Sunday, October 14, 2012

Gate of the Arctic National Park & Preserve, Alaska

Continued from the last posting, I was exploring the Arctic north...
After progressing up to Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay), it’s time to explore in the Gate of Arctic National Park & Preserve on foot.  The 3-day backpacking trip began with crossing icy cold Dietrich River. Soon after I put dry shoes back on, a long steep ascent weaved before us...  The tundra-covered hillside angled almost straight up to the ridge...  In this undeveloped National Park, there aren't any systematic trails. Hikers have to find own way and navigate with a map and compass. After only a few hours of climbing, the valley with the Dalton Hwy and Dietrich River sprawled far below me!  The entire valley and the mountains above were lighting up with warm afternoon sun.

The wide unfolding ridge was almost flat, covered with tundra and numerous tiny streams.  I found a perfect Zen garden among the autumn tundra.

The Arctic is the land of the ceaselessly migrating Caribou.  The fallen off antlers were naturally discarded on the tundra all over this area...

The first night’s camp was on the ridge, overlooking the Kuyuktuvuk Creek Valley. The clouds rolled in and it rained all night.
Fortunately, the rain stopped the next morning. Slowly climbing down to the creek, into the valley with colorful fall colors, I was amazed this pristine dramatic scenery where only a few people had ever visited. I spotted a fresh bear dropping, the skull of Dall Sheep, the skin of Caribou, but never saw any large wildlife except an oversized porcupine.  Walking on the ancient glacial moraine, gully, crossing the swift Kuyuktuvuk Creek, and hiking up to the tundra hillside for the entire day.  As I hiked along Kuyuktuvuk Creek to upstream, the landscape was changing drastically; less vegetation with rocky terrain.  Snow dusted mountains were towering above, and the rushing creeks became narrow and shallow streams.  When I reached Oolah Lake, the air was different, much colder than the ridge I awoke on in the morning!

After breaking camp near Oolah Lake, I retraced our steps back along Kuyuktuvuk Creek. I climbed back to the steep hillside, walked across the wide boggy ridge, and descended straight down to Dietrich River for one full day. The whole area was truly magical, I was in the beautiful Arctic dream.