Iceland by bicycle.
A winter storm advisory was in effect this weekend. Luckily it did not come with tornadoes. However, warning signs had been posted along the main highway: “Stay at home if possible”. Well, for some of us the opposite applies. A winter storm often brings a good swell to the ocean and that means surf is up. 5 foot swells were predicted and the forecast did not disappoint. Water temperature: 42 F, air temperature: 6 F. Does that mean the photographer was colder than the surfers? Not sure. It seems daring to me to jump into the ocean before sunrise, wait for a good wave to form, ride for 30 seconds or less knowing that you will eat it at the end. Anyways, great fun to watch.
“Rivers know this:
there is no hurry.
We shall get there some day.”
A.A. Milne in Winnie-the-Pooh
A Gates of the Arctic Float Trip #2
According to Alan Alexander Milne we should get there, right?
Our first day of the 2019 Kobuk River patrol was not going as planned. Due to poor visibility our pilot turned back five minutes before our destination. Safety first. We lived for another day.
Next day, another attempt. Same procedure, waiting for morning fog to lift, then waiting for the low hanging clouds to burn off. Off to the floating pond, loading all our gear, bear spray and fuel into the floats, donning life jackets and headsets, off we go.
The landscape already looks somewhat familiar, although today the colors are even more intense. The sun pokes through the clouds. The fall tundra puts on a splendid display.
The John River and the Alatna River below us almost look as if they did not want to leave the Brooks Range. Constantly twisting and turning they are drawn towards their destiny: the Koyukuk. Is that what is expecting us at the Kobuk as well? We see horseshoe turns, where the main channels come within a few feet, only to separate for a much longer detour. Amazing to see this from the air, probably hard to appreciate when you are on the river.
We make it to yesterday’s turn around point from yesterday. There are still clouds lingering, but nothing compared to yesterday. We climb through a shallow pass and there it is, Walker Lake, the starting point of our float trip.
The surface of the lake is glassy, no wind, the mountains and clouds reflecting in it like in a mirror. Hard to believe after yesterdays conditions. We spot a log cabin at the SE corner of the lake. That’s where 2 colleagues will stay for a week, while we attempt to float down the Kobuk. The cabin is located inside the Gates of Arctic National Park and Preserve. It was donated to the park and is used occasionally by back country rangers. The cabin is in decent shape, although it’s destiny is uncertain. No fixed structures are supposed to be inside the park and one of these days it may get removed. That would be a pity.
We unload the plane, have a quick bite. It’s 1 PM. The weather is perfect for crossing the open water. We are already one day behind schedule so there is no time to loose. It takes us quite a while to put together our folding canoe. A single PVC skin is stretched over an aluminum frame that needs to be assembled from a bunch of poles and joints. It takes some head scratching, a couple of zip ties and the ever present duct tape to setup the canoe, load our gear and say good bye to our friends. We are scheduled to call every morning and evening and transmit our location and status with dispatch.
The pilot is supposed to pick us up in a week, about 60 miles from here near the Pah River confluence.
Will we get there?
“Life is like riding a bicycle.
To keep your balance,
you must keep moving.”
Another adventure comes to an end: Winter in Yellowstone.
Time to head for a new frontier…
“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit
is his passion for adventure.”
Jon Krakauer (Into the Wild)
Not all may subscribe to this statement. And adventure means different things to different people. To me an adventure begins with the unknown. Some level of uncertainty. If I step outside in the morning and go look for wildlife or visit a familiar location like this place at Round Prairie I never know what to expect. I have come back to this place many times because there is a magnificent mountain in the distance that gets illuminated by the setting sun in the right conditions. Well, it has happened only once so far. But even on a snowy day, I found snow covered bison, moose nibbling on willows or lovely snow mounds.
What’s your next adventure?
By the way, if you want to read a nice write-up about the adventures of Chris McCandless and his followers visit Eva Hollands essay “Chasing Alexander Supertramp“.
For years I have been contemplating a really long bicycle tour.
Growing up my first overnight trips away from home were bicycle tours with friends, involving camping or staying in youth hostels. I have great memories of those days. Later in life, I was grinding on mountain bike trails on short day trips to stay in shape. Now, I feel, the time has come to combine both experiences.
