As a wanderlust dreamer, the Brooks Range, in northern Alaska, has been a part of my psyche for a very long time. As a kid, I read a couple magazine articles in old issues of ‘Field and Stream’ and ‘Sports Afield’, about various hunter’s and fisherman’s adventures in the arctic mountain range. The tales of vibrant colored fish in the cold streams, and herds of ranging caribou, with wolves and barren ground grizzlies on their tracks, left much for my imagination to feast on. Moreover, the photos of the lush carpet tundra clinging to the coal black mountain peaks, with a variety of hardy wildlife residents complementing the scenery, did much to compel me. I knew, from even an early age that I would someday have to go there myself.
I had been in a position- financially and otherwise- to undertake such an adventure for the last 3 years. But every summer, when it came crunch time to plan logistical details, I would always overwhelm myself with possibilities, and then grow complacent to the finalizing of the trip. I had assumed in order to stage such an expedition successfully, one would have to pay the hefty price of a bush plane to drop them off far into the bush. This was not the case, and I would soon find out the possibility of getting way out there, among much similar means.
I knew the famed Dalton highway, running from Fairbanks, to the Arctic Ocean- on mostly gravel road- cut its way through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve; both, large swathes of protected wilderness encompassing the mystical Brooks Mountain Range. I also knew of a shuttle van company, called the Dalton Highway Express ( http://www.daltonhighwayexpress.com )that ran organized trips every Tuesday and Saturday, northward, and then Wednesday and Sunday, southward. Most guests that use the shuttle, usually just drive up the Dalton highway, see the sights along the way, then fly back on an organized plane ride from Deadhorse camp (the farthest northern outpost on the highway, right at the Arctic Ocean). Knowing the road had access to the large wilderness of my imagination, I figured, who’s to say I couldn’t take the shuttle van up, get dropped off along the road, in the Brooks range, backpack for two weeks, and then get picked up again on the shuttles southward journey? I made the leap, and booked a plane ride and shuttle bus ride for mid August (Both cost me less than $1000 total: roughly $550 for plane rides from Bozeman to Fairbanks, round trip, and $350ish for the round trip shuttle ride).
On August 12th in the evening, I stood on the gravel road next to Galbraith lake, and watched my ride disappear in a cloud of dust. I stared off into the distance, at the towering arctic peaks and rolling tundra hills. I felt the weight of daunting self-reliance fall on my shoulders, and a nervous heart skipped in my chest. I had never been farther away from anything in my life. With nervous expectation, I took the plunge forward, and soon left the sound of the road, and the sight of the trans Alaskan pipeline, and all the other annoying signs of human presence. Within a couple hours, I was totally alone, with nothing but the cold wind, and endless sunlight as my company.
I tried to comprehend the reality of my situation: I had dreamed for years of this very moment, and standing there, looking at a landscape I had fantasized for so long, the reality of it all was hard to comprehend. After so many hours spent studying photos of the mountain range, I felt slightly familiar with my environment, as if I had come home from a long absence. But in reality, I was a new resident, and the magnitude of the reality of my journey was far more surreal than I had ever anticipated.
For the next two days, I worked my way through a massive gorge. Black flies and mosquitos tormented me constantly, and it was hard not to breath a cloud of the pesky insects when I took off my head net. I had been told to prepare for rain in northern Alaska, but that entire first week was full of sunlight. With little wind and no rain, the bugs were far worse than usual. Dall sheep- absurd, and magical with their bright white fur- were a constant company, on the coal black scree cliffs on either side of me. One evening, a dense fog rolled into my camp, and a hunting red fox did not see me, and came trotting into my camp, 30 yards from me, with a ground squirrel in its mouth. With my 300mm lens and Nikon DSLR, I captured some of my best wildlife photographs ever. Apart from those magical encounters, I hade very few animal sightings. This was to be expected, since game densities in this part of the world are low in such hard environments. Still, I held out hope for a barren-ground grizzly bear sighting. My longing must have somehow sent a message out into the universe, to God to grant me my wish- though this is still farther along in my journey…
I crossed the Sagavanirktok River in a section reaching up to my gut- my first real barrier of the trip. I made slow progress at first, but within a couple days, pass a number of valleys and rivers, and even a couple high mountain ranges.
Caribou and moose horns lay scattered about the ground at random. Blue berries grew under almost every step, and I spend many hours picking them and mixing them with my granola.
In regards to food, my entire diet more or less was comprised of granola, dehydrated milk, protein powder, and flax and other grain powders, to add to the granola as nutritional supplement for my bland diet. Early on, I realized I had brought too little food. And for the remainder of the trip, I painfully rationed each bite, my hunger growing every day of hard walking.
Too be continued…
After a week of cursed sunlight and bugs, with rare wildlife encounters, I was beginning to get discouraged. My second week would bring about harsh cold, and rain, and painful loneliness and boredom. But the exciting and magical wildlife encounters that would follow, were well worth the pain and suffering it took me to get to that place…
To View more high quality images of my trip to Alaska, please visit my website, at: http://www.adamparkison.com