Hula Hula/Okpilak

In June 2006 Ingrid Corson and I combined the Hula Hula River with the Okpilak River for a nice slice of the Arctic Refuge. We flew into the East Patuk strip and floated on down the Hula Hula to a point just beyond the canyon section. The majority of the floating was Class II except for the canyon section which is fun Class III. It is conceivable that this section could reach Class IV at high water.
Below the canyon we packed up and headed east for the Okpilak. The walking was pretty lousy, with lots of tussocks and wet ground. It’s about 15 miles between the two rivers, but with large loads it can be a miserable 15 miles.
The Okpilak is much like the Jago, its larger cousin to the east. The river is fairly mellow for the first few miles as it emerges from the mountains, but quickly picks up stem as it drops over countless steep boulder bars and granite boulders. Both the Jago and Okpilak can be very bony at low water or raging at high water. You need to be lucky to get the water level just right, with either warm weather to melt the glaciers or moderate rain.
There is a full day of solid Class III on the Okpilak before it emerges from the foothills and enters the coastal plain. The drops are nearly all fast and steep boulder bars, sometimes falling as much as 10 feet in 20 yards. The overall drop of both the Jago and Okpilak is over 100 feet per mile.

You can take the Okpilak out to Arey Lagoon and paddle to Kaktovik if the winds are in your favor.

Brad Meiklejohn