Not long after we left Icy Spit for Demarcation Bay, a bush plane circled overhead. It was the first we’d seen in 10 days. Cameron broke out the radio to ask the pilot if it was for us. We weren’t to meet our plane out until tomorrow “I have Ron (another Arctic Wild guide) with me. Are you going to Turner Creek?” “Yes.” “I’ll see you there.”
This was concerning. When a plane appears unexpectedly, it could mean bad news, such as a death in a guide’s family, or a client’s. So the next two or three hours were pretty grim, no one talking, because of the tension and uncertainty. The bay was splashy and I got rather damp and cold just sitting there (the two rafts still connected side by side). Samantha paddled like a champ against the headwind, Sig & Sandee traded off, the guides paddled and the rest of us felt helpless.
Finally we arrived and the guides had a chance to see what was going on. It was just logistics. It had been raining non-stop in Fairbanks and Denali—made national news—and Dirk, the pilot who was supposed to pick us up the next day, was booked up flying people out of Denali, where they were stranded by a washed out road. Daniel, this new pilot, was here to pick up our rafts for a second Kongakut trip that Ron was to start the next day. Daniel would come back early in the afternoon to shuttle us to Kaktovik on the coast, where a charter plane would pick us up for our return to Fairbanks.
Well, that was a relief! We paddled around to Turner Creek, then walked the rafts upstream. Arctic terns, those amazing white and black birds that migrate to Antarctica for the southern summer, attacked us. We were apparently too close to their nests. We waved our paddles overhead to fend them off. One hovered over me, its wings and tail spread, squawking fiercely. Wish I had a photo of that!
We flew two planes from Fairbanks to get to our first camp in the Brooks Range, which stretches all the way across northern Alaska. First a scheduled flight to the Gwich’in community of Arctic Village, then three trips for people and gear in a four-seater, flying over boreal forest, the Yukon River, and low over the lovely mountains of the Brooks Range. We flew over a herd of caribou. This was exciting!
We landed in a peaceful meadow surrounded by mountains. And learned we’d be camping there for two nights before setting off on the river.
Finally, I’m putting up posts from our excursion through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, June 18-30. This is Arctic Adventures 2014 Part 1, because Part 2 will involve a cruise along western Greenland and far northeastern Canada. That will begin in about two weeks. But first, time to catch up on the outstanding adventure we’ve completed. We were totally off the grid for the duration, so of course no Internet. This can be a good thing. We’ve been winnowing through over 1,300 photos to give you the best ones.
The Kongakut River runs through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the northeastern corner of Alaska. We rafted from the Brooks Range north to the Arctic Ocean, across the Coastal Plain that’s the birthing ground for the Porcupine Caribou Herd. And, yes, we saw a whole lot of caribou! No bears this trip, but lots of birds. We were to connect with our outfitter, Arctic Wild, in Fairbanks on June 19. My sister, Martha, joined us, along with three others who’s signed on.