River (North Fork)
Date: January 11, 1974
From: Patrick Pourchot
Subject: Tinayguk - North Fork Koyukuk Field inspection log.
The following is a day-by-clay account of a field inspection of the Tinayguk
River and North Fork of the Koyukuk River conducted July 11-20, 1373, by the
||F-SLUPC Resource Planning Team
| John Kauffmann
Don, Dave and myself flew commercial to Bettles arriving about 11:OO a.m. That
afternoon the 3 of us made an over flight with Paul Shanahan in his Beaver. We
went up the Koyukuk to the N.F. then up N.F to the Tinayguk and up the T. to its
headwaters and then back to Bettles following the Wild River drainage. We landed
on North Lake off the N.F. below the Tinayguk confluence.
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 >
The rivers appeared at lower water levels and free of obstructions. It looked
like the Savioyok Ck. confluence area on the Tinayguk was the uppermost put-in
point for our open 19' canoes. Above this area the river is a small mountain
stream with shallow water, many rocks and steep gradient. The only significant
rapids downstream from Savioyok Ck. appeared to be around the Wolf Ck.
confluence and squaw Rapids on the North Fork.
The weather was bad with blowing rainstorms during the over flight a black bear
was seen along the lower N.F.
Dave and I left Bettles at 9:00 a.m. via FH1100 chopper and arrived in
headwaters of Tinayguk about l0:l5 a.m. Don and John (who arrived from Killik
River trip) flew to Anaktuvuk Pass via Beaver and were then picked up by the
chopper and returned to headwater put-in site which was approximately 20 miles
over the divide from Anaktuvuk Pass.
Our put-in was about: 1/2 mile above the Savioyok Ck. confluence (which is
further upstream than shown on 1956 1/250,000 USGS map) at the "bend” around
Gray Mountain or about 2 and 1/2 miles downstream from the intersection where 2
tributaries converge with the Tinayguk from opposite sides of the valley.
We set up camp and spent the whole day hiking around camp. The air temperatures
were 40-42 most of day and 38o at 10:00 p.m. The water was 43o at 2:00 p.m.
Winds were 10-20 mph from the NW and was sunny in mid-day with some high
cloudiness later in day. No bugs!
The river at the put-in was 10-15 yards wide, 1-2 feet deep, 6-8 mph current and
very clear. It is generally braided with many old and new channels present. The
river is generally Class II with much small whitewater caused by swift waters
and many basketball sized rocks in the channel. The oars and river bottom are
very cobble with baseball and football sized rocks.
Up river from camp the river is much steeper, rockier although probably run able
by open canoe from the intersection of the two opposing tributaries. Above this
the river is just too small to float a boat without considerable scraping and
Scenery is outstanding with high relief, multi-colored mountains all around,
patches of spruce, tall willows, balsam poplar along the valley floor
contrasting with the sweeping tundra on the slopes and bare rock on the mountain
Around camp there were several large stands of white spruce with some trees more
than a foot thick. Spruce was located up the valley 3 or 4 miles above camp
-mostly on several south-racing pediment fans.
An airplane flew over high in the p.m. A crude " airstrip" had been cleared on a
cobble bar downstream from camp and marked with several stakes with red ribbons.
It was only 100-150 yds long and apparently used only by a super cub with large
wheels. (It was assumed this was one of the places where Dan Rhody, a registered
guide using this area, takes bear and sheep hunters.). Upstream of camp there
were several old spruce stumps 10-15'' in diameter which had been cut by man but
no old structure could be found.
Two noose were seen and bear, wolf, moose, and caribou signs and trails were
common along the river. Coming in we saw several Dall Sheep on hilltop west of
the Wolf Ck. confluence area. Saw mew gull, scoters, sparrows, robins,
sandpipers and other small birds.
We caught and saw many grayling around camp mostly 10-12" long.
Also a couple arctic chars about the same length.
We hiked up the river about 3 miles; fairly good hiking along river because of
many game trails. However, trails ~on south side were very marshy and muddy and
avoiding muck meant going through some thick small willow thickets.
