Monday, June 23, 2008

Arctic Refuge Traverse...

A midnight rainbow illuminates the Brooks Range on summer solstice

We headed north of the arctic circle to the land of never ending sunlight for summer solstice. The vast wilderness which rests on the northern edge of the North American continent is an endless playground of absolutely spectacular scenery. We traversed about 50 miles across infinite tundra in the western portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Our trip began just east of Galbraith Lake where the Atigun River crosses the Haul Road - the only thread of highway on the continent leading all the way north to the Arctic Ocean. We traveled east through Atigun Gorge, crossed several drainage's including the Sag River and Accomplishment Creek, and eventually descended down to Elusive Lake in the Ribdon River valley. At this point we jumped into our packrafts and floated down the Ribdon to its confluence with Sag River - which is adjacent to the Haul Road.

Chris and Trevor leave the solid ground of the highway and head out into nearly 35 miles of soggy tundra, uneven tussocks, and three days of wet feet. We had to duck under the Alaska Pipeline prior to entering Atigun Gorge.

The tundra was blazing with all sorts of pink wildflowers.

We stayed high above the Atigun River where the tundra was a bit drier and walking was less taxing. We heard the river was big class III water through the gorge so we decided to hike this stretch instead.

Floating above the tundra - with the waterfall in the background.

This unusual waterfall shoots out of a hole in the craggy limestone high above the Atigun River. There some nice fossils embedded in the limestone scree around the falls.

Self portrait - Trevor and Ed.

After leaving the waterfall we hiked down to get a closer look at the river. The water looked pretty reasonable for packrafting in this stretch - but the canyon narrows just beyond this point and apparently gets much more challenging.

We were forced to ascend a steep ridge where the canyon narrowed and our path was pinched down to nothing between a nearly vertical slope and the river.

Sheep seeking refuge on a talus slope.

One of the many water crossings along our traverse. This one was quite easy...

Leaving Atigun Gorge we got our first views of the Sag River Valley and the mouth of the Atigun River. We slogged our way through the tundra down to the Sag River and eventually traversed across the mountains in the distance.

Fields of arctic cotton grass sway in unison in the light breeze.

The Sag River was quite deep so we inflated a packraft and shuttled the gear and ourselves across the water.

Yet another river crossing...

11 PM - reflections...

Remnant aufeis on Accomplishment Creek. These large sheets of ice can be several meters thick and persist well into the summer. Aufeis begins to form as the river freezes and the channel becomes constricted. The buildup of water pressure forces the river to flow out of the channel and spread across the adjacent flood plain throughout the winter.

The view of Elusive Lake and the Ribdon River valley.

Dramatic evening light and tightly folded strata.

Arctic life clings to a rocky ridge high above the Ribdon River.

Chilling out at our high camp in Elusive Pass. A continuous breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay and made for pleasant camping.

Descending a couple thousand feet down to Elusive Lake.

Levitating above the blue waters of Elusive Lake.

Sending a SPOT message. These cool little gadgets have become quite popular recently. With the press of a button an email is sent to family and friends which gives our coordinates and also shows our exact location in Google maps.

Jumping into our packrafts on the Ribdon River for the final leg of our trip - a pleasant 15 mile float back to the road.

Drifting down the Ribdon enjoying the unbelievable warm and dry weather.

Chris and I take a break along the Ribdon River.

Packrafts resting on the Ribdon River.

The upper Ribdon River was mostly fast class I. The lower reach was littered with some refrigerator size boulders and some class II rapids.

The final leg - walking the Haul Road a mile back to the car. Thanks to Dea and Ben for shuttling the subie 40 miles up the road for us.


brown said...

man, with a trip like that, you must have had a hard time deciding which pictures to use - thanks for sharing as many as you did!

Anonymous said...

Lovely tour! Thanks! Did you get to the soggy place they want to drill? What's that 2000 acres? Wet feet that's most of Alaska unless you're on the mts. My x said that most of the time his feet were wet - he was a surveyor. :) Being a geologist (I think) you ALWAYS know where you are! That's cool!

Chris said...

hey ed,

didn't know if you knew these guys, but figured this was something you'd enjoy reading about.

-chris (kristen's bro-in-law)

Leslie said...

wow. great jumping photos, guys - classic!

Missing you boys TONS!!

xxx - Leslie

CK1ner said...

Simply amazing.

Anonymous said...

Nice photos. Looks like a good trip. I heard there is a cabin on Elusive Lake. Is that true?