Polar Bear, Kaktovik, Alaska

Hula Hula River Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Alaska

Hula Hula River, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,  Alaska

Grasser’s Strip to Arey Island

Day 0 Wednesday August 30, 2017: Travel from Portland to Seattle by car then fly from SEA to Fairbanks. Overnight at the Golden North Hotel, another Corriveau “special spot”. Shopping at Fred Meyers and then Dinner and we call it a night. All Bags make it except we leave one at the Fairbanks airport. It gets delivered before we even know it is missing – Thank goodness it has 1st aid kit and fire box.

Wright Air, Fairbanks Alaska

Day1 – 8/31: FRENZY! Arrive at Wright Air by 8 am then wait around as the Flight service figures out the deal. We have a scheduled Caravan for 9 passengers to Artic Circle then 2 Cessna 206’s to fly 3 people direct from Fairbanks to Grasser’s. Then the 206’s will do laps from Grasser’s to Artic Circle to get everyone in to Grasser’s. There is one unexpected problem, we have too much stuff to fit in the three planes leaving Fairbanks. Corriveau is on it, and once again we have the most expensive beer in Alaska, or likely anywhere in the world. We just hire another plane to get the last of the stuff to Artic Circle – Grasser’s. Nothing an extra $2000 won’t cure.

Our group runs at about 400 lbs. per person avg. for people, boating equipment, personal gear, food and beverages. 12 guys x 400 = 4800 lbs.

After a bit of stress and a pile of fluttering $100 bills we are all at Grasser’s strip by 4 pm. Did I mention we landed along side the Hula Hula River with an inch of snow on the gravel strip and that it is barely freezing, or just above. Once we have camp set up the party starts and as usual the Bandit’s lead the way, Gary took 1st place! For some strange reason the “EH” team is not doing their usual lamb BBQ tonight. It has been delayed to night #2. After a fun evening of too much libation there are many older gentlemen up at 2 am for the nightly relief. Good thing as the Northern lights are spectacular. The night is clear and very cold but the sky show is awesome. Pretty cool to look south at the Northern lights.

Northern Lights

Day 2  9/1: Woke up to a hard freeze, 3” of ice in the hand wash bucket. By 9 am we have sun on the valley floor and the air is warming.

Short 6 mile day with class 1 and 2 rapids. Steady gradient and braided channels, only about 90 minutes on the water. Saw Dall sheep, Grizzly and arctic ground squirrels. Camped at East Patuk Creek. No fishing yet with water too fast and no deep pools. Had a nice evening hike with incredible canyon scenery and Brooks Mountains in the background. Cranberries, mushrooms but no wild flowers. Party honors go to Peter J and Jimmy Y.

Aire Outfitter II
Ready for Launch in an Aire Outfitter II on the Hula Hula River Alaska

Day 3  9/2: Bandits on cook group so we have granola and yogurt for breakfast.  We had moderate Northern lights and it was not nearly as cold overnight. Getting cloudy this morning. Ate lunch in camp and launched on the river about noon. Travelled 12 miles to Kolatuk Creek. Nice camp and good hiking area.

Two miles above Kolotuk creek we caught a bunch of Arctic Char. Once we were in the mini canyons there were slow deep sections and back channels were filled with Char and a few grayling. Char were 18” to 24” and fun to catch on spinner or fly. Saw a fox and wolverine and a bunch of birds.

Dinner was a solid “A” effort by the Bandits. BBQ chicken (Jon C’s was left raw on purpose!), salad, and Knorr Swiss rice and broccoli. For dessert we served carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. Thanks to the “swimmers” who helped with clean up. The Bandits were above the curve on the chase for Don Julio. Started raining and rained most of the night.

Arctic Char, Dolly Varden, Hula Hula river, Alaska

Day 4 9/3: Woke up to cool weather with rain showers. Short day on the river planned with fishing the major objective. Sun came out and we had a nice warm day, only traveled 5 miles downriver, caught plenty of Char and grayling.

At camp we had a wonderful wildlife show. Watched a fox stalk and kill an arctic ground squirrel in the bush across the river. Then we had a hiking group out that spooked a Grizzly bear while eating berries. Those of us in camp watched the bear run a couple miles through the tundra to “escape”.

Day 5 9/4: High overcast, no wind and above freezing temps this morning. Today is the Whitewater section from Esetuk creek to Old Woman creek. Fun rapids here with a few rapids above Esetuk creek and more below. Everyone had success running the rapids. Had a nice lunch at the canyon exit before heading out to the fore lands. Caught a few fish and had a big party below Old Woman creek. Stayed up till dark…our latest night.

Hiking on the Hula Hula River
Beautiful vistas while hiking in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Day 6 9/5: Beautiful morning out in the Tundra. No wind and the sun was out. Float 15 miles towards the coast and start thinking about Polar Bears. Made MP 50 as planned even with a cold north/east wind in the afternoon. Lots of class II and easy III rapids to move us along. Unexpected but appreciated.

Camped at a sandy beach with lots of tracks. Bear, moose, fox and wolf. Saw a pair of Peregrine falcons along a cliff. Dinner of country ribs and beans with a light night of partying.

