Tuesday, June 19, 2007

June 19, 2007 - The True 24 Hours of Sunlight

At 7am on June 14th, 8 total strangers commenced at the UAF student center to spend 5 days out in the middle of nowhere on the tundra in the Brooks Range.. through rain, rainbows, tussocks, swampy land, ice sheets, rivers.. the whole package. On the way up there, we stopped at the Yukon River to make some lunch, as well as the Coldfoot Visitor's Center where I met one of NWS's river observers. She's someone who calls the station every morning with observations for us. So that was really cool to put a face with a voice.

Dalton Highway's crappy condition

The pipeline runs along the Taylor Highway

The excursion covered in grit

Coldfoot Visitor's Center

The road to Chandalar Shelf was nothing more than I expected.. screwed up from Fairbanks all the way up. Apparently it's in much better shape than it was even 5 years ago. That road in itself is why people own SUVs and big trucks. As we got close to the Brooks Range, *someone* started to get extremely excited about the big mountains and started taking a bajillion pictures. I have no idea who that fool was. ;)

Hooray for real mountains!

The beginning of our trek

My GPS said "--:--" for sunset time


One of many pretty flowers on the tundra

Our campsite on the first night

There's always a rainbow after the storm

Looking out into the distance from where we began our trip was unreal. It looked like a postcard. It looked like something right out of Backpacker magazine. It seemed like a big dream to me, kind of like how last summer felt once I went back to PA in August. I felt unable to take in all of the beauty. The feeling of taking my breath away didn't even really exist. It was just strange. Strange to be somewhere so quiet with strangers who were all in the same boat. Kind of like freshman year of college. Everyone kept their dorm room doors open so they could meet people because no matter where they came from or what they've experienced, we were all there at that moment and sharing it together. It was just like that. No one cared too much about what you did or where you were from. All that mattered is that we were going to survive together for the next couple of days with heavy backpacks and hopes of sunshine.

Chandalar River


Trekking across the still very frozen icepack

More pretty flowers

Mmm camp food

..the sunshine wishes did not pan out. Not for the first 3 days at least. It rained on and off. At least it didn't just rain "on" and never turn "off". But the two rainbows which showed, and the beautiful weather on the last 2 days made up for the excessive amount of rainfall earlier in the trip.

I'm not going to lie, the first day of the trip was awful. I hated it. I swore I'd never go backpacking again. My feet had already formed some "soft spots" and walking on tussocks was not my idea of a good time. I just wanted to go home. Home to PA. Home to people who know me well. But everyday things got a little bit better, and by day 4 I was wishing I didn't wish the first day away. On the third day, we went up to the top of one of the peaks, which gave a spectacular 360 view of hundreds and hundreds of miles of mountains. On the way up, a huge layer of fog raced up the mountain. Once it reached us, it just swept over us like an airplane, and boom, it was gone.. and all cleared up.

Rain's a comin'!

We thought we saw a bear across the way.. three of us swear it was moving, but I'm pretty sure now that it was a rock or a schrub or something. Nick is showing us how to use bear spray

I raced this fog up to the top of the mountain.. it was advancing QUICKLY!

An Arctic fox

Another rainbow.. but instead of a pot of gold at the end, I see my fellow hikers!

Another flower shot

Happiness is waking up and seeing the following.

Breathe it in

Pumping water for camp

Campsite number 2

There is a town up here named Chicken, because the people who founded it couldn't spell Ptarmigan


"Alaska eh? Cold up there?"

Only at night. Nights were chilly. Me, the "southerner" was cold at night. I'm estimating temperatures were around 40. It was warm enough to rain but cold enough to make me shiver under layers of clothing. The daytime was amazing once the sun came out. Had to be booking near 65/70 degrees. I got a lot of color on my hands and face during this trip. So now the color contrast between my belly and hands is outstanding. And it will only get better!

We trekked across a huge sheet of ice near the end of the hike. It was MUCH MUCH MUCH better than walking on the crazy swamp of a tundra that the land was.

Hiking along the icy cold river

Hiking on the ice pack

After finishing our time on the Chandalar Shelf, the eight of us drove up to Atigun Pass, which currently marks my "farthest north" point at latitude 68.129817 and longitude -149.478167. We found a lot of little lambs and dall sheep up on the Pass. Unfortunately, I can't officially mark any lat/lon anymore because I lost my GPS on the tundra somewhere between rain showers. It's disappointing since I JUST bought that thing at the end of April, but hey, I'd rather lose a material something than an arm or leg. Though if we were talking about my camera, THAT would have been different. So no more maps, and no more exact biking mileage. And the summer goes on..

On the way home, we stopped at the Hot Spot, an amazingly delicious burger joint with serious bear problems. I didn't see a bear though. Not yet. I have at least three trips into Denali which I already have on my tentative agenda, so I know for a fact I will see bears there. It's not that I'm LOOKING for bears, but they do make for good stories.

Little lamb up on Atigun Pass


Everyone on the trip was really fun. We were from ALL over. Not one of us was a Fairbanks native. It was overall an awesome experience, of which I think I'll only appreciate more and more with time.

I'll have more pictures hopefully sometime in the near future. One of the group was a crazy photographer and took over a gig of pictures over the course of those days. I'm looking forward to sharing them with you (maybe some extremely silly pictures too) whenever I get a hold of them. Hope everyone had a good week - and special thanks goes out to my loyal readers who wished me luck before the trip, and/or just patiently waited for me to update once again. Here's to you!

midnight ADT.. and the sun is still shining.

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