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Aiyagomahala Valley


Tasmanian Packrafters in the Brooks Range, Alaska; Alatna River and Arrigetch Peaks

John McLaine

Matt Brain

Pete Culhane

July 2014

Part 4: The Aiyagomahala Valley and Pick-up.

(For Part 1, please visit this page.)

Day 10

For Day 10 we planned to walk up the Aiyagomahala Valley to enjoy the views of the upper valley, and then return to our same camp and search for the alleged hot springs in the area.


Another stunning valley; the Aiyagomahala.


The beautiful forest floor.


A small bear.


Aiyagomahala Creek


Upper Aiyagomahala Creek


Wichmann’s Tower


Checking it out


Hanging glacier on Wichmann’s Tower


A magic spot for a rest with a view.


A spot of lunch.


Pete and Matt absorbing some rays.


A lump of granite.


If the pictures don’t convey it well, please let me assure readers, this spot is sensational.


Walking back down the upper Aiyagomahala Valley.


Sad to be leaving these vistas behind.


It is a beautiful stream, and I took the risk of drinking from it. It was good.


Hot Springs! Back at camp and we found the hot springs! There is a small trickle of very hot water which enters the Aiyagomahala Creek, and you can manipulate a pool of streamside water to be the perfect temperature for a piping hot bath. After 10 days without a wash it was sensational!


The Wild Ideas Bearikades Bear barrels, stored under a Spruce tree away from camp.


A sore foot with a nifty ring pad.

Day 11

For Day 11, we needed to walk back up and over a high alpine ridge to return to our boats at the Alatna River. It was another magnificent day of mountain walking and weather.


Alpine meadow.


An end-on view of the peaks that separate the Aiyagomahala and Arrigetch valleys.


Matt struggling to decide at which peak to point his camera. All of my pictures were taken on a basic point and shoot Nikon AW120 Coolpix, whereas Matt used superb Leica wide angle lenses with a professional standard body and accessories. I highly recommend you check out his pictures on the Irenabyss Gallery site once they are published. Both Matt and Pete also recorded GoPro movies and stills.


Final views of the magnificent peaks, before descending to the Alatna River.


Matt sitting beside a bear and moose trail back at our boat stash. A big pile of bear poo beside his foot. We camped close by once again.


Bear poo with bits of furry creature in it.


Plentiful natural blueberries abounded in this area. Delicious!


I think Pete’s hand must be better than mine.


Moose fur on a broken tree. I suspect the moose has habitually crashed past this spot so often he finally broke down the tree and a collection of moose fur gradually built up.



Alatna plus Arrigetch plus bear poo plus moose camp.

Day 12

On Day 12 we farewelled the Arrigetch region and paddled down the Alatna until adjacent to our final camping spot on the banks of Takahula Lake.


Early on Day 12 I was paddling in front of the others when I was lucky enough to see a magnificent Arctic Wolf on this shingle bank, from my boat. It was a beautiful creature, very large and seemingly healthy, with near white fur. It watched me approach and then turned and trotted off into the bushes. I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo of it, and unfortunately Pete and Matt missed its brief appearance.


On Day 12 the paddling was quite mellow, so my PFD and Helmet were off.


The broad and beautiful Alatna.


Despite being a protected National Park and wilderness area, the lower parts of the river have a few private cabins scattered along its banks. I think some are the property of Indigenous Americans who have hunting rights in these, their original homelands. I believe this area is the natural boundary of the Inupiat families of the North Slope, and the Athabaskan people of the Alaskan interior.


Antlers in the forest floor.


Paw prints


We were very excited to find these quite fresh bear prints beside the river. We decided to follow them for a while in the hope of seeing a bear, and we finally got lucky, as you can see in the next picture, the prints lead us up to a very spectacular bear sighting.


This is a young grizzly bear that we encountered. We believe that it left the impressive tracks of the previous picture.


Lake Takahula. After paddling the Alatna river to within a few hundred metres of Lake Takahula, we carried our boats over a short ridge and then reinflated for the final paddle to this, our eventual campsite on the south side of this beautiful lake.

Day 13.

Pick-up day.


Our final campsite. Throughout the night wolves in the surrounding hills kept up a periodic serenade of intense howling. It was quite beautiful, and a hard place to leave. My camera battery died after this picure, and the float plane arrived to return us to Bettles. You’ll have to imagine it for now.

I hope you enjoyed these pictures and the story they tell. We sure enjoyed the journey! Thanks for reading. If you would like to go back to the start; please visit Part 1; Packrafting the Alatna River.

Best; John McLaine.

  1. Ryan Hickel permalink

    Great trip guys. My girlfriend and I really enjoyed the photos. Especially of the bears:); you guys were brave to get so close, but then again, you had bear spray:) One question: bugs didn’t seem bad??? Mid summer in the Brooks, I would have thought I’d be seeing you guys in bug nets.