Day 7 9/6: Bandits cook day. Breakfast of egg sandwiches was clearly a 10 out of 10! Made lunch before leaving camp and we are off on another 15 mile day. Lots of braids in this section. I always stay close to Gary on these days, look for feeders while avoiding the drainers. Foggy and moist today everything is wet and gooey and covered in sand.

Trip notes and quotes:

“We didn’t come all this way to be in a hurry” Jon C.

“I’ve got another waypoint” Bones

“Jimmy – you’re looking positive on the tick list” Dave S.

“You guys are out on the edge, a little late for the Hula Hula aren’t you?” Pilots Max Peter & Dave as they dropped us at Grasser’s strip

“When you go to Denali you need an ice pick and an ice axe” Kevin (planning basecamp support for the 2018 Corriveau family trip)

“12 in – 11 out – 10 different stories…” Anonymous

Gear needs:

Paper towels, course ground coffee, paper plates, hot drinks – apple cider and hot chocolate. More warm clothes and a warmer sleeping bag.

This trip was far north and cold!

Flight notes: Avg weight…

6 x Cessna 206’s with a 900 lb/plane payload = 5400 lbs – pilot weight = 4800 lbs

We average about 400lbs per person. Gross travel weight to put in.

Day 7 9/6 con’t: The weather turned nasty this afternoon. Strong east winds and rain all day. Made our 17 miles and found a cut-bank to hide behind. Lunch was cookies and chips while huddled under a 4’ tundra bank to escape the wind and heat water for drinks on the reactor stove. Ate wraps in camp later. Miserable day in Alaska! Lots of braids with a wide open view, once again Gary was masterful leading through the feeders and avoiding the drainers. No firewood and no fire at camp.

Day 8 9/7: Sun and Clouds this AM. Cold breakfast w/coffee and we head to the portage camp. Today we are really thinking about polar bears. We cross over the 70 degree north latitude. Bandits are on guard. Half looking for bears and half watching for drunks with guns…Bones put us “spot on” the waypoint to the portage. Pulled and carried our gear 200 yards across the sand spit/bog/tundra to a camp next to the Okpilak river. Had a fun night trying to finish the beer for Marks birthday celebration. Bill’s pineapple upside down cake is incredible. No bear tracks around here so we are all to bed and asleep by 10 pm. The Bandits were up hourly with night vision goggles to protect the team. Rain all night.

Day 9 9/8: Straight into the drysuit today, cold, wet, windy. Dry bag packed while still in the tent… Pick up scheduled for Arey island at 2 pm. We have to launch in the Okpilak, walk upstream ½ mile to east Okpilak channel then float from there to Arey Island at the edge of the Beaufort Sea. One problem…there is about 20 cfs in the east Okpilak channel. We have 4 miles to Arey of slogging along in wet deep sand and occasionally paddling through a puddle or two. This is the day Kevin became a hiker! I have ice cold feet and it is a big exertion to get the Arey island. The wind is blowing all day and the rain is turning to sleet. At one point we are dragging boats across the sand. Mike B is stuck, his boat is heavy, John R and I help him get along a bit. It takes three of us pulling hard to get back to a few inches of water…

We get to Arey at 1:30 and call on the Sat phone to re-confirm our pick up. Set up the MSR Pavilion and get a fire roaring with beach wood. Then we get the word…The tide is too low, the boat can’t make it we have to walk/paddle 4 more miles to the east end of the island to get to our pick up. We see a light flashing in the distance – Our shuttle pick up – boat driver is walking to meet us. We split into two groups of 6 – Jon, Mike, Kevin, Gary, Mark and Peter take off. Dragging boats into the wind and sleet since the wind is too strong to paddle against. They leave before getting warmed up, the rest of us – Dave S, Dave W, Bill, Jimmy, Bones and John R hang by the fire to warm up and try to finish off the beer before getting to town. The screw top 16 oz Coors light are fun to blow up in the fire! After an hour we pack up the Pavilion and start our walk/slog. After a while we see the boat depart with the first group heading across the bay, seems like a long way off. We just keep walking along, there is nothing else to do. By 6 pm we get to the pickup point just as the boat is returning. We are back in Kaktovik by 7 pm. Long ass cold day. When we arrive we find a warm house with cold burgers waiting. Mike is starting to recover from his bout of hypothermia. A long day of cold & windy weather with heavy exertion seems a fitting end to the trip.

That evening ½ the group goes out to the whale kill to look for Polar bears 14 are on the carcass. We sat around the house and told tall tales of our last day on the Hula Hula.

Day 10 9/9: Travel day…but 1st the rest of the group goes to look at the Polar Bears of Kaktovik. We arrive on the site to see no bears on the whale carcass. We can see bears out on the barrier islands and in the water though. Then we get a great show as 1st 1 bear arrives and then a sow and 3 cubs and then a sow and another cub surround us in the suburban. It is a funny feeling to be in the cage looking out at the wild animals. Reverse Zoo.

Kaktovik Alaska Polar Bear

We leave our left over food behind for the locals and get packed for the trip home. Kaktovik – Pruhdoe Bay – Barrow- Anchorage – Seattle.  20 hours of Airport and plane time before we arrive back in Seattle at 4 am Day 11 Sept 10th.

Trip Objectives:

Northern Lights – to our south

Snow

Mountain and Tundra Scenery

Grizzly Bears, Fox, Dall Sheep

Arctic Char and Grayling

Polar Bears!