Tuesday, November 26, 2013

2013 summer season report

We started this summer's season with an exploratory trip into the Petroleum Reserve on the Kokolik River. Dirk with Coyote Air flew us into the headwaters of the Kokolik on June 17th with a couple from Arkansas and we were greeted by a balmy 80 degrees. After a cold winter and late snow we were paddling the river in the midst of the snow melt. The river was high and really muddy, no fishing. Despite we had an amazing trip with almost no bugs, 80 degree weather for 4 days, many musk ox sighting and 2 close up Grizzlies as well as seeing the big Western Arctic Caribou Herd march across a ridge for hours, we must have see caribou in the thousands.

A great start to one of the sunniest summers in a decade was followed with a kayak trip with one client from Germany in Katmai National Park on the Savonovski Loop. We had an amazing time watching three sets of female bears with cubs on Grosvenor Lake and Research Bay on Naknek Lake. Mama bear was trying to teach the little bears to swim, but they were not ready yet. They were having a screaming fit every time mama bear would get in the water and would try to swim to the island we were camped on. This was repeated several times a day and we were able to witness this over the course of 2 days until we left to paddle into Brooks Camp.

We had some time off to build a new wood shed in early July and then spent the most amazing 9 sunny days back packing into the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes with two amazing young ladies from Switzerland and France. I have never seen so much of the Valley in my 10 years of guiding there. We were able to hike across Katmai Pass, climb New Tident peak with an amazing view of the coast all the way to Kodiak Island, 2 great days at Novarupta with a hike near the base of Mount Trident and amazing views of Mount Katmai and the Knife Glaciers, we saw a female caribou and calf in the Valley.
The final 2 days were spent by ourselves at Baked Mountain Hut and a climb to the top of Baked Mountain with a 360 degree view all around including Mount Martin, Mount Mageik, Trident Volcano, Mount Katmai, Mount Griggs. Instead of crossing frigid water in Windy Creek we were able to take a bath in the creek after a 9 day backpack without a shower. The water seemed warm and comfortable, we could have stayed in for hours. Back to the Three Forks Overlook and back on the bus to Brooks Camp. The trip culminated with amazing bear watching at the Brooks River  platform. We counted 15 bears including a set of cubs.

Our last trip of the summer season brought us back to the Kongakut River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The trip starts with a drive to Fairbanks, where we spend the night. Our clients fly into Fairbanks and take a short bush flight to the small community along the Dalton Highway in Coldfoot. Dirk with Coyote Air is our preferred pilot to bring us to the river. It is a 2,5 hour flight in a Beaver on wheels from Coldfoot.The Kongakut is one of the most beautiful and most  rivers in Alaska. The fishing and eating of the Arctic Char is phenomenal. The scenery is breathtaking, all of the 60 miles we float are in the mountains, the hiking right off the rivers edge into the mountains following dall sheep trails is some of the best we have seen. We always see a few caribou wandering the river valley in mid August. We spend two weeks on the river. We often have very sunny weather in mid August, the bugs are gone, days are in the 50's to 60's and nights are cool. We have experienced snow on one trip. We have always gone in mid August. There is enough water to get a raft down the river. The water is very clear and the char are coming up the river from the Beaufort Sea. They are delicious fish over a camp fire. There is enough drift wood, to build a small fire away from camp for some char coal hot enough to cook a fish. We have seen different wildlife over the years since our first trip up there in 2008: moose, musk ox, caribou, wolf, dall sheep and a variety of migratory birds.
This was our last trip this season in Alaska. We hope to go back to the Kongakut River many more times, there is always a new ridge to walk, a new valley to explore!

We hope to see you in 2014!

Kathi Merchant
Alaska Ultra Sport

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