The Flight Home

8 09 2011


One of my favorite parts of living in Alaska is flying in small bush planes. Since getting to take my first flight when I was ten, in a small Cessna with my older brother’s friend at the yoke, I was hooked (I’m still unsure why my mom let us fly with a seventeen year old pilot….although, I’m not complaining!). Small airplanes are a way of life here, for both recreation and business. I love the access that they allow to the remote areas of the state-small lakes, gravel bars, and glaciers. Here are a few pictures I took flying from Takahula Lake in the Brooks Range to Bettles-a beautiful flight, with a great (and quite hilarious) pilot from Brooks Range Aviation.

The Brooks Range Trip: Part 2-The Arrigetch Peaks

22 08 2011

We ditched our packrafts and extras down at Arrigetch Creek, and headed up into the mountains for the ten mile hike to the Arrigetch Peaks. The Arrigetch remind me of Hatcher’s Pass on steriods. Huge granite spires, with mounds of boulders & blueberries lining the valley floor it is a climber’s and hiker’s paradise.  The name Arrigetch comes from the Inupiat language meaning “fingers of the outstretched hand.”

Our first good glimpse of the Arrigetch with Arrigetch creek flowing out.

We lucked out and had hot, sunny weather for the hike in.

We made the mistake of not looking for the bear trail that follows the creek up and went high instead, bushwhacking through alders and tussocks for two hours. We then dropped down towards the creek and found the much easier bear trail. It’s 100% worth it to locate this trail sooner than later. We took a leisurely 7 hours to do the hike, stopping for snacks and pictures along the way. It could easily be done in 5-6 hours if the bear trail is found early on and not so many breaks [not the 12 hours we were assured it would take as the portly ranger in Bettles told us 🙂 ]

The Maidens.

Kasey and Boone at one of many creek crossings. Dry feet are not an option.

Kasey’s and my tent up in the Arrigetch. It leaked like a sieve, we would find out in the next two days of pouring rain. We ended up having to sleep with dry bags on top of our down sleeping bags to prevent the rain hitting soaking them (thus rendering them useless) and packing up everything into dry bags while we were gone from the tent.

I’m not sure what these bright pink plants are. They resembled blueberry bushes, but pink and no berries. I found a whole field of these cool plants. As for blueberries, there were tons throughout the Alatna valley and in the Arrigetch. We enjoyed grazing, and they made delicious additions to our oatmeal in the morning.

Boone and Dan scouting out our hike up Mt. Ariel the next day.

The next morning we got shut down on a summit. It was nice at our tents, for a little while.

The rain quickly moved down valley, making talus fields treacherous. Eventually, the whole valley was socked in and the peaks were all hidden from view.

The next day we thought we had a chance. There was actually some blue sky directly overhead.

We got shut down again by rain and the low clouds that moved in. We ended up hiking up to this bench over lots of slippery talus to catch a glimpse of some glaciers for a brief moment.

Looking back down the valley to the low lying clouds.

The rock was covered with brilliant orange lichen.

Interestingly, on the whole hike/packraft from the headwaters of the Alatna to Takahula lake the only time we ran into other people was in the Arrigetch. We met two different groups there, one group of two people doing a similar trip as us. The other group had been there a week, went up in the mountains on the one nice day, and got shut down the rest of time, not being able to make the mountain pass they had hoped for, ending up in the same place as they began.  The Arrigetch Peaks were amazing to see, even though we got shut down from any summits or climbing.

The fourth day in the Arrigetch we woke to sunshine on our tents and down valley, but again, the mountains up from our tent had low lying clouds and rain. We packed it up, and headed back for our boats to continue the rest of our adventure to Takahula Lake.

The Brooks Range Trip: Part 1-Geadake Lake to Arrigetch Creek on the Alatna River

19 08 2011

The only words to describe the Brooks Range and Alatna River are amazing and stunningly beautiful. The Alatna is one of six designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in Gates of the Arctic National Park, and for good reason. The Endicott mountains range from rolling hills to sharp, jagged spears and everything in between. Many are reminiscent of the southern Rockies-very unlike any other mountains in Alaska.

Dan, Boone, Kasey and I got dropped off by floatplane in bright, late afternoon sunshine (after flying through rain the whole way) on Geadake Lake, the headwaters of the Alatna, where the Alatna River starts as a trickle flowing from the southern end of the lake.

Immediately, we found a caribou rack & skull-the first of a few we came across!

Fresh snow dusted the peaks 1,000 feet up. Being the second week of August, temperatures ranged from below freezing to upper 50’s or low 60’s, and the weather jetted in and out so quickly it was hard to keep track of. During our 8 day trip we lucked out and only had 2 solid days of rain, one or two days or rain/sun, and the rest was mostly sunny.

From the lake, we hiked through tussocks for 3.5-4 miles before the river was big enough to launch our Alpacka rafts.

Along the way we were treated to caribou dancing across the tundra.

We found snow on the river bank……

Early in the afternoon, on our first river day, my boat started losing air. We found the main valve to be seperating from the raft. We had to stop every 5-10 minutes to re-inflate the boat. We set up camp early that day so we could fix my raft with Aquaseal, before we were to hit the rapids above Ram Creek. Luckily, it held. Also, the river looked like it was at an average flow, and the rapids ended up being an easy Class 2 (not the 2+/3 that the river guide suggests, maybe at a different water level they are.) The rest of the river is Class 1.

Fresh wolf tracks! We found loads and loads of wolf & bear tracks on every sandbar. These tracks are from a wolf that came through our camp overnight.

Boone leading the pack.

Kasey heading down river.

The crew.


Rain down river. The weather moved with lightning speed up and down valley.

A short time later, blue skies.

Boone cooking dinner on a backwater channel of the Alatna, near Arrigetch Creek.

This night it dipped below freezing, and we woke up to frosty sleeping bags and some ice on the channel. From here we stashed our boats, and headed into the Arrigetch Peaks for the second part of our trip.

 To be continued………..

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