Noatak Day 2
The next morning I awoke to Blue Skies and Sunshine. I'd guess the temperatures were in the mid 40's.
I crawled out of the 2 man tent and heated up a cup of coffee then took a seat on one of the Bear Barrels to jot down today's entry. As I wrote I noticed some movement on the opposite shore. I looked on in amazement as a big walking carpet seemed to be waddling down the tree line. I picked up my binoculars and found this 4 legged imposter for "Cousin It" to be a Musk-Ox. I hadn't thought that this terrain would hold those animals but obviously I was wrong. He never looked my way just ambled down the far shore line and then disappeared into the scrub. Just before 9 AM a herd of approximately 30 Caribou passed using the same path. I surmised that the trail must be a main game trail for the area.
J.R. starts to stir around 10 and we'll be off shortly.
The river is small and winds around mercilessly, it takes what I would guess to be 2 river miles to every straight line mile. The morning is clear and very warm. Shortly after pushing off we hear the roar of a rapid and see some white plumes of water. We stop to inspect the run but it proves to be nothing to be concerned about. We learn that from a perspective of 2 feet off the water things look further away and white water looks bigger then it really is.
After a couple hours we run into "up river" winds that slow our progress dramatically. We especially notice it on the North corners. In the afternoon we hit a couple rain showers and rather than break out the rain gear we simply hunker down under a blue tarp for about 20 minutes and then continue on our way. As we rounded a bend in the river we saw a big bull caribou. He was obviously trying to get away from the bugs and let us get to within 200 yards before deciding he didn't like our looks and bolted off. He had a beautiful set of antlers with a double shovel. As caribou age they develop a flat portion on their antlers and later on develop a second flat spot which the locals call a shovel. With the advent of the 2nd flat spot you know you have a nice mature bull and hence the "Double Shovel". Caribou are a member of the deer family , much bigger than a White tail and much smaller than a mouse. If I had to guess I'd say they are similar to a big Mule Deer. The caribou migrate hundreds of miles each spring to reach the tundra in and around ANWAR. In late August after spending the summer fattening up on the abundant grasses of the artic circle and it's endless daylight they migrate back towards the south and into their wintering grounds. The wide hooves of the Caribou allow them to travel easily over the broken tundra, a feat that I still find hard to believe once a person sees the tundra first hand. If you have never been on tundra try to imagine walking on a big checker board with one foot square checkers and every black square containing a tuft of grass 6 inches higher than the white ones. I call these tussocks - ankle breakers. It's slow walking as you can see. The tussocks are created by the freezing and thawing action on a very wet ground and are a real pain to walk on.
Later in the early evening we saw a huge Brown bear rooming around in the willows. He looked as if he would measure almost 6 feet tall at the top of his shoulder while standing on all fours. He was one big bruin and paid us absolutely no mind. We hollered and slapped our paddles so as not to surprise him but he didn't even look our way. I guess he knew who was at the top of the food chain in these parts.
The river continues to meander thru beautiful Mountain Vistas and we spot another sandbar to set up camp for the night. From camp we see a heard of 30 sheep high up on the hillside.
We covered 11.7 miles today which will not get us to Noatak in time to catch our flight. By the end of day the river did seem to be picking up speed but I'll have to get Jon up earlier if we are going to get back on schedule.