The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) encompasses 19 million acres of truly remote wilderness in the far northeast corner of Alaska. It is isolated from everything, with no human settlements or developments of any kind. John Peterson of Bristol Bay Outfitters has the exclusive guide-use rights to a 100-by-60-mile area in the ANWR, where he hunts Dall sheep, arctic grizzly, moose and caribou. While he conducts most of these hunts using fly camps, he also offers a floattrip hunt using a raft to explore and hunt the ridges rising over the Kongakut River. A friend and I hunted Dall sheep and grizzly bear this way last August and found the experience to be a hunt of a lifetime.
I had hunted with Peterson in 2005, taking a brown bear in the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge where he has an area with exclusive use rights as well. At that time we discussed doing a floattrip down one of the many rivers in his area in the ANWR for grizzly and sheep. I had heard nothing but solid reports year after year about the area, so I booked a trip for August 2008.
The Kongakut River is the only major river whose entire course is within the refuge’s designated wilderness. Its headwaters start high in the eastern Brooks Range, and the river flows east then north through the mountains and coastal plain out to the Beaufort Sea. Its average flow rates are generally Class I and II, but there are some stretches with Class III rapids to make things exciting. The river is open from June through September and flows through the birthing grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd. Strands of stunted spruce and willows reach up to 2,700 feet, where they give way to open tundra and rocky slopes that rise to about 7,000 feet over the rivers.
The trip starts at the headwaters on the very far end of the Continental Divide on the north slope of the Brooks Range. Every 10 to 15 miles a large tributary flows into the Kongakut, and Petersen takes his aluminum frame pontoon raft into these numerous side drainages to explore and glass for game......