NOATAK RIVER TRIP
July 23rd to Aug 4th 2004
I began planning our trip for the Noatak in May. For many months and even to some extent for a few years I had been itching to expand my boundaries and push some limits. In short I needed an adventure. Many possibilities presented themselves but a river trip really caught my eye. I had been spending some time during the summers in Alaska so that was a natural place to begin. After reading the Alaska river guide I was sure I wanted a float trip. Then it was just a matter of narrowing down the field. As the possibilities began to sort themselves out the factors that became important to me was, remoteness, length of trip and a degree of risk. I did have one limiting factor and that was that I had virtually zero experience with a canoe and I didn't want to turn an adventure into a pain in the butt, the remoteness of the trip itself would have to contain the excitement.. Due to this limitation I decided I would stick with class 1&2 rivers. This last bit of information left me only a few potential candidates and that finally won me over was the designation of the Noatak as one of the last truly untouched environments and the 350 miles from headwaters to it's exit in the Bearing Sea. That decision made it was time to begin planning in Earnest.
I researched much of the trip by Internet, I found that reading the experiences of others was particularly helpful. Also helpful was the Alaska River Guide and the people at True North. True North is a wilderness travel agency that specializes in river trips to Gates of the Artic National Park and surrounding areas. I found that they saved me much time and even ended up saving me money to boot. If you've not planned a bush trip like this in the past I'd highly recommend you give them a call, (I'm not paid a cent by these people) they gave me some ideas on back country travel that I never would have come up with on my own. Never reinvent the wheel!
If you haven't been around Bears I'd also recommend reading "Bear Attack" by Herrero. I found that understanding the reason for attacks and the different recommended defenses between brown and black bears was very helpful. I also carry a 454 Casul handgun but knowing bear behavior should keep you out of 99% of the problem encounters that require deadly force. The other 1% is shear random chance that is impossible to predict. For that reason and because I tend to get very focused on the river when I fish I carry a gun but I hope to never have to use it. Because the Salmon where not in the upper river we saw very few bears on our trip however if you go later in the season you should expect to see them more often and especially at the confluence areas.
Our Living Room became our staging area, my wife said she never saw so much cold weather gear for a summer trip! I'm sure glad we had all of it! The Noatak region is prime habitat for hypothermia so stay warm and dry.