From: David Dapkus
SUBJECT: Field Inspection of the Selawik River, June 18-30, 1976
As part of BOR's technical assistance to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in
evaluating river-related resources within proposed National Wildlife
Refuge/Range System areas, an interagency field inspection was conducted of the
Selawik River June 18-30, 1976. The upper one quarter of the approximately 207
mile long Selawik River lies within Sec. 17(d) (1) lands except for about two
river miles just above Shinilikrok Creek which are Native Regional Deficiency
lands. It then flows for about 10 miles through Native Regional Deficiency lands
before entering into Sec. 17(d)(2) lands. These (d) (2) lands are part of the
proposed Selawik National Wildlife Refuge through which the river flows for
about one-half its length. The lower 1/4 of river passes through village
withdrawal lands. Participating in the inspection were:
Morris LeFever, U.S. F&WS, Anchorage
Philip Bailey, Fairbanks
District BLM, Fairbanks
Ted Swem Jr., Washington, D.C.
Alaska Field Office BOR, Anchorage
Two Klepper kayaks were used for the river inspection.
NOTE: These reports may not
contain important information about: 1) safety, 2) land management and ownership, 3) fishing and other
regulations and 4) possible errors >
Having just finished the nearby Huslia River inspection, met the crew in Galena
(afternoon and evening), which served as the jump off point for both river
inspections. We stayed overnight at Galena AFB.
We took an over flight of the upper 1/2 of the Selawik via Harold’s Air Service
of Galena about mid-day, then due to fire danger spent the rest of the day
waiting at the BLM fire control center until 6 p.m., when the helicopter (Bell
205) was released for us. Leaving at 6:05 p.m., we landed about 1/4 mile
downstream of Shiniliaok Creek at 7:l5 p.m., and set up camp on a hundred yard
long gravel bar. On the over flight as well as the trip in to start the float we
flew over and observed the new Native cabins at some hot springs several miles
above the put-in point. These are used by Natives from Huslia, Selawik, Kobuk,
The Selawik River at the put-in was slightly tea-colored due to spring runoff
and running probably 6"-10" above normal level. It was 40' wide, 6"-24" deep,
had a current of 3-4 mph over a fist size rock bottom, and was 43oF. It was warm
and sunny, just perfect weather for the hordes of mosquitoes, which greeted us
with sharp proboscises. Ten-foot high willows covered the gravel bar. Small
groves of white spruce were interspersed with tundra on the rolling uplands away
from the river.
Caught three 12"-14"grayling in about 1/2 hour. Before hitting the sleeping bags
we saw wolf and moose tracks on the gravel bar, two short-eared owls, a marsh
hawk, six taverners, and several long-tailed jagers.
Woke up to rain which changed to light sprinkles by afternoon. We floated about
15 miles to camp near an unnamed stream. The river varied from 8"-36" in depth,
40'-60' wide, and flowed an average of 3 mph over a gravel bottom and low banked
course. Water temperature was 40°F (air 56°F) and tea-colored. There were some
sweepers and tundra masses near outside river bends making the river good Class
It (open canoe water) on the International Whitewater Scale. The riverbanks were
generally low (5').
The upper 1/4 of the river flows through a 6 mile wide, flat valley bordered by
2,000' ridges called the Kiliovilik Range on the north and the 3,000'-4,000'
high Purcell Mountains on the south. Main vegetation was tundra with willows
close to the river and its tributaries and small stands of white spruce
scattered in the tundra. Although early in the season, the tundra flowers were
blooming and the willow buds were almost completely open. With the Waring
Mountains standing in the distant north the scene was aesthetically very
Wildlife observed included: birds -6 long tailed jagers, one immature golden
eagle, three Whistling swans, Widgeons, baffleheads, white-fronted geese with
goslings, Canada geese, and taverners; one bull moose in velvet, and one beaver;
caught several grayling for supper.
There were small gravel bars for about every mile of river. These were excellent
campsites but were not judged to be of sufficient size on which to land a wheel
plane. The river was not large enough for float planes either.
Day started sunny then turned rainy with cold wind (air temp. 46F). The river
varied in depth from 4"-5', was 20'-75' wide, and had an average current of 4
mph. We encountered an increasing number of sweepers, tundra masses, and small
boulders but no rapids (good Class I water). Floated to about 3 miles below
The river ran next to some low (less than 200' high) ridges cutting some away in
places creating 150' bluffs. The only change in vegetation was the addition of
small and scattered stands of aspen. We met Jim Schwarber who has a five-acre
home site on the north bank near Shinilikrok Creek. He has built a new cabin and
was cutting logs for a second cache.
We observed 16 moose -one bul1, one lone cow, two cows with twins, and four cows
with single calves. The cows would usually cross the river about the time we got
close, if we were too close they would make threatening noises and moves towards
us, much excitement. Saw several raptors, six families of white fronted geese,
ducks, seagulls, and a Northern shirke. Camped on a gravel bar, which had a good
supply of firewood, making for an excellent camp.
Morning dawned gray and cool. The river was becoming clearer as it receded to
its normal level. We began encountering an increasing number of sweepers, a few
boulders, and living trees that had been washed into the river during breakup.
The river had been flowing in a narrow, meandering channel from the start, but
the bends became even tighter and more frequent as we went along. It began to
break into more than one channel (20'-40' wide) and then form again as a single,
channel (75' wide), which we had not experienced previously. Water depth was
2'-3', average current of 3 mph, no rapids, all good Class I water flowing past
8'-10' high banks about 1/2 the time.
