After trekking in Asia and South America, I wanted to camp in Alaska but found it more difficult to find a commercial outfitter. The customary sherpas and mule support in those parts of the world are not available in Alaska. I don't think Americans are as willing to pack in their own gear or if they are, they aren't as likely to hire a commercial guide. But I finally located Ron Yarnell and Dave van den Berg now with Arctic Wild.
Dave met five of us in Fairbanks where we boarded a plane and flew to Beetles for a flight to a small lake in the Brooks Range. The pilot doubled as a mule to carry us to shore so we wouldn't start our hike with wet boots!
This was definitely before the days of ultra-light backpacking. I have no idea what my pack weighed, but it was no doubt more than I could carry now. We didn't hike very far each day-probably six to eight miles. We were so far north that I don't remember the sun ever setting the first days of our trip.
We would set up camp, have dinner, then go off for another hike to a hanging lake to look for loons. We went sleep after midnight, slept as late as we wanted, had a leisurely breakfast and started hiking whenever we wanted. It was fun not having to worry about the clock, thunderstorms, etc.
It was August-fall in the Brooks-and we could watch the caribou migrating almost all of the time along the ridges. It was too late for wildflowers but the ground was brillant red and orange with bearberry and grasses.
We saw numerous shed antlers along the way. It was fun to imagine how heavy they were for the caribou to carry.
We were walking along a drainage that so far as we knew, no one had ever walked before. Dave had scoped out the route by having a bush pilot fly over it on a previous trip so he knew it was doable.
We were very fortunate to have amazing wildlife experiences, including watching a couple of mama grizzly bears fight over a caribou carcass in a stream while their cubs observed. The grizzly with one cub lost out to the grizzly with two cubs (less motivation?). At that point Dave said that maybe we should choose another site for our camp. I don't have any photos because one of the grizzly bears came over to investigate us and I had my finger on the trigger of my bear mace instead. But she just wanted a closer look and after she stood up and got one, she ambled back over to her dinner.
A bonus of that encounter was that the bears had chased a wolverine off of the caribou carcass. and he ran over to us, I guess deciding that we were the lesser of two evils. First time I ever saw one of those guys in the wild.
We hiked another half mile or so to camp where we could still see the poor bear and her cub who had been chased off of the carcass. So we ate a blueberry break around our tents to protect ourselves from them. Seemed to work! We also tucked our food under a tarp with mothballs at night which also was effective or else we were just lucky.
After about five days of backpacking, we reached another lake where a plane came in with five more folks, guide Ron and Klepper kayaks.
We assembled the boats and got to know the new people. It was a bit strange having a new group come into what had become a pretty close knit team. I was particularly fond of a couple from Boulder Dave and Elaine who would become some of my best friends when I moved there seven years later.
When we stopped at the lake, Elaine and I (the only females) used the opportunity to go to a sheltered area and take a private bath and wash some of our "delicates". Elaine got carried away with the laundry and decided to wash her pants. We both started laughing hysterically when we realized that she would then have no pants to wear back into camp. She discreetly wrapped her shirt around her waist.
At this point, I had blisters on my heels and was not wearing my hiking boots unless I had my backpack on. The vegetation was so soft, I could do fairly long hikes in my socks. I'm sure the new guys (good ole' boys from Oklahoma) had no idea what kind of culture they had wandered into where one of the women didn't wear pants and the other didn't wear shoes!
We kayaked the Noatak River which was very moderate, no more difficult than Class two rapids.
For dinner, we frequently had salmon and whitefish caught fresh. If we wanted more, we would just ask the fishmen to go catch some which they did. Pretty gourmet.
After about five days of kayaking we arrived a lake where we were picked up by another bush pilot and flown out. By this late in August, we were starting to have darkness. We even got to see the Nothern Lights.