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Alaska waterways

Kanektok River

Date: August 13, 1973
From: Noel P. Granzow
Subject: Trip Report - Kanektok River Evaluation, Aug. 3-9, 1973

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 > READ MORE

At 0800 on August 3, the Kanektok field team, listed below, assembled at Sea-Air motive.

Name Representing
Jerry Hout BSFW
Lew Waller BLM
Bill Gasaway ADF&G
Noel Granzow  

The field team was to fly via chartered Beaver to Kagati Lake. Unfortunately we were informed by Ward Gay, owner of Sea Air-motive that "the Government" (FAA) had tightened up on him and would not permit him to fly passengers in an aircraft with canoes tied on the outside as had previously been done on the Nowitna trip. Consequently we had to charter a Widgeon to carry the team, as well as a Beaver to carry the canoes, to Kagati Lake, nearly doubling the anticipated costs for the air shuttle.


We left Lake Hood at 0930 and arrived at Kagati Lake at 1350. The Beaver, with the canoes, arrived within 30 minutes of our landing. After establishing a camp at the lake we reviewed the Kanektok draft and corrected some minor mistakes. We then went into the hills surrounding the lake and photographed the area.

Saturday, August 4, dawned with heavy cloud cover and wind. We broke camp and began the trip down river. The river was quite shallow in the upper reach and we spent much of the morning dragging the canoes over rocks and gravel bars, covering approximately 7 miles in 3-1/2 hours. At Mile 68, we stopped for lunch. This segment is surrounded by mountainous terrain. We took five geo-chem samples and several photographs in the first reach. No wildlife seen other than waterfowl. Grizzly tracks were found on most sand bars but no sign of the animals.

After lunch we continued down stream. There were many islands with several channels around and through them. The river was still shallow, necessitating lining and dragging. Below Paiyun Creek, the flow increased sufficiently to allow us to remain in the canoes and paddle rather than drag our way downstream. The tree growth along the riverbanks increased and many trees had fallen into the river. Considerable maneuvering was required to avoid the "sweepers". It began to rain in mid-afternoon. By the end of the day we had covered 12 miles. Marshy terrain and the rain precluded any hiking into the side drainages. We camped at mile 63 on the river.

We arose at 0745 on Sunday, August 5. It had rained hard all night but had stopped by morning. There was still a heavy, low cloud cover and no wind. The mosquitoes were out in great numbers. Rain began again about 0830. The number of sweepers increased as we continued downstream and, by Mile 58, they were found
on the banks of the river and in every bend. This is not a river for novice canoeists as much maneuvering is required.

Just above Nakailingak Creek we stopped for lunch in a heavy downpour. The wind was up and added to the difficulty of maneuvering. Although we waited an hour
and a half the wind and rain did not let up. We continued downriver. At the mouth of Nakailingak Creek, rounding an island in the river, we were unable to avoid sweepers and had to abandon the canoe to save ourselves. We climbed on the sweepers, staying relatively dry and retrieved the canoe just downstream at Mile 54. This increased our respect for the force of the tributary streams emptying into the Kanektok.

Rain and wind continued all afternoon. At 1800 camp was set up below Klak Creek, approximately at Mile 47.5.

Cold wind from the south and a heavy rain greeted us as we awoke on Monday, August 6. We waited until 0900 when the rain and wind subsided somewhat, then made breakfast and broke camp.

Within a mile and a half of camp we ran into serious trouble. Maneuvering through an "S" bend we caught our stern on a submerged gravel bar, which swung us parallel to the current in the bend. This naturally carried us with great force into sweepers. The river was running at perhaps 9 knots and the canoe was swept under the sweepers. Lew Waller was able to get onto a downed tree and pull himself out of the canoe. I was pulled out of the stern by the sweepers. The canoe went down from under me and I went under the sweeper except for my left arm, which I was able, to throw over a limb, enabling me to grab on. My body was under water beneath the tree with the exception of my head, left shoulder and arm, which were upstream of the sweeper. My hip boots filled with water and my legs were dragged straight downstream with the current. I held on for five minutes and was truly convinced I would any second be pulled under the sweepers completely. Water was surging around my ears and the cold was getting to me so that I could not hold on much longer. Finally, the other canoe team had lined through, crossed the river below and come back upstream through the woods. Just as I was about to lose, my grip from the tremendous pressure of the current and the cold, Bill Gasaway was able to get a line out to me. I got it with my right arm and let go the sweeper with my left. Immediately I was swept under the sweeper but was pulled out to shore before I was swept into the next tree. I credit Bill Gasaway with saving my life.

