Start at point A, finish in Kotzebue in the lower left (sorry for the super gheto screen shot). I can’t really get a map that will do this trip justice, so for an interactive map click here.
The problem with adventure travel is that it’s a lot like a drug: it’s expensive, addictive and, if you’re not careful, it’ll take over your life. That said, shortly after finishing our skiing trip through the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, I started cooking up a new scheme (obviously one that had to be bigger and better.) After talking with some friends, we came to the conclusion that follow a snowflake from its starting point high atop a peak, down thousands of meters of rugged terrain, across most of a country, all of the way to the ocean would be quite the experience. Source to Sea, as it’s dubbed. Well, since we just traveled and skied through the largest wilderness area in the lower 48, there was really only one place to head: Alaska.
At the risk of sounding clichéd, Alaska is massive, and just figuring out where to go took months of research. Wanting to plan a similar raft/ski trip, we examined the major ranges of Alaska, finally settling on the Brooks Range. For those unfamiliar with the Brooks Range, it’s remote- even by Alaska standards. The northern most range in Alaska, the Brooks roughly runs along the Artic Circle. With the range narrowed down, it was just a matter of finding a river and zone that would offer decent skiing and a route out to the ocean. Enter the Noatak River. From its headwaters high in Gates of the Arctic National Park, through Noatak National Wildlife Refuge, and almost all of the way to its delta in Kotzebue, the watershed is protected. That’s right, not just the river, but every drop of water that is in the Noatak is protected (either National Park or Refuge)- from when it falls from the sky or emerges from the earth. The Noatak may be the ideal setting for a Source to Sea trip.
We’ll fly into the headwaters by bush-plane in late May while the snow still reaches to river level and pick off peaks as we descend—a 20-30 day journey in all. Paddling and skiing in 24-hour sunlight, we’ll eventually reach the Chuki Sea, well north of Nome, and from there fly back to Anchorage. Our hazards: ice shelves on the river, avalanches, and hungry grizzly just out of hibernation. Our rewards: huge, corned up mountain faces, thousands-strong caribou herds, and total solitude in some of the remotest country in the world. As far as undisturbed adventure goes, there may be no other trip like it in the world.
We’re planning on giving updates from the field, via Satellite, and obviously documenting it in other ways for later release. Safe to say, it should be an epic, so stay tuned.
A more detailed map