Exploring the Brooks Range

Maybe its something about extremes, but Gates of the Arctic is the northern-most National Park in the US, and protects a vast expanse of the Brooks Range, the northern-most major mountain range in the world. I’ve wanted to get there since I first came to Alaska in 2007 and after one trip, it’s safe to say I’ll be back shortly. I was fortunate to use this opportunity to introduce my good friend Mackenzie from Valdez, AK to the fine art of backpacking. Mack is tough as nails, and stands out mostly to me for her willingness to jump into adversity and make the best of it. This trip was no exception, and we had a very good time.

There are no roads into Gates of the Arctic National Park. Just getting there is no small adventure- we drove 6 hours north from Fairbanks on the Dalton highway, sharing the partially paved road with massive industrial vehicles, Honda endurance motorbikes, and distinctly timid tourists. After checking in at the Arctic Interagency visitors center we left the car outside of an active mine walked west towards the park border. We didn’t get there the first night- it’s aways back in there, and we got our first fill of Alaska finest mosquitos, bushwhacking, and general bogginess. It being summer, we had continuous daylight, and didn’t really notice leaving the car at 10pm and making camp at 2am.

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Crossing the Yukon River on our way north!

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Ridgetop camps are awesome.

We spent 2 days moving up the Glacier River valley, then climbed a broad ridge to the northeast gaining 1,200′. There are no trails in Gates of the Arctic National Park, so while our mileage was low, our effort was not. After Denali and a short turnaround in Palmer, I felt no need to push for mileage as Mack and I got used to working together to sort out navigation, river crossings, and camping arrangements. Once on the ridge, we continued northeast towards Jesse Peak, then south along 10 miles of gorgeous ridgeline, staying more than 2,000′ above the river bed to the west. It was spectacular. Trails in the highcountry were furnished by the local Dall Sheep population, whom we were privileged to observe on several occasions. We walked when we wanted, we played cards when we wanted- we journaled and talked and listened to music off one iPod and one set of earbuds. Compared to the moutaineering and technical climbing I’ve focused on this year, it was a glorious vacation at the top of the world. Enjoy the photos…

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Double rainbows are awesome.

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Ridgetops are the fastest way to get around back here.

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Post-trip, pre-shower, after dropping the bear cans.

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