The Noatak River – July 1978
In the Eskimo language, Noatak River means ‘the river from deep within’. From its start high in the Brooks Range above the Arctic circle, it tumbles more than 645 kilometres westward through the largest undisturbed wilderness in North America. It ends up in Kotzebue Sound, a large inlet of the Bering Strait on Alaska’s west coast.
The city of Kotzebue lies at the end of the Baldwin Peninsula in the Sound – home to about 3,000 native Alaskans. That’s where we ended our trip. It’s a short distance across the strait to Russia.
We flew from Whitehorse to Fairbanks. There we chartered a single Otter which took us to Bettles Field to pick up some beer and fuel. Back in 1978, Bettles – home to about 50 residents – had an unpaved airstrip, two hangars, and a couple of dozen scattered buildings including a lodge.
We then flew into the Brooks Range and landed on Nelson Walker Lake near the Noatak – a virgin territory bounded by snow-capped peaks. What a splendid picture! It was a short portage to the river and a 20 minute paddle to our first river campsite.
Here are stories by two members of the canoe team – David Silcox and John Godfrey.
Alaskan Adventure by David Silcox
The Alaskan adventure, in 1978, was the descent of the Noatak River, and as we flew from Bettles Field to Williams Lake, a speck of water beside the upper origins of the river, we received an initial idea of the vastness and breathtaking splendour of the country through which we would be travelling. More..
An Arctic Diary by John Godfrey
Why should any sane person spend $1500 for a two-week wilderness canoe trip when you can have a very nice cruise of the Greek Islands for the same price? Well, having spent two weeks going 435 kilometres down the Noatak river in Arctic Alaska with five friends last July, on my first canoe trip ever, I can now report that it was well worth it. First there’s the sheer adventure of the thing. More..