What better place, than to try the Great Divide. On paper this trail sounds epic. 2750 miles, climbing 5 times the height of Mt. Everest, that’s a lot. But, those are just numbers. Along those many miles, there is an amazing amount of wild and remote back country to take in. For most of us this will be a once in a lifetime experience.
So here I am. Old, overweight and out of shape. The bike ride will change all of that. That’s my hope.
If you want to follow that adventure you can do so at bikeeatsleepblog.wordpress.com.
In 1937, Mount Lucania was the highest unclimbed peak in North America (17,150 ft). The mountain had seen only one attempt, that required a 100 plus mile approach with pack horses, crossing rivers and glaciers, uncharted terrain. The leader of that failed expedition deemed the mountain “impregnable.” Nevertheless, he brought back photographs, which only motivated Brad Washburn to attempt he mountain, although in a different style.
Washburn had found three other young climbers. It was his idea to approach the mountain from Valdez, with the help of a bold bush pilot. That expedition turned into one of the greatest epics of mountaineering in Alaska. When Bates and Washburn landed on the Walsh Glacier the landing gear of the plane got stuck in the slushy surface of the glacier. Only after several heroic efforts, which involved ditching all non-essential gear, was the pilot able to take off, and there was no question, he would not come back with the other two climbers or pickup Washburn and Bates.
What would they do? Attempt the mountain, or find the quickest way back to civilization, which was at least 100 miles away?
David Roberts meet with Washburn and Bates, when they were in their nineties and wrote a pretty gripping tale about their adventure, which has everything from 3 left boots and only one right one, to grizzlies, and most of all a close friendship between two young men in dire straits.
They say there is no more terra incognita on this planet. Everything has been mapped. That may be true. But there are still forbidden places on Earth that have seen few or no human foot prints. The Saint Elias range is one of those places: vast, cold, and almost inaccessible. Today, you can take scenic flights across the Kluane Icefield and see endless glaciers and mountains, assuming the weather is cooperating, which is not all that often. Sometimes the glaciers feed raging rivers, sometimes they calf right into the Gulf of Alaska. That was the place, where Washburn and Bates found themselves after being stranded on the Walsh Glacier.
Iditarod has moved through Rainy Pass. It’s been a very fast race this year. Some mushers have pushed for long runs and little rest, some camped out at the checkpoints, some went stealth camping in the wilderness to get rest and keep the competition guessing. A few more days and the winner will arrive in Nome. The race goes on, until the last musher reaches the finish, which may be weeks…
In 2014 I was a caretaker at Rainy Pass Lodge, a hunting lodge and Iditarod checkpoint in the Alaska Range. As the crow flies it is about 120 miles to Anchorage. There is no road access to this remote place. Food and supplies are brought in by bush plane, when needed, or when the weather allows.
In the off-season it becomes real quiet there. Less than a handful of staff take care of the horses and the property throughout winter. All that changes in March, when three races come through and bring droves of competitors and spectators, press and support staff to the site. First, it’s the high-octane Iron Dogs, then the human-powered runners, skiers and bikers, and finally the furry stars of the Iditarod sled dog race.
I did not know much about the the sport of dog sledding then. It was an amazing experience. First, I was so surprised how small these dogs were. How could they pull a sled, a musher, and supplies for more than 1000 miles across Alaska? Where did they and the mushers sleep?
The dogs are amazing, so are the mushers. A small community of resilient spirits from all walks of life. Tragedy struck this year, when some of them lost their homes in the Sockeye wildfire. Nevertheless, this could not stop them from participating in this year’s race.
Everybody in this field has a story…
Had to go to the store today and watch the Superbowl in my favorite dive. Didn’t feel like driving, so I bundled up, got my bike out and rode to town. 12 mile round trip, 6 inches of snow on the road. I met one snow machine rider, three trucks, and one skier. Home in the dark with head lights. Beautiful, quiet ride with no wind, just around freezing.
21 days until the 2016 Iditarod Trail Invitational, the longest winter ultra marathon by fat bike, foot and ski and following the historic Iditarod Trail. The short race is 350 miles, the big boys and girls go all the way to Nome for about 1000 miles. Me? No I am not going, hoping to put in some turns in the local pow, if you get my drift.
Do you have 10 minutes?
Take a trip into the beautiful world of Vincent Munier.
The essence of wildlife photography: Arctique