Spent all day at put-in camp and hiked more. I climbed to near top of first
ridge or Gray Mt. above camp. The 2000+ vertical climb was extremely steep and
slow going with lots of loose, rotten rock and no natural traverse routes. View
up the valley was tremendous from top. Hiking up valley and up the slopes at the
bases of the surrounding mountains much easier and good views over and up valley
Weather was partly cloudy, high about 58o, light wind from South; mosquitoes out
at mid-day but subdued by wind. Water temperature 43o at 10:00 p.m., 45 at 4:00
The river dropped several inches overnight and still dropping most of day. On
Gray Mt. climb found shallow cave ledges where Dall sheep had stayed for long
periods of time; droppings several inches deep.
We broke camp in morning and started down river. River had dropped several
more inches overnight and canoeing marginal to Savioyok Ck. Current also reduced
1-2 mph. At Savioyok Ck. water volume increased by 1/4 to 1/3 but much braiding
downstream from there for about 8 miles made water in any one channel of
margina1 canoe ability. We got out and dragged over shallows and pushed through
logs and piles frequently. One S-turn channel through thick trees and brush was
so narrow and tight that we had to swing the canoe end for end to pass through.
The other canoe was not so lucky and swamped when both ends wedged on opposite
About 8 miles downstream of put-in was large section of aufeis which was about
11/2 mile wide and extended more than a mile downstream. Above the ice was over
a mile of flat gravel, free of vegetation, which appeared to be also subject to
aufeis in the winter. The river was extremely braided in this section and lots
of dragging was encountered.
Although it looked from the air that one of the "main" channels through the
aufeis was free of ice jams, from the ground it was not clear where this channel
was. We, therefore, skirted the ice patch in the farthest west channel which did
not seem to have any more or any less water than the other thin channels which
branched out upstream of the ice and went through, around, or under the ice in
several locations. The ice was 5-8 feet high with characteristic blue streaks of
Downstream from the ice field the river was confined to a sing1e channel and was
incised in a small canyon with 30-100 root high banks. At the head of this
canyon we stopped to inspect a large pingo, which was located along the river.
Shortly downstream we unexpectedly m et two men from California who were
backpacking across the Tinayguk valley from the John R. to the North Fork on a
circle trip to Anaktuvuk Pass.
In the small canyon the water was almost all Class II with shallow rocky rapids.
Too shallow to be of: any real danger and when no good channels or chutes were
present, you could get out and lift or drag canoe over or around.
We camped about 6 miles below aufeis in canyon. At camp, river 20 yds wide, 1
foot deep, 6-7 mph current, very clear and 43oF. We covered 15-16 miles between
10:00 a.m. and 7: 00 p.m., with several long stops and frequent short ones.
After rainsquall in early a.m. rest of day partly cloudy with light wind from
South, high in upper 50's, 10:00 p.m. temp. 48o.
Scenery was excellent with sweeping vistas from river to adjacent mountains and
up and down valley (2-4 miles wide). View in canyon confined to adjacent banks
but many exposed schist rock banks.
Sign of man included 2 old cabins (one cabin is marked on map) which we
miraculously stumbled upon having just picked an arbitrary spot from which to
start walking off one of the many channels snaking through willow thickets and
dense spruce-poplar groves. The cabins arc-about 1/2 mile from the "main"
channel and are not easily seen even when standing in the small clearing where
they are located. They are both very old with the roofs caved in. They are dug
into the ground and stand only about waist high. A very few old cans are the
only materials found around, although any implements would probably be under the
foot or more of sod and soil covering the cabin floors. It is not clear who
built the cabins or what their purpose was, but our guess would be they were
built by Native people from the Anaktuvuk area and used for winter trapping and
hunt in g. Ernie Johnson (a la Robert Marshall) is also reported to have built a
cabin up on the Tinayguk but why he would nave built two is not clear.
From a bluff above camp, a moose with possibly a calf was seen crossing the
river downstream. No other game was seen. A lot of moose sign was seen around
the Pingo and the salty water pool at the top appeared to be used as a “lick”. A
common scoter, gray jay, ravens, snipe, snowy owl, squirrel, were identified.
Beyond the aufeis the vegetation was mostly moist or alpine tundra above the
river with only scattered spruce and poplar immediately along the river.
