Caribou Gear Tarp

Haul Road float trip

Erik in AK

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Mar 28, 2002
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676
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not killing a ram
Hello all,
I just reread DS's haul road caribou thread and thought I'd share my latest North Slope adventure with you.

First a little background:
The haul road or James Dalton Highway begins about 100 road miles north of Fairbanks and runs, by and large, due north ending 414 miles later in Deadhorse just shy of Prudhoe Bay. As was discussed in other threads there is bowhunting only for 5 miles on either side of the road. The Brooks Range runs east-west and forms the northern terminus of the Rocky Mountains. The Dalton crosses the range at Atigun Pass, mile post(mp) 230. As you continue north and down the back side of the pass, the Atigun River emerges to the west paralleling the road until mp 271 where it turns ENE across the road and flows another 13-14 miles through Atigun Gorge and onto a broad floodplain where it joins the Sagavanirktok, or just Sag. The Sag, in turn flows north until it reaches the Arctic Ocean just east of Prudhoe. From the confluence its about 25 miles until the Sag comes alongside the road near the Sag River Highway Maintenance station at mp 305.
Most people who have considered running the Gorge have either been frightened out of the idea by the awful density of contour lines on the topo maps or talked out of it by people who have been frightened out of the idea by the awful density of contour lines on the topo maps.

OK. Me and my partner put my raft in at the Atigun bridge on the 5th and ran the Gorge to get outside the 5 mile corridor so we could hunt with rifles. We launced in decent weather but it had been raining the 4 days prior to our arrival which I thought good since the major obstacle on the Atigun is shallow water. The Gorge was exiting in spots but not too difficult. Mostly fast Class II with a few Class III spots. Suicidal for a canoe but not to difficult for a cataraft. Lots and lots of boulders to manuever around though. It wasn't until we actually exited the Gorge that the water got big. Real big. Class IV big with one spot that might go Class V. Up and over a 6 or 7 foot standing wave dumping into an 8 foot drop into another 7 footer backed by a real sticky hole. Because of the rocks there was no place sneak by. That was only 200 feet or so and then mellow river for the next 3 miles to the confluence.

We camped just downstream from the confluence. The caribou Shangri-la I hoped to find after "surviving" the Gorge was not to be. The caribou were still too far north but since that week was our only window to hunt we took our chances. We saw nothing that day. During the next two days we did see bulls on the distant ridges and gave chase. No dice. Many miles logged (or should I say slogged) across the boggy tundra to no avail and to no caribou. We did see a humongous bull moose but of course there's no open season for humongous bull moose in that unit.

We knew we could still float another 10 miles north before we re-entered the bow only zone and decided to break camp and move on in the hopes that a few animals would be a little farther north. We were only 2 mile from camp when my partner spots an east bound griz to the north and west of us. I crabbed across the current and we tied up at the upstream end of a large willow flat. Fortunately the wind was out of the north. We made our approach across the open tundra just above the flat, glassing ahead as we move. 300 yards later I get that feeling. You know, the feeling your being watched. I glance to my right and there at 80 yards or so is the bear, now standing. I think "Oh shit, here we go" expecting the griz to run either at us or away from us. To my surprise as much as my relief it blew us off and went back to nosing around for knikinik berries out among the willows.

My partner Darrell and I had a prior agreement that he had dibs on a bear if we saw one so it was his call. We watched the bear for a while and he decided he wanted it. We backed off to some slightly higher ground so he'd have a better vantage point. The bear shuffled around in the thick brush for 30 or 40 minutes never presenting more than the top of its back or its head. Without and warning Darrell moved forward to the edge of the willows apparently hoping to find a shooting lane through them. Laying on my back, I shifted to get comfortable the little knoll and watch. After 10 minutes at his new (worse?) spot the bear layed down to nap. "Great" thinks me. Thinking that we'll be here until the wind shifts and the bear spooks I decide to nudge the bear into presenting itself for a shot. I try to hand signal for Darrell to get ready to shoot because I'm going to call.

He doesn't really know what I'm hand jiving about and goes back to staring trough his scope. I used my laser rangefinder for the first time here(they're worth it) so I knew that Darrell was 88 yards ahead of me and 52 yards from the bear. I cupped my hands around my mouth, pressing my nostrils closed with the tips of my index fingers and made two low, nasal "whnaaa" sounds trying to imitate a moose calf. Both the bear's and Darrell's heads shot up. The former looking hungry and the latter looking like "whateryouphuckinnuts?"
Well it was risky but it worked so far. The bear was up and moving. Not fast but directly toward me. Small problem, the bear was about 10 body lengths from walking over Darrell. I needed the bear to stand again or swing to one side. Now! I hoped this animal had typically mediocre eyesight and gambled one more time. Laying there in my (moose?) brown chest waders I called again and kicked my leg to get the bear's attention. It worked. The bear started to swing downwind and then suddenly stood testing the wind. It just lowered its chin when Darrell's .338 boomed. The bear dropped at the shot. 10 long seconds later it was up in a swirling, snapping fury trying to bite at the exit wound in its back. It turned and bolted towards the river quickly disappearing into the willows. I watched for it to cross but it did not. I knew the bear was on this willow flat. Somewhere. Dead I hoped, but I feared otherwise. We quickly found the spot where the bear was standing at the shot and I knew we should have a decent bloodtrail since it was hit in the center of the chest. The trail led, of course, through the thickest scrub on that 3 or 4 acre island. We approached 10 feet abreast, rifles shouldered constantly scaning ahead. As we broke through the very thickest, final screen of willows there lay the bear piled up, dead, in the middle of a shallow braid of river that coursed across a section of the flat. The whole thing from the shot to the spot where the bear expired took less than a minute even though it felt like a year.

