progress at https://share.delorme.com/RobKesselring

We leave Fairbanks on Saturday, July 16 and fly on two, twin engine, planes to Bettles on the south slope of the Brooks Range. That afternoon or the following morning we shall board a float equipped, DeHavilland Otter and a float equipped, DeHavilland Beaver (both these venerable planes were built in the 1950’s) and make a long bush flight across the Arctic Circle, and to the headwaters of the Noatak River. This flight passes over one of the most spectacular mountain ranges in the world. If the weather is clear we will view hanging glaciers and granite spires just off the wingtips. My niece, Karen Kelley, exclaimed four years ago that this flight alone was worth the price of admission…..but that is … Continue reading


Back today from eight days in Quetico Provincial Park. What an extraordinary canoeing destination. It’s not my first trip to Quetico, but my first in several years. I had forgotten some of the nuances that distinguish it from the BWCA. The abundant groves of mature Red Pines, the towering White Pine Giants, powerful rivers with some runnable rapids, thundering waterfalls, long sandy beaches,  lakes that you paddled all day long.  Despite everything seemingly like the Boundary Waters on a larger scale, Quetico receives far fewer visitors than its next-door-neighbor the BWCA to the south, and empty five-star campsites were the norm.

My route was a loop of well over 130 miles, and some blog readers may be interested in the details: Beaverhouse Lake – Quetico River – Quetico Lake – Conk Lake – Jean Lake – Burntside Lake – Rouge Lake – Jean Creek – Sturgeon Lake – Maligne River … Continue reading

Keep it Wild, Keep it Free

How fortunate we are in North America to have vast, wild public lands where we can camp, travel, and be part of wild nature. We might imagine that these areas are wild because they were set aside in a pristine condition for future generations to enjoy. Restored and rescued is really closer to the truth and usually not without a fight. As demand for resources and land increases, continued political vigilance will be necessary to maintain the special protections these areas enjoy.

But we need something else. Preservation of the wilderness depends on knowledge and experience, You’ve got to know it and you’ve got to live it!  The more you can learn about the natural and human history of these wild places the better.  More important than knowledge is experience. It is the juice, the energy, that will guarantee these lands remain preserved. After experiencing the freedom, the wonder and … Continue reading

BWCA Expo, Iceland, and the Rio Grande

A shout-out and props to friends and past trip crews, and to fans of my writing that stopped by to see me, and say “hi” at the Boundary Waters Canoe Expo at Seagull Landing, near the end of the Gunflint Trail. Also, thanks to Quinn and the Gunflint Trail Association for including me.  It was a fun show. Cliff Jacobson was at his best, mesmerizing crowds with his stories and know-how. There were many canoes to test, free beer, me baking bannock. Best of all, next to the tents was the edge of the BWCA to play in.  Wildlife? Two moose, two cross fox, a beaver, and a Mourning Warbler.

I should have blogged something about the event before the show, but as I was still in Iceland on Thursday and had to fly to Minneapolis and drive the seven hours to the show Friday, I ran out of time.

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The 2016 Bird Ecology BWCA Tour

RedBreastedGrosbeakWe had an excellent crew and witnessed 57 species of birds during our four-day adventure. Owing to the early spring, the season was more advanced than the birding seminars in earlier years. Leaves were emerging, as were black flies, but birds were still visible and bugs? never more than a friendly nuisance. Showers for the most part held back until we were snug in our sleeping bags.

A Black-throated Blue Warbler, and once again, Barred Owls right in our camp were just two of the highlights. We saw a lot of evidence of Moose this year, but alas, none of the big brutes showed themselves. There were great moments with Merlins, Bald Eagles, and Gnat  Catchers.

If you are like I was a decade ago, you might visit the BWCA in search of … Continue reading


One spot left on 2016 Noatak Expedition.

Lower half, 200 miles. This is the stretch of the river with grizzlies (a dozen last year) Musk Oxen (a couple dozen last year) salmon (incredible fishing last year) we pass through 2 canyons and you finish on the Arctic Ocean.

Gotta fill this spot and soon, forget the list price, first reasonable offer will be accepted. Amazing opportunity!

Summertime Fun in Canoe Country

I am up in the Boundary Waters working on this blog post and the predicted high temperature, despite early May on the calendar, is mid-eighties! It reminds that the peak canoeing season coincides with the heat of the summer. So how do you beat the heat?

The First rule is: reframe the situation. Instead of focusing on avoiding being sweaty and hot, embrace the warmth. I lived in the Arctic for nine years, where for ten months it was cold. I promised myself never to complain about a half-dozen hot summer days. That is also good advice in the BWCAW, where for nine months it is cold. However, I must confess that my promise was tested on a singular July day on Lake Insula. I was camping with my daughter and the afternoon was sweltering. We had traveled early in the day to avoid the worst of the heat. Our … Continue reading

Dates Set for 2017 Rio Grande Lower Canyon Expeditions

In 2016 four Rio Grande Uncommon Seminars Crews experienced terrific journeys down the Rio Grande’s Lower Canyons. The weather was absolutely spectacular. Cobalt blue skies warm days cool (a few cold) nights. Great campfires. stargazing the zodiacal cloud for some groups, a brilliant full moon for another. A gamut of wildlife, including some of the best views ever of desert bighorn sheep, desert mule deer, javelinas, wild burros and of course the corriente. Some good birds including a Black Hawk and an amazing kettle of over 90 Turkey Vultures. The water was low all season which was contrary to the El Nino forecast, but we always had enough water. The low water did provide some new lining opportunities. We lined the big drop at Hot Springs rapids for the first time. I think many of the paddlers learned how fun technical lining can be and that opened a new dimension … Continue reading

Copper Canyon, Mexico

CopperCanyon040816-2After completing four consecutive and very successful expeditions through the Rio Grande’s Lower Canyons, I decided to venture even further south in quest of more wild rivers and canyon walls. For decades, I have had my heart set on experiencing Mexico’s Copper Canyon (Barranca del Cobre). Allegedly it is deeper than Arizona’s Grand Canyon and four times bigger in size. Reading Edward Abbey’s chronicles by the light of a campfire on the Rio Grande and listening to Larry Rice’s stories further piqued my interest. Plus, with the Nahanni, Grand, and RG Lower Canyons under my belt I thought this would complete the big four of North American canyons. There was also a strong commercial interest. Could I lead guided canoe trips in March down the Urique River … Continue reading