On their way to a sheep hunt on the north side of the Brooks Range in far-north Alaska, Larre and his friend Jim did some unexpected camping on an uncharted mountainside. Their bush pilot flew up the wrong canyon, probably distracted by Larre’s yakking. Think about this: When you’re off to the wilderness for two weeks, how does anyone know they should be looking for you?
Here are some information nuggets about places Larre visited.
Fort Yukon is just one mile from the Arctic Circle and is often used as a staging area for people who are traveling farther north with outfitters or guides. The population of almost 600 people is predominately of the Gwichyaa Gwich'in tribe. U.S. Congressman Don Young hails from here. Imagine the distances he travels to do door knocking.
Schrader and Peters Lakes were named for (and by) a topographer and a geologist from the U.S. Geological Survey, whose team explored the region in 1901. My youngest sister and her husband are geographers/mapmakers. They missed out on the era when their profession could put you on the map, so to speak.
The Brooks Range, named for another geologist who surveyed there, is considered an extension of the U.S. Rocky Mountains. This confuses my weak orientation skills, because this range extends from east to west while the Rockies run north to south. In addition to Dall sheep, you can find caribou and grizzly bears here (or, in the case of grizzlies, they will find you).
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), with over 19 million acres, is the largest wildlife refuge in the U.S. Its northern border is the Beaufort Sea (Arctic Ocean) and its eastern edge borders two Canadian national parks. The town of Arctic Village lies on its southern border. Oil drilling along the northern coast has been a controversy here for decades.
The Chandalar River flows south from the Brooks Range. It is formed by four tributaries: The North Fork Chandalar River, the Middle Fork Chandalar River, the East Fork Chandalar River and the West Fork Chandalar River. I guess the topographers and geologists ran out of names.
The Hula Hula River flows from the Brooks Range north to the Beaufort Sea. Larre pronounced it "Hallehula," so either his memory was flawed or the pronunciation has changed in the forty-odd years since Larre was there. If you want to kayak 80 miles of this Class III+ river, it will take you 10 days in addition to lots of money to get there and back.
Arctic Village is remote, on the East Fork Chandalar River, 100 miles north of Fort Yukon. According to Alaska.org, "there are no airport facilities except outhouses, a campsite, an information board and a horseshoe pit. The village site should be visited by invitation only." The native Gwitch'in people settled here around 500 AD, and there are currently around 150 villagers.
Barter Island began as a major trade center among the Inupiat people of the far north as well as a bartering place with Inuit people from Canada. Subsistence hunting remains a way of life here. A fitting climate for a Cold War outpost, an airfield and radar station were build in the early 1950s. The city of Kaktovik is home to over 200 people and at least 2 small lodges that offer polar bear viewing.
Below are some survival gear recommendations from Larre and a book recommendation from me. Reading the River describes the places and people encountered by author John Hildebrand as he canoes the Yukon River from Whitehorse, Yukon west across Alaska to the Bering Sea.