We spent the next 3 hours skinning, quartering and loading the bear onto my raft. Confirmed with the rangefinder the shot was 39 yards.

We figured we had 3 to 4 more hours to float until we hit the take-out. It turned out to be 5 and a half. We floated into ever worsening weather and into the biggest, nastiest stretch of whitewater I have ever been on. Out of that trip's final 15 miles 10 were spent in near continuous rapids. While not technically difficult it was exhausting due to the constant effort of controlling a loaded boat. Stretches of Class III or bigger water a mile long or longer broken for the most part by fast Class II. At one point we were in nonstop rapids for over an hour. One particular rapid (which I narrowly avoided) was no-shit about 12 feet high. We made it to the take-out at near dark. We had decided that if we didn't make it in the next half an hour we were camping again while we still had light. Not but 2 or 3 minutes later we floated around that last bend. WHA-EFFIN-HOO!! We were worried about the "Gorge" when it was the so-called easy river that almost did us in.

It was an exciting trip and I'll probably do it again but not until I get a new boat. At some point transiting the Gorge I tore a gash in left pontoon about 16 inches long. Fortunately I was able to repaired it just like the video showed and we finished the trip. Kudo's to the folks at Aire for building a bad-ass easy to fix boat.

So even though the caribou didn't cooperate we had a great trip and my bud scored on what turned out to be a trophy bear for the region (central Brooks Range grizzlies are the smallest). A 25 year old, honest 7 foot sow. She had hardly any teeth left and not enough fat for that time of year so he just might have spared her the agony of starving to death in her den, which is a common fate for old bears.

Of course, on the trip north as we floated back into the bow only zone we started seeing caribou along the river. It might have been the fog and wind streaking my glasses but I could've sworn they were stickin' their tongues out at us as we drifted by.

Hope you enjoyed my 'venture cuz its true

Pictures to follow in a couple days (waiting on Darrell to burn the rest of the roll)

<FONT COLOR="#800080" SIZE="1">[ 09-16-2002 23:55: Message edited by: Erik in AK ]</font>
 

kiwi hunta

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Jul 17, 2002
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New Zealand
Oh man what a trip and what a result outstanding, I was bouncing along on my chair while u were goin thru them rapids

and a grizz to cap it off just great :D
 

Westman

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Feb 7, 2001
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Midwest
Wow!

Great adventure and great story!!!

You don't happen to have any pics of that bear do you?

Bill
 
D

Deerslayer

Guest
Great story Eric!

And that haul road trip with a 4x4 rental is looking better and better......the mobility to move miles either up or down quickly in case the Bou are not cooperating. And as usual...you see the bou in the bow area :rolleyes:
DS
 

Erik in AK

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Joined
Mar 28, 2002
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676
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not killing a ram
DS,
This was my forth trip to the slope and first personal descent of the Atigun. In my experience, usually by the end of August and certainly by mid September a good number of animals are milling around Pump Station #3 which is just north of where we took out. Its been warm this year so the 'bou are holding to the coast later than usual.

All in all it was a great trip. If you guys are serious about next year and need a local to iron out details let me know.

I just about got my #%@!* rassa-frassin' digital camera fingered out so pics to follow. Bear pics still waiting on Darrell. In the excitement I forgot to take some with mine.

Cheers
 

BW

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Jan 1, 2001
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Sitka, AK
Erik,

Great story! Sounds like those other folks, who were scared of the tight contour lines, may have been on to something.


Look forward to the pictures. Really interested in seeing a loaded up cata-raft.

Thanks!
 
D

Deerslayer

Guest
Thanks Eric......I'll keep you in mind! Right now I have a buddy in North Pole who wants to go with us......IF he doesn't get shipped out between now and then.
DS
 

IndyJay

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Dec 10, 2000
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Indianapolis, IN, United States
Wow... what a atory! That's got to be in our future DS? Let me log a few miles in a raft first... I can handle a canoe, no problem.

You know, once we're up there, I think I'd be real intrigued by the idea of driving up ad seeing the Arctic Ocean!
 

bearstalker

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Sep 17, 2002
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AK
Great story. I can't wait to see the pictures of that grizzly. I might be heading up that way in a week or two to take a caribou with the rifle.
 
D

Deerslayer

Guest
Hell yes INDY!......we gotta do all that shit! :eek: .......we gotta get in shape first...maybe a few white water classes, bear calling classes, navigational classes, survival classes....I figure by the year 2010.we're all over that trip! :cool: DS
 

1_pointer

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Dec 20, 2000
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Indiana
WOW! What a trip. I went rafting for the first time this past Memorial day upstream from the Grand Canyon and had a blast, I can't imagine doing it while hunting. That I've gotta do. Thanks for the story and congrats.
 

huntrluvr

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Dec 13, 2001
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Indiana
Wow what a vivid description you post. The whole trip came alive with your great post. Thanks for sharing your exciting adventure with us. Can't wait to see pics soon.
 
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