Vegetation and landforms remained as they had been. The general scenery from the
river remained varied and pleasing. Hiking in the tundra was poor although views
from the low ridges of the rolling expansive tundra were good. Wildlife observed
were four moose, five broods of taverner geese, white fronted geese, ducks, and
hordes of mosquitoes.
The river had cut some new channels and its banks became higher (10'-12') as we
floated along. We encountered fewer sweepers, rocks, and tundra masses in the
river, it remained good Class I water. The rock bottom and gravel bars gave way
about mid-day to sand. The river varied in width from 50'-12 5', from 1" riffles
to 6' in depth, with a current of less than one to three mph, usually about one
Floated out onto the flats early in the morning leaving the ridges behind but
still encountering a few lower (100') bluffs at the waters edge. Saw fewer white
spruce and aspen stands, but willow brush remained plentiful near the river and
some black spruce took the place of the white spruce.
Even greater populations of mosquitoes due probably to less wind and more sun,
were closely observed. Other wildlife seen were beaver, geese, ducks, and a
sharp tailed hawk. Camped on a small sandbar with an adequate firewood supply.
Day was cold, rainy, and windy, with the wind coming upstream. The headwind plus
a 1 mph current required us to paddle steadily throughout the day. The Selawik
became one large meandering channel, which it remained for the rest of our
journey. It widened to 12 5’, deepened to 6'-l 0', and slowed to a steady 1 mph.
It also turned tea colored probably due to the sandy character of the bottom.
There were no rapids or other obstacles in the water for the remaining trip, all
easy Class I except when a strong headwind blows creating 1'-3' waves. A strong
headwind and resulting waves can make crossing potentially hazardous.
The scenery became less interesting due to the flatness of the u p lands and the
generally higher riverbanks blocking our view. Saw several beaver houses,
beaver, one cow moose, various raptors, ducks, geese, and jaegers. Made camp
again on a small sandbar with an adequate firewood supply.
The day started cool and windy as had the past several, but turned warm and
sunny by 11 a.m. The Selawik continued to widen (100'-200’), remained deep and
the current stayed at one mph as it wound along its sandy course. Riverbanks
varied in height from 4' -20' and the sandbars became scarcer. Water temperature
was 53°F. Floated past the Tagagavik River about noon, it was the first large
tributary in several days. Scenery was not spectacular, but was pleasing.
We saw one cow moose; more hawks, geese, ducks, seagulls, and two adult
Whistling swans; listened to a lynx cry for several minutes, saw several beaver
lodges and one dam on a side stream, and caught a few Northern pike (16"-28").
Camped (poor) on the tundra at the confluence of Kugarak River.
The day was warm and sunny, combined with the river being slow (1 mph) and wide
(500') made us feel like we were "floating" on a lake on Sunday afternoon.
Sandbars were few and small, causing us to look hard for a decent camp. Tundra
became more dominant with the only trees being a few extremely scattered small
stands of black spruce. Besides the usual ducks, geese, and raptors, we saw a
cow moose with a calf and a large black bear (swam the river about 25 yards
above the evenings camp).
Day dawned cold and windy (30 mph headwinds) making paddling uncomfortable,
taxing, and hazardous. River widened to 900'; water temperature 52oF. Scenery
was poor from the river but nice from the top of the riverbanks -rolling tundra
spotted with lakes and backed by distant mountains. Besides the usual wildlife
observed on previous days we saw one red fox.
Encountered continual cold, rain, and 30 mph headwinds with resulting waves for
the entire day. We saw two more Whistling swans. Passed several Native hunting
camps and marked allotments. River character, vegetation, and scenery remained
the same as previous days.
Day started cold (air temp. 38oF at camp, a new low for me, water temperature
54oF) and windy but turned sunny and windy by noon. River remained as it had
been. The Selawik River at one point lies within 1/4 mile of Inland Lake. We
observed a 200' wide channel connecting the lake and the river, which we learned
from the people of Selawik, was opened by them (dug a small ditch and breakup
did the rest) about 1970. Saw several more Native hunting camps and some garbage
along the river. Willows, noticeable gave way to alders along the river starting
near Kanisokrok Lake.
Arrived at the village of Selawik at 5:45 p.m., and talked for a while with the
people. We were scheduled to go out via Wien the following day but found out
that an extra freight flight would come in this evening and that we should take
it since we would not get on tomorrows flight (even with our prior
reservations). We took the flight to Kotzebue and spent the night at the hotel.
Left Kotzebue at 3 p.m., via our scheduled Wien flight and arrived in Anchorage
at 5:30 p.m.
We covered the 207 miles of the Selawik River in ten long days of hard paddling.
We averaged 20 miles per day (floated about 25 miles per day for the first three
days, then paddled 18-20 miles per day for the last seven). It is Class I water
with numerous sweepers, tundra masses and some boulders along its upper reaches
and if there is a strong headwind, one-two foot waves along the lower reaches
being the main hazards. A nice float trip (canoe) on the Selawik would be from
its headwaters to the Kugarak River or just before. The lower river is large
enough to land a small floatplane, however we did not see any place for a wheel
or floatplane to land in the headwaters. Some of the lakes about one-quarter of
the way from the headwaters may be suitable for a small floatplane. The Selawik
River offers outstanding variety of wildlife to observe in a pleasing scenic
Complete river log
Selawik River [899 kb]
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