Mosquitoes again were surprisingly light most of the day.
Weather mostly cloudy, high in upper 50’s, 48 degrees at 10:00 a.m., winds up to
25 mph, no bugs. Lift camp no. 2, 11:00 a.m., arrived camp no. 3 at 5:30 p.m., a
distance of about 18 miles. Lots of time out of canoe.
First 10 miles from camp almost continuous Class II whitewater, small, rock
rapids. Some dragging, pumping with one large stretch of shoving, carrying over
exposed rock garden below Wolf Creek confluence. Last 8 miles, pool, riffle,
pool, and riffle. Some high Class II bends with many large boulders around Wolf
Creek but mostly shallow and rocky.
In front of camp no. 3, river 20 yards wide, 2’ deep, 7-8 mph current in
riffles, 4-5 mph in pools. Mostly entrenched in small canyon, 30-50 foot banks.
Valley floor 2 mile wide much of day (less than un upper area).
Vegetation mostly spruce with lots of black spruce also willow and poplar along
banks. Black spruce on hillsides gives somewhat stark appearance to landscape.
Large mountains continuous on both sides of valley. We saw one young moose, owls
(short-eared), and red-breasted merganser with brood of 10. no fishing attempted
although looked good for grayling.
We saw 55-gallon oil drum near Wolf Creek lodged along river. The same airplane
has passed over and back since the first day at the same times; must be a
regular route to somewhere on North Slope.
In the evening we hiked up the ridge above camp to the divide between the
Tinayguk and the Wild River. Hiking was fairly good although tussocks slowed
progress. From divide we looked down a series of 4 lakes, which drain into Flat
Creek but could not see down valley. Good views of Tobin Mountain and Sun
Mountain. This pass is reported by Marshall in his travels to be used by some of
the early miners going between Wiseman and Wild Lake. Taking our time and
stopping frequently, we hiked about 4 miles in 4 hours.
Left camp about 11:45 a.m., arrived at the confluence with N.F. at about 4:30
p.m. and arrived camp no. 4 at Bonanza (not sure of spelling) Creek at 6:30 p.m.
about 4.5 hours were spent on the water and about 24 miles traveled.
Weather cloudy, drippy, light wind, high in low 50’s, 48 degrees at 10:00 a.m.,
few bugs; water temperature 45 degrees at confluence, same as N.F.
River was pool-riffle, pool-riffle to confluence. Near mouth 20 yards wide, 3
feet deep, 10 feet deep pools, 4-5 mph current. Some braiding in lower area,
mostly Class I, some Class II riffles. Tinayguk only 1/10 to 1/15 of volume of
N.F., which was 30-5- yards wide, 6-10 deep milk colored with much more
extensive gravel bars (including larger fluctuations in water levels) and
gentler sweeping curves. The Tinayguk had showed evidence of high water earlier
in the year, 4-5 feet above present levels.
Sign of man included a landing area on a gravel bar on the N.F. just down from
the T. confluence. Plastic strip on pole for windsock. Note indicating bear
hunting activities (no luck). Footprints seen on bar near camp no. 4 (probably
hunters who had landed on bar).
We saw cow and calf along river just down from T. confluence. Also red-throated
loon, arctic terns, owl, porcupine and beaver. A couple grayling caught in lower
Vegetation mostly black and white spruce and poplar in lower Tinayguk. Some
white spruce up to 60 feet tall, 15” in diameter near confluence. On ridge near
confluence saw first small birch trees growing in old black spruce burn. Some
alder on steep riverbanks. From ridge could see Gates of Arctic although low
cloud cover obstructed some of view.
Left camp about 11:00 a.m. and arrived camp 5. at Ruby Creek at 4:30 p.m. we
hiked back to North Lake taking about 3 hours and traveled about 18-20 miles in
about 3.5 hours on the water.
Weather overcast, drippy, windy (gusts up to 40 mph), (not readable insert) and
high in mid 50’s. River 30 yards wide, 4-6 feet deep, 3-4 mph current, no real
whitewater. N.F. carrying much more sediment than Tinayguk, visibility only
about 1-2 feet.
