Sticking to the theme of bug-free wilderness and wildlife, experienced by foot and a single packraft on fast-but-not-white-water with female members of my family, Peggy and I flew to the Utukok River out of Kotzebue (Hageland Air has a 206) with two paddles and the single, custom long boat Sheri made several years back.
We made two trips from the strip on the Utukok (many more are possible with several other rivers within a day or three walk): One was a float-first then hike trip and the second was a hike first then float trip. Each was about a week long.
The first took us 30 miles down the Utukok to Archimedes Ridge. Then we walked the Ridge and across caribou calving grounds (excellent walking, 45 miles) back to the landing strip where we’d cached some food. The boating was fast with no white-water and was great for watching raptors and other birds. The hiking had grand views and great wildlife watching.
Next, we walked up the Utukok and over to Cairn Creek (40 mile hike) on the Kugururok where we put in and floated 50 miles to the Noatak River then 45 miles down the Noatak to the village of Noatak. It was neat to walk through the Western Arctic Caribou Herd migration from North Slope ridge and basin country, through the Brooks Range and out into the boreal forest.
The water was high and fast making the fishing poor but the birding and the wildlife awesome. No bugs, and any snow was good for walking. It was my second time to the Utukok uplands and I am planing another trip there in the future as it’s better walking that any other part of the Brooks Range, but without the excitement of raging glacial rivers like the Jago and Okpilak or the sporty rapids of the John, Hulahula, Koyukuk, and Alatna. Until our last day on the Noatak River, we saw nobody and heard/saw only one plane. The area is wild.
We preferred the boat-first-hike-second trip for its logistics. The boat is good for heavy loads and after eating a few days of food, the hiking is lighter. The second trip was a long walk with heavier packs followed by long float and not as enjoyable.