September in the Arctic can bring everything from warm, sunny fall days to freezing nights, rain, snow and wind, sometimes all of the above in one day. Besides our false start we have been blessed with the weather.
The cottonwoods have turned yellow, the tundra is in rainbow colors. Wind gusts have shaken the first leaves of some trees.
We spent our first night next to the Walker Lake Rapids. The sound of the rushing water drowns most other sounds, that could startle you in the night. The temps must be around freezing when I get up in the morning. I sit next to the river and watch two otters climb out of the water. They explore land for a while, oblivious to my presence, and disappear in the brush after a while. Oatmeal for breakfast and off we go. We decide to line the canoe past the last set of rapids, which means walking in the river on slippery rocks. After that it all becomes quiet and peaceful.
We have an easy day ahead of us with regards to the itinerary. In less than a mile we will hit the mighty Kobuk. The river becomes wide and flows steadily at 3-5 miles per hour. There is no need to paddle, just navigating around some rocks or trees that may appear occasionally in our way.
We float for about 20 miles to the vicinity of the confluence with the Nutuvukti, a small stream coming out the mountains. There are plenty of sand banks, some more rocky than others, where we could camp along the way. We stop a few times for a snack break. On the beaches we find signs of otters, bears, and moose. We also see our first grizzlies, a mamma bear with a cub walking along the river shore on, which may be a narrow stretch of sand and pebbles, a steep river bank, boreal forest or boggy tundra. Once the bears notice the moving canoe, they scramble up the river bank and disappear in the forest. Good bears! I am not looking forward to a close bear encounter in the canoe,
We do not see a single human all day, no boat, no cabin, just some dispersed logs of firewood on a beach. It is clear we are deep in the Arctic wilderness. The Kobuk has been very gentle on this first day, which allowed us to enjoy this splendid natural setting.
We settle in for the night, pitching tents, cooking dinner, calling dispatch, listening to some music…