    • Thanks very much Ryan! Glad you liked the pictures. Mosquitoes were very mild for us; I believe because we had those few really cold days at the start, and the mozzies did not like the cold. As it gradually warmed up during our 2 week trip they became more numerous, but never worrisome. I suspect than in a warmer spell of weather they could be more of a torment. Cheers, J.

  2. I’ve always dreamed of visiting Alaska, and your beautiful blog has made it even more a must do. Thank you for sharing this, and for the bear sighting giggles 🙂

  3. Mathieu permalink

    Hi, what a small world. We were six of us, belgian guys, paddling the John. We got lots of rain too. And we also met Dave and is daugther at the end of our trip, in Bettles. Planning to go back up there, too beautifull.

    • Hello Mathieu! I remember meeting your group at Bettles too; in fact I gave our Arrigetch maps to one of your group, who was planning to fly to Circle Lake and spend a week in the Arrigetch when the rest of your party left Bettles. I had his name and contact details but lost them (was it Dom?), and was wondering how his trip was. Is there a blog or website of your group’s journey on the John River? I’d love to read a report… ? Cheers, John

      • John Forsyth permalink

        hi john, what map did you use out there? we are going to do same trip next week. where exactly are those hot springs? we would love to find them. what type of apparel is necessary to kayak the alatna?

  4. Mathieu permalink

    Hello John, here is the adress of Dom: As for the trip, there is a small film, here is the link: the pass word is : Anaktuvuk_pass. Or try the Dom’s web site: It’s in french, but a longer film available in english should be there arond April.
    The trip went fine as you could see in the film. By the way, have you the adress of Dave? He develop a special way to link two pack raft in case of paddling on fat water.
    How is pack rafting in Tasmania? Her we are waiting for the good level of water.
    All the best. Mat

    • G’day Mat, sorry there’s been a delay in my response. Thanks for the link, I look forward to checking it out. Dave is

      I chatted with Dave about linking boats together for flat water, because I have done that down here previously too. Tasmanian packrafting is very good! You should come down and paddle the Franklin River, it is a world-class wilderness trip of about 8 days. Cheers, John

  5. Roman Dial permalink

    John, Thanks for posting the photos and wit!

    Seems like the bear trails in Tazzie aren’t quite as spacious as the wombat trails here. Sorry to miss you coming and going, but looks like you managed well.

    • Thanks for the kind words Roman, and again for the inspiration for the trip. Let’s catch up next time; maybe in a year or so. All the best, J.

  6. David Bishop permalink

    Great to see these photos. They brought back so many memories. It was great to hang out with you guys in the Arrigetch.


  7. David Bishop permalink

    Also, we did the Aniakchak the next year. On the flatwater section we put three boats together, end to end, for the flatwater float down the Meshik River and the saltwater bay to cross back to our starting point.

    • G’day Dave! I had to Google Aniakchak; looks a beautiful part of Alaska! Maybe I’ll get there one day. I also went back to Alaska; not the year after meeting you but in 2017. Pete and Matt from my 2014 trip were unavailable but I went with two other antipodean friends, Ben and Dulkara. I haven’t written anything about it, been too busy, but we had a great trip. We flew in to Circle Lake, went up the Aiyagomahala and over Independence Pass to the upper Kobuk, then crossed Independence Pass, which was extremely marginal with a smear of fresh snow on steep granite slabs, then followed Roman’s route to the upper Noatak, from where we had to come out fairly urgently for a medical crisis, which Dulkara describes well on her blog:

      Despite the early extraction, we had a great time and Dulkara recovered well with hospital care.

      While Dulkara was recovering, Ben and I completed a 3 day trip on the Bull and Chulitna Rivers in the Denali NP. Very pretty country.

      Apart from that trip, all other packrafting adventures I’ve done since we met you have been in either NZ or Tas.

      I hope you and Allegra are still dreaming up cool adventures; maybe we’ll see you down under one year!

      Cheers, John

      • David Bishop permalink

        Nasty infection. Did you guys see any spiders? Almost looks like an infected spider bite.

    • I just found Allegra’s YouTube video of the Aniakchak; fabulous! Amazing landscape and beautiful bear encounters.

      • David Bishop permalink

        We are planning to do the Tatshenshini this summer, July 13 thru 29. Probably a combo of pack rafts and 16 foot oar rafts. If there is space, are you interested?

  8. dennis ronsse permalink

    Fabulous trip report. I’m going to be there next week, and would love to find that hot springs. Could you put a dot on a map or GPS coordinates? Keep up the great reports!

  9. Dennis, if you send me your email address I’ll send you the approx location. Wish I could get back up to the Brooks Range this year! Good luck with your trip. Cheers, John

    mclaine .au

    (close the gaps)

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