Cabin along river near North Lake was structurally sound although windows and
doors are out. The log cabin has 2 rooms. Old sled, kayak-type boat skeletons
outside, also half cabin tent frame.
North Lake is 20-minute walk from river. Many nice hiking smooth typed moraines
around lake offering picturesque views across lake. Caught small pike in lake
(18” long, 1.5 pounds).
Among common birds sited were king fishers, bank swallows.
Left camp 9:00 a.m. and arrived new camp just below Florence Creek at 5:30 p.m.
We stopped for more than an hour for lunch and again to hike up Florence Creek
in addition to several shorter stops and traveled about 34 miles. Although we
“floated” much of the Tinayguk, we paddled moderately on much of the North Fork.
Weather improved with partly cloudy skies, windy, high 60’s. The river was 40-50
yards wide, 4-6 feet deep, 4-6 mph current, 45 degrees F. Class I except Squaw
Rapids, which was Class II. The rapids are not very challenging from a
whitewater boating standpoint. The current increases and there are some large
rocks in the river but easy to navigate around. This stretch is about a mile
long. River continues to be cloudy with suspended sediment.
Old cabin at creek above Horse Creek, roof collapsed, some old implements lying
Mountains far from river, very wide valley, leave mountains upstream of Florence
Creek confluence. Couldn’t find Florence Lake outlet but went up Florence Creek
(past the outlet) instead. Went up it with canoes about ¼ mile and then hiked up
another ½ mile. Very clear, pretty creek, lots of mosquitoes. Saw a few small
grayling in creek. From ridge above creek we still couldn’t see Florence Lake
and we were never sure of bearings.
Saw a lot of beaver sign along river, one beaver, a few ducks, and a clutch of
Traveled about 25 miles in 5 hours on water to camp no. 7 about 3 miles
downstream of Pope Creek on the Koyukuk.
Weather mostly cloudy and windy with some sprinkles. Temperatures in 50’s.
Mosquitoes generally light.
Middle Fork much clearer than North Fork, about ¼ to 1/3 of North Fork volume.
Koyukuk 75-100 yards wide, 3-8 feet deep, 3-4 mph current, very cloudy, no
Upstream of Middle Fork confluence raptor nesting cliffs; couldn’t identify
birds although several eagles sighted in area.
Old mail route cabin upstream from Middle Fork confluence. Fresh boughs inside
from last spring overnighter. Trail visible in back of cabin.
Arrived Bettles 3:00 p.m. after 4-5 hours on river, covered 20 miles. Stopped
for lunch at Wild River confluence. Fairly Small River in comparison to Koyukuk,
water much clearer than Koyukuk but not as clear as Tinayguk or Middle Fork. Met
boys from Evansville who were cutting firewood near Wild River confluence.
Terrain generally rolling with several distinctive ridges along river, heavy
Saw a moose near camp no. 7.
After returning canoes to BLM fire station, we hopped a ride with a Fairbanks
Air DC-3 back to Fairbanks and returned to Anchorage that night.
A true wilderness experience was obtained virtually to the outskirts of Bettles;
we encountered only 2 other people in 9 days and we considered this meeting a
rare fluke. Except for some evidence of fly-in hunters, no signs of man are
From a canoeing standpoint, the Tinayguk at lower water levels is somewhat small
and “bony” for an ideal whitewater experience although there are many sections
of good small whitewater. Another limitation is, of course, access as only
flood-type boats could be brought into the river area without a helicopter; no
lakes exist along the river, which we saw which could accommodate a floatplane.
Also, shallow water precluded a put-in much beyond the Savioyok Creek confluence
above which is found some of the most scenic areas.
The North Fork beyond the Tinayguk is a good family-type boating river although
he fairly uniform topography and vegetation of the wide valley floor makes
traveling by boat somewhat monotonous after several days.
One of the most impressive features about this area was the spectacular alpine
scenery and mixed tundra-spruce vegetation of the upper areas. More evidence of
large animals was also observed there. A backpacking trip would probably be in
the best mode of seeing these upper areas for longer periods of time.
Total distance traveled was about 150-160 miles in 7 days on water.
Complete river log
Koyukuk River North
Fork [889 kb]
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