Scot B., Senior Developer for Equipment in Merchandising at L.L.Bean, has always had a fascination for Alaska, since reading articles about it in National Geographic as a child. As a registered Maine Guide and an experienced outdoorsman, he takes every opportunity to test our gear on outdoor adventures with family and friends. Over the past 30 years, Scot has taken about a dozen trips to Alaska to raft, sea kayak and backpack in the wilderness. This year, Scot got three friends together for a 10-day rafting trip on the Kongakut River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a 19-million-acre wilderness in the Northeast corner of Alaska. The river runs north from the Brooks Mountain Range (part of the western terminus of the Rockies) to the Arctic Ocean. Off the beaten track The Kongakut is not easy to get to. Scot and his friends flew into Fairbanks, about 300 miles south of their destination. From there, they took a mail plane to a remote native village, where they boarded a bush plane that dropped them off at the headwaters, after flying over the Brooks Range. “I particularly love the challenge of planning the logistics for a trip such as this,” says Scot, “and then finally getting to the destination and realizing that it is even more amazing than imagined. “A bush plane is equipped to land and take off on short, rough terrain such as river gravel bars. The planes are small and very weight sensitive. We had to keep to two trips with a 700-pound limit each to get into the river in one day. This weight limit included the four of us and all our gear – a 14-foot raft, two tents, two stoves, bear-proof containers, dry bags and enough food for 10 days.” Wild and beautiful The four friends – all skilled and experienced outdoorsmen – rafted 55 miles down the river, which flows north into the Arctic Ocean, taking time along the way to hike in the mountains. Because the peaks are treeless, the views were spectacular, and the June landscape was awash with birds and wildflowers. They also spotted Dall sheep, goats, caribou and one grizzly bear that swam across the river toward their campsite. “The grizzly didn’t get too close,” notes Scot. “We were very careful to keep all of our scented items – toothpaste, soap, food – in bear-proof containers, which were zipped into dry bags.” Always amazing As many times as he’s been to Alaska, Scot finds that each trip is different. This river is more serpentine than others he’s traveled, has fast rapids, and still had some ice in it. “It’s amazing – you’re floating in an area that was snow covered until mid-May, and now has temperatures getting into the 70s and flowers everywhere,” he says. “In the far north around the time of the summer solstice, the sun never sets completely. One night, we got up at 2 a.m. for a beautiful twilight paddle.”
Rafting the Kongakut River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
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