In June 2019, my husband Luc Mehl, our friend Josh Mumm, and I set off on a three-week traverse across the Western third of Alaska's Brooks Range. Luc and I had traversed the two other thirds of the Brooks Range in previous summer trips, and were curious to see what we'd find on this final and most remote section.
We started on the Ambler River, on a drainage we'd floated past on a previous trip and had wanted to check out at the time. Then it was raining, cold, and the Ambler was a flooded muddy brown color, so even though we were tempted to stop we didn't. This time it was pretty different!
Luc & I had done some walking along the Noatak River a few years back in the worst tussocks we'd ever seen, so we were mentally prepared for slow and tricky travel. Incredibly we found the opposite -- lots of nice hard, flat-ish ground, and much brush.
But the best part was that the further west we traveled the more caribou trails we ran into. By the end of the trip we were easily following caribou trails through brushy valleys that had looked THICK. Some of the climbs & descents even had steps carved out by all of the caribou hooves. It was super cool to witness the terrain transformed by the presence of these amazing animals, and having their trails to follow helped make our travel easy and pleasant.
Moving faster than we had anticipated gave us the ability to stop and enjoy the scenery along they way too, which was amazing. We had lots of hot, sunny days on this trip -- too hot for Arctic Alaska -- but it was ideal weather for river crossings, fishing, and skinny-dipping in the creeks. And wildflowers!
We finished the trip in Kivilina, a village that's losing its ground to erosion caused by climate change. An appropriate ending to a hot & sunny trip that, while pleasant, also had us wondering about the future of the Arctic and the world.
For more on this trip, read Luc's write up and check out the rest of his amazing pictures.
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