April 24, 2014

Nulato to Kaltag

by Donald Bowers, Jr.

Quick Overview

This is another run on the Yukon on a well-traveled snowmachine highway. Plan on three to five hours. The trail passes several well-defined islands and crosses the river a couple of times before finally reaching Kaltag. The Yukon runs south-southwest all the way to Kaltag with no major bends. The right bank of the river will be a series of thousand-foot ridges and hills, with a few gaps for streams to flow into the Yukon. The east bank will generally be low and wooded, opening onto a vast area of swamps to the east.

Detailed Description

From the checkpoint at Nulato the trail winds back through the village streets (not the same way you came in) before dropping down the bank and onto the river. You will probably run along the right (west) side of the river for awhile, depending on how the ice has frozen. About four miles south you’ll pass the north tip of Ninemile Island, separated from the east bank by Ninemile Slough. Eight miles from Nulato the Ninemile River flows into the Yukon from the southwest, shortly after which the Yukon makes a slight jog to the left (east) around a headland. There may be overflow in this area; stay on the trail.

A mile or so past Ninemile River, as you pass the headland on your right, the south tip of Ninemile Island will be on your left, nine miles from Nulato. (Like many islands on the Yukon, the island may not look like an island; you may only see what looks like a stream entering the river, which is actually the slough separating the island from the mainland.)

Five miles past Ninemile Island (or the headland on the west bank above Ninemile River, which is probably a better reference), you’ll see another island almost in midstream; two miles on will be another much bigger island which squeezes the main channel of the river against the right bank; this is Halfway Island, whose north end is halfway between Nulato and Kaltag.

Six miles later you’ll pass a very prominent headland with bluffs on the west bank, almost 700 feet above the river; the headland is about 11 miles from Kaltag. The end of Halfway Island will be on the left (east) side of the river where its slough re-enters the main channel. Just beyond the headland, Sevenmile Island lies hard up against the west bank, with another 700-foot hill on the west shore at the island’s midpoint.

The south end of the island is split by a slough; if you can make it out, the slough is about seven miles from Kaltag. At night you will probably be able to make out the flash from the Kaltag airport beacon by this point. The trail may run along the east side of the river here to go down a slough behind an island lying just upstream from Kaltag.

When you come out of the slough you’ll head directly across the river and up the bank to Kaltag run up the main street of the village for several blocks to the log 8-sided community center, which is the checkpoint. Teams will be parked in the general vicinity of the community center. Cold water is available in the community center. There is usually a fair spread of munchies in the checkpoint. In 1999 there was a minor problem with restroom facilities, necessitating a couple-block hike; the checker will explain when you arrive.