After building a fire we were able to retrieve the canoe. All gear was soaked. I lost all my maps and field notes, the geo-chem samples, a hat and a paddle (the paddle was later retrieved). The camera and tape recorder were full of water and out of commission. The BLM radio was also inoperative.

We ate a hot lunch and continued down river till 1845, then made camp. It was a cold, wet, miserable night.

On Tuesday morning, the rain had not diminished, the river was swollen and the maps had indicated more channels below. After a near fatal accident the day before we decided to call BLM to apprise them of our situation and try for a chopper to get us past the braided section below, which would be choked with sweepers. We set up a 30-foot antenna, aimed it towards Anchorage, McGrath and King Salmon, and got no response. The radio wouldn't work. The 30 minutes it had remained underwater was sufficient to put it out of commission.

We started cautiously downstream. The river now had no banks to contain it. It ran in many channels through the woods. The "old channel" was often difficult to
locate. We managed to pick a wrong channel, which finally ran through a tunnel of sweepers with great force. Unable to proceed, we walked through the woods and found a quiet arm of the river, which led to the main channel. For an hour and a half we portaged through woods to the main channel. Upon putting in on the main channel o n the left bank we ha d to immediately ferry across the surging current to the right bank to avoid sweepers just below. The other canoe began to ferry across and was instantly turned about by the cur-rent and was going downriver backwards. Fortunately they were able to pull the bow into an eddy and swing the stern in and out of danger. In order to avoid their predicament, we began to ferry across and put great power into our strokes. Unable to swing us about the river simply swept up over the sides and swamped the canoe.

After emptying the canoe, we proceeded downriver, wet, cold and somewhat disgusted. By 1900 we discovered we were not in the main channel. We were paralleling it and the channel we were in cut "through the woods" to the main flow. W pulled out on the right bank pre-paring to portage across to the main channel but decided to camp instead. It had been a long, wet, day.

At 0700 on August 8, there was no rain, just fog. At 0900 we began our descent of the river. With no maps we had only a vague notion of where we were. We had trouble picking the correct channel several times, resulting in much lining to get to decent water.

After lunch rain commenced and we continued downstream; by 1530 we arrived at a native fish camp, They told us we were only about 12 miles from Quinhagak and that the channel was easier to locate below their camp. With this good news we moved on and presently the sun broke through for the first time since we left Kagati Lake on the 3rd. Finally by 1915 we arrived at the village of Quinhagak and set up camp at the airstrip, one mile out of the village.

As a result of the field evaluation, we determined: that the river is not suited to novice canoeists; that the topographic maps are "out of date" as they do not show the new channels; that the river can be run but it should not be attempted by one canoe as there are literally hundreds of sweepers waiting to clutch a canoe and hold it fast; that the prospective traveler should be prepared to line and even portage often; that there are adequate camp sites all along the river; that the most scenic segment is the upper half of the river where it flows through the mountains; and finally that the river is an excellent fishery and one can depend on fish for every camp dinner.

On the morning of August 9, I located Kenneth Cleveland, Village Council President, and arranged for a meeting to be held at 10:30. The Village Council turned out and I went over the background of Sec. 17d-2 of ANCSA and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. I answered their questions and gave them 25 Q&A sheets. The entire meeting was translated. Their mood was sullen at first,
(Anti-Gussek) and their chief concern was that they were convinced Wild River designation would lead to regulations, which would prevent or limit their subsistence use of the area. After repeatedly answering that question I finally gave a copy of PL90-542 to the interpreter, underlined Sec. 13 and had him read from the Act. This convinced them.

They asked about their native allotments and I explained that if they have allotments they would be honored. I also told them that the land office maps in Fairbanks BLM only show two allotment applications on the river. I told them that if they have more than two allotments they should immediately contact their BIA representative and BLM to get it straightened out.

The meeting lasted two hours and their attitude changed from sullen distrust to friendliness. They said they would support the Wild River program provided they could still fish and trap along the river. (Hunting is not of prime importance due to the lack of game). They also said they would not oppose the Wildlife Refuge under the same conditions. We adjourned the meeting at 1230 p.m.

At 2 p.m. the Beaver landed in the river and within five minutes the Widgeon landed on the landing strip. We loaded up and took off, landing in Lake Hood at 6:50 p.m.

Participants were requested to send their slides/photographs to this office so that we could select some for duplication for our files as the BOR camera was inoperative for most of the trip. The participants agreed.

Attached is a list of wildlife observed during the field evaluation.

Noel P.
Wildlife Kagati Lake
Kanektok River August 3 - 8, 1973



Complete river log

PDF icon Kanektok River [802 kb]


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