Noatak River, Alaska August 2015

From Nelson Walker Lake to Kotzebue

August 2, 2015

Checked in with Wright Air about 9:00. Due to mailing and sending some of our gear in early we were able to make the 40 pound each baggage limit. No carry ons allowed on this plane. Skies were overcast as we took off and soon we were in the clouds. The pilot and us by default trusted the plane’s instruments as the visibility was limited. As the plane neared Bettles , an hour later, we had a break in the clouds and were able to see our destination. Bettles, a small inland village, has a summer population of about 80 people. In the winter it is quite a bit less. The Brooks Range Aviation truck was waiting on the runway.  The driver said that we had a pile of gear waiting for us and that as soon as we checked in with the Gates of Arctic Park office and were packed, our plane would take us to the Noatak River.  It was a fast transition as we quickly packed bear canisters and loaded up our gear in various packs. No time to recheck the gear. Within an hour we were heading down to the dock where the Otter Float plane was fueled and ready for the Ford Expedition.  We could tell that we were in a Bush plane as the bear spray and fuel were loaded up with us. No separation was needed. Visibility was much better on this stretch. The plane, however was quite noisy and our hands were used to cover our ears. Sheep, rivers and mountains made up the vistas as we headed North. The wind was calm so we were able to land on Nelson Walker Lake, named after an earlier Bush Pilot. The Noatak was flowing nearby. We checked out a route to the water and began the process of portaging our gear to a launching site. Our folding Alley Pak Canoe, which we had borrowed from NOLS, was laid out and with a sigh of relief as it had all its parts.  With help from the mallets and some persuasion we soon had a canoe that was ready to go downstream.  With adrenaline flowing in our bodies, our gear was loaded into the canoe and we pushed off from the river bank.  We stopped to check out the Pingo, which is a mound of earth covered by ice and is a landmark for another landing spot, Pingo Lake. It was time to call it a day, so after traveling about 5 miles we made camp. A meal of saucy tuna and applesauce made up the menu. We inhaled the fresh air, looked around for bears and quickly fell asleep.

Miles traveled: 5