Noatak Day III
Day 3 starts nice and sunny again. I get up make breakfast and enter my journal. JR gets up a little earlier but it's still 11 before we get under way. We see clouds building as we go but are able to outrun them as they travel down the valley until 8 PM when they finally catch up with us and force us to make camp. The Mountains where beautiful all day and we can see them falling further and further back from the river. People who want to spend time taking day hikes from the river will want to make those hikes in the first few days of their trip.
Most people only spent 8 days on the river and only plan to travel 60 or so miles. The usual take out point is from Matura lake. My goal was not to hike and wander around the mountains, I can hike Mountains in Colorado, what I wanted was to "DO" the Noatak. I wanted to see and experience the entire river and the 3 climate zones it inhabits. The Noatak starts with it's headwaters in the mountains near Mt Igikpak. The valley then spreads out and turns into tundra. The tundra finally gives way to spruce forest and then runs out to the coast directly across from Kotzebue. I'm told that most people take 21 days to run the entire river but if you keep up a good pace you can do it in 16. Knowing that neither one of us are people who like to idle around camp for hours on end I have planned for 16 days.
As we move slowly down river we notice constant indications of just how much erosion takes place every year. Ever outer bend is cut and has large chucks of tundra sagging down into the river. At times large undercuts are seen which might be fun to explore for unearthed treasures but the risk of being buried alive hundreds of miles from help keep us in the boat.
The winds had picked up again by mid afternoon and we crossed a number of very shallow areas. At one point we even lined the boat rather than knock our paddles on the rocks in inches deep water.
We made 12.5 miles today which was disappointing since again the river seems to be flowing faster. We picked up some fun choppy sections right after passing Matchurak lake. Looking on the map you'll see that we are passing many small lakes but non of them can be seen from the river. We saw a Red Fox today but that was the extent of the viewings today except for finally seeing some salmon rolling around on the water about midday.
The bugs have continued to be very mild, we bought some "Buzz-Off " scarves that advertise themselves as being a bug shield, I'm not sure if it's the scarf working or if it's just too late in the season for "Sketters" and too early for "No-see-ums". Either way it's great!
We can smell the fires on and off as we travel down the river. Deeper and deeper we go into the bowels of the Noatak basin, 3 or 4 more days and we should be about as far from Humanity as we can get in North America - God it feels great! I look up each valley and remark to Jon that there is not a soul around for many miles, I do like my fellow man better when he's scattered some!
We had bought a couple new pieces of equipment that seem to be working out very well. First is the combination of water shoes and neoprene socks for me this combination seems to work very well (just make sure you get socks that are beg enough to not create a wrestling match every time you take them on of off ). J.R. opted for Alaska tennis shoes which are the knee high rubber boots and he seems very comfortable with his choice, of course I can go into much deeper water than he can but for a 2 man team it seems to be working out well. The other thing that makes my outfit successful is the quick dry pants, they seem to bead up the water and when they do finally get wet they dry quickly, that's a big plus in this environment.
We make camp late again and on a "in the middle" sand bar, meaning the river runs on both sides of the island. We walk it round to see if their has been any bear in the area lately but find no sign at all. I notice some pretty pink flowers that grow in perfusion. They must be very prolific plants because I know the sandbar gets scrubbed clean every year with the spring runoff. The valley continues to open up and I can hear a loon call and a pair of canvasbacks fly by as I write this.