350 mile solo float trip on the Noatak River

In July of 2018 I flew from Bettles Alaska to a point in the headwaters of the Noatak River. The Noatak flows through the largest undisturbed watershed in North America. Between 12 mile slough and the village of Noatak, a distance of 350 miles, there are no roads, no trails and no towns.

In July of 2018 I flew from Bettles Alaska to a point in the headwaters of the Noatak River. The Noatak flows through the largest undisturbed watershed in North America. Between 12 mile slough and the village of Noatak, a distance of 350 miles, there are no roads, no trails and no towns.

The river was high following a rainy spring and early summer. The Vagabond was fully loaded, but easy to paddle with a 260 cm. kayak paddle. 

The countryside surrounding the Noatak is a vast emptiness. Tundra country has nothing higher than a 12 foot willow to block the view. You can see for miles. It rained off and on, including a wonderful thunderstorm that came up the river one night.

It’s quiet, very quiet. The only sounds apart from the birds is water entering the river, and rapids. The rapids, nothing more than class II announce themselves well before you arrive at them. There’s some busy paddling, but nothing dangerous. The current averaged about 3 miles an hour. 
 
I saw very little wildlife. Two yearling bears chased me down the bank for a while one morning, but because they didn’t swim after me I felt no imminent danger. I carried bear spray, but no gun.
 
My daily routine was to get up about 7 and spend the next two hours getting breakfast, breaking down the camp and loading the boat. I would paddle and float for about 6 hours, taking a short break around noon. About 3 I’d start looking for a campsite and spend the next 2 hours setting up camp and cooking dinner. Because of the height of the river I couldn’t catch fish, so dinners were Uncle Ben’s and a candy bar. I filtered my water and flavored it with Crystal Light. Coffee and oatmeal in the morning, granola bars and jerky at noon.
 
 
As the river continues, the countryside changes from mountains to huge flat plains, then gradually mountains appear again in the distance.
 
 
The final stages of the journey are through spruce flats. The river is wide there and more slowly moving. All my photos of that portion of the journey are missing due to a capsize on the last day of my trip. A capsize due to a moment’s inattention that led me into a tree horizontal to the water whose underwater branches turned me over. Camera and fishing rod lost, but surviving the ducking in the cold river water made me realize how lucky I was. Alaska had shown me in a moment just how different and dangerous it could be. I did have dry clothes, and all my gear save the camera and rod was tied to the boat, so not much was lost and most was dry.
 
 
The Vagabond was a good trip for the journey, a little small but very maneuverable and stable. The Noatak is a place like no other. True wilderness, with easy traveling on the river and long enough to give a real sense of adventure.
 

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