Barbara and Henry Intili canoe down the Kokolik River in Alaska

Published 11:37 am Friday, June 24, 2022

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I have wanted to canoe the Kokolik River in Northwest Alaska for at least ten years. Fewer than thirty people are expected to paddle the river this year. Our group of eight had six experienced paddlers and two professional guides from Arctic Wild. It would be foolish to attempt this river alone.

In ten days we experienced snow, hail, rain, dense clouds and brilliant sunshine. In June the sun never sets this far north of the Arctic Circle.

We saw herds of caribou streaming over the hills and valleys, several huge musk ox in their shabby coats, swift, skittish red and arctic foxes, numerous raptors soaring above looking for marmots, and two grizzly bears with waddling gait bounding away from these strange monsters floating down their river.

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Some days we paddled this swift, cold, twisting river filed with rapids and gravel bars. Our shoulders ached from the constant physical demand. Other days we set up camp and hiked the hills, bluffs and treeless valleys. Many days we had breakfast at noon and supper at midnight. What does time matter when there is no dark?

Barb and I set up our tent at the end of every day and huddled together for warmth in our double sleeping bag like worn out puppies. Bathing in the freezing river was never an option. We hardly changed clothes. It was a contest of smell versus warmth.

This was the most demanding adventure we have ever undertaken. The North Slope of Alaska is a forbidding, unforgiving, yet solemn and beautiful place.