Gates of the Arctic National Park return

IMG_4164Six years after our first visit to Gates of the Arctic National Park we returned. This trip was in August as opposed to July. The colors of the tundra were turning and the variety of berries was amazing. The hope of this trip was to be basically in the middle of the caribou migration. The remote cabin at the headwaters of the Alatna River is on a caribou migration route.IMG_3952 - Copy

Of course with Mother Nature in command, things are not on a set schedule. It was an unusually warm summer in Alaska and unfortunately the migration was not in full swing through the Alatna valley. We saw several caribou and grizzly bears but not the thousands of caribou we had hoped to see.

Once again John Gaedeke was a wonderful host and guide. His knowledge and understanding of this magnificent wilderness is broad and his love and concern for it apparent.

The vastness of this land is impossible to truly capture in photos. There is beauty on so many levels. Fall and approaching winter were apparent in the diversity of ripe berries, the different colors in the low-growing plants and the snow that fell on the high mountains while we were there. The changing light throughout the days and even by the hour afforded a different view.

In keeping with fall, the days were very cool, often cloudy and damp. Hiking the tundra in a different direction each day we truly got to experience Gates. On one of our hikes, we watched a grizzly meander across the tundra and enter one of the side canyons.  Before long, we heard the strangest combination of sounds – a bear-like growl and a wolf howl. We watched the canyon mouth and John did spot a wolf emerging and moving away. Once again silence reigned.

Taking the canoe across the lake on a very still morning, the reflections in the water were amazing. Slowly making our way across the lake and down the river a ways afforded so many chances to appreciate the beauty.

We found two sets of caribou antlers – one which had been naturally shed and one that obviously had not been given up willingly. The interconnectedness and balance of nature at work.

We experienced first-hand the reality of all things in Alaska being “weather permitting.” On the day that the bush pilot was to return with the float plane to take us out, we woke up to fog so thick we couldn’t see across the lake. We had to be ready to leave in case the weather lifted but it set in to rain heavily during much of the day. By the time it cleared it was too late for the pilot to fly so we spent an extra night at the cabin.  The next morning he was able to come get us but by the time we got back to Bettles there was no flight from there to Fairbanks the rest of that day. Pat Gaedeke had made arrangements for us to stay in a cabin there that night and fly out to Fairbanks the next day.  So our trip was extended by two days and we had to make all new arrangements to get home. All part of the adventure!

There is something very special about Gates of the Arctic National Park. It grabs you and doesn’t let go. We would go back again.IMG_4106