This is post-trip for weenie me, but sort of a pre-trip post about Manfred & Sons' Brooks Range trip.
Months ago, Manfred sent me a few Qs through BPL about Alaskan logistics, which was good because I had some award-mileage tricks that saved about half the airfare. I offered to drive them to the trailhead and invited myself along for the first night.
I woke in North Carolina, flew into Fairbanks a little bit after them, going past Denali on way:
I rented a car, went back and explained a hatchback did have enough luggage room and they gave me a full-on grampa-car Camry:
"No one ever washes a rental car." is sometimes invoked for rhetorical reasons. But an archeologist friends and I know that sometimes it is worth $8 to avoid awkward questions about exactly where one took their car.
And then we drove the 310-mile, half-gravel, "Haul Road" (officially the Dalton Highway) to the Visitor Center (hours: 11 am to 10 pm) and got the safety lecture. I grimaced a little bit when the Ranger asked, "Where else have you beed in Alaska?" and Manfred said, "This is our first time." cause that could sound bad, but Manfred explained all the other treks he's done and showed his highly researched spreadsheet of the route, mileages, bush-plane and USPS food-drops and the Ranger was cool with it. The Ranger also mentioned that a lot of other groups had been delayed, turned around, or rerouted themselves due to many-fold-average rainfall this summer putting many rivers into flood stage.
The highway follows the Alaskan Pipeline (that's why there's a road going to the Arctic Ocean.
We camped at a pullout and started out the next morning:
The first river (the Dietrich River in the background of that photo) is a collection of braided streams. We kept our shoes dry in crossing the first channel, but all of us, but the second or third one had given up. A sign of things to come.
I left my phone in the car so you'll have to wait for their return for more pics.
We proceeded through spruce forest, on gravel bars and through willow thickets paralleling Kuyuktuvuk Creek. That was a little hairy to cross on one's own, so we buddied-up and went across as quadrupeds.
Most of that first day was spent going west up Trembley Creek. It was typically about 12-18 inches deep, 30 feet across, cold(!) and moving fast in the BETTER spots to cross. And we crossed it about 80 times that morning because where its outside-curve met the canyon walls, it was deeper and faster, so we had to cross back to the inside turn, sometimes doing that every 100 meters.
No Name Pass was walk in the park (a soggy, squishy park with numerous low flowers and herbaceous plants) in comparison, but I realized I was more than half-baked at that point and would be really hurting if I went all the way to their first camp (15 miles in), slept, and had to rush the 15 miles out to do the drive and make my plane. So we said our good byes, and they continued west, while I mostly retraced our steps. I avoided about 30 river crossings by going higher and that was good. I never did find a nice place to do the major crossing so I thrashed through alders to get closer to the car before attempting to do it in case I took a swim.
The first couple of steps into the Kuyuktuvuk (2 feet deep, 60 feet wide and moving fast), solo, weren't bad, but once in main flow, WOW! I was able to stay upright by leaning mightily on my hiking stick making a tripod of leg-leg-stick while slowly moving my feet towards the other side. Okay, I can do this. But, Woah!, I'm being pushed backwards! 6 inches of progress at a time coupled with sliding a foot or two backwards. 2/3 of the way across, the stick broke. "$*&#^@!" I said. And somehow managed to maintain an upstream tilt that balanced gravity and the hydrodynamic forces. All while expecting to take a swim and mentally preparing to swim frantically for shore, strip, put dry clothes on, and then do a fast jog to the car. I believe this medical condition is called, in Latin, ballus contractus.
Wet only to my waist, I finished the last mile, hopped in the car, grabbed a shower at a truck stop, drove 310 miles, found a good Thai place in Fairbanks (there are many), and took two flights home.
We saw signs of moose, wolf, mink, Dall Sheep, mountain goat, grizzlies, but the only sign of humans I saw in my 20 miles was our own foot steps as I headed out.
Here's a link to Manfred's proposed route. He's already fallen off that pace, because of some swollen rivers. His wife is watching weather reports that are calling for 3-6 inches of snow in the day, he might use a bush plane to leapfrog the current section, and I'm checking options to rebook them on the jets if they finish early or late.