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Alaska waterways

Selawik River

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.
David Dapkus, Alaska Field Office BOR, Anchorage

Two Klepper kayaks were used for the river inspection.

June 18

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

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.

June 19

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, and Shungnak.

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.

June 20

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 pleasing.

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.

June 21

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 Kiliovilik Creek.

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.

June 22

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.

June 23

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 mph.

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.

June 24

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.

June 25

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.

June 26

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).

June 27

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.

June 28

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.

June 29

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 landscape.


Complete river log

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