Through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
It's a few days after summer solstice and after a couple of nights of very little sleep I find myself on a plane over the arctic circle and into the Brooks Range in northeast Alaska.
This marks one of my first trips deep into the arctic. We land on a rugged "airstrip" cut from the river valley brush with the instruction to clear more of it off before the pilot comes back with our last group member. We're elated to be here: the feeling is part sleep deficiency, part realization that we've arrived in one of the most pure wilderness spaces on the planet.
The next day we hike up the valley a few miles to find a giant herd of caribou we'd seen on the flight in.
Watching the herd ebb and flow along the upper headwaters of the Kongakut River feels life changing. It's the first time I've seen caribou in these numbers. And here they are before us, in the middle of their sacred migration, seeking relief from the insects (on snow patches) - same as us...
On the way back to camp, while dodging weather, we discover more signs of arctic life cycles playing out...
* wolf *
this is what 11:30pm light looks like as we prepare for bed
In the morning we inflate our boats and begin a descent of the Kongakut River to the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean. The first day is slow...
We fish Arctic char out of the Kongakut for dinner
...it's effing good
In the morning we pack up in the wind and head downriver...
Only to leave the river to spend a day exploring the mountains.
Reflecting on where we are.
Back on the river we make time paddling sometimes well into the evening.
Leaving room, of course, for necessities...
One night around midnight, a few of us climb a nearby hill to see if we can get our first glimpse of the Arctic Ocean. It's shrouded in fog but we still win--->
The next day we prepare for our departure from the mountains out to the vast arctic coastal plain.
We float down to spend the night on the coastal plain. The midnight - 3am bear watch is mine and so I spend it wandering, in awe of this new landscape (while keeping one eye on camp).
Permafrost thaw and erosion - an increasing problem in the arctic.
In the morning we paddle through soupy fog to sunshine on the Beaufort Sea.
The last few days we spend exploring a thin, gravel reef between the sea and a lagoon. We celebrate the 4th of July here, about 15 miles from the Canadian border, with games and songs and entertain early morning visits from a group of musk ox that stumble through our camp.
Polar bear tracks!
Driftwood floats over from nearby Canada's Makenzie River.
The landscape is surreal and this is the final piece of the arctic I'd been so eager to see. The stream of moments throughout these 2 weeks set into motion the love affair that will guide my future photographic longings... and will always bring me back to this otherworldly, northern wilderness.
*THE END* instagram: @wilderphoto