Brooks Range Trek Notes 2001 - Gary Snyder - August 2001
With - Hans Schwaiger, Isaac Bertschi and Robin Beebee
Aug. 5 Left Anchorage at 5:00 pm, got to Fairbanks at 11:30 and picked up
another car (Robin’s). Camped just past Fox in roadside pullout.
Aug. 6 Got up early and driving up the Dalton Highway by 8:00. Road was
good and dry, going 50-60 mph in most sections. Sometimes stuck behind
other cars or trucks for a while. Road through hilly country the whole way.
Cool bridge, nice visitor area at Yukon Crossing. Finger Mountain/Kanuti
NWR was very cool also, begs for backpacking right off the road. At
Coldfoot by about 4:30, got a bear bin at ranger station, some advice from
ranger Heidi (rivers good walking, water currently low). Set up camp on
Nolan road at 5:30, Ike and I drove cars to Galbraith Lake (with hitchhiker)
about 100 mile s north. Just under a 2 hour drive. Very cool road and
mountains. Sheep at Atigun Pass. Got some dinner with Trevor Schleusner at
Chandalar Camp maintenance station. Back to camp with Robin and Hans just
after 10:00 pm. One crack in my windshield. Still light until at least
midnight. A few mosquitos at Nolan road, many at Galbraith Lake, even
though it was very cool.
Aug. 7 Changed a flat tire I discovered in the morning. Drove to Nolan,
parked across Nolan Creek. At 10:15 started. Hiked on cleared but damp
winter trail south through Glacier Pass and west towards Glacier River.
Ground extremely tussucky off of trail. Feet wet after first 30 minutes
walking. Veered north off trail towards Glacier River. Tussocks not as bad
in wooded areas (spruce), brush not too bad. Open areas slow, wooded areas
faster walking. After going about 2 mph or faster we got to braids of
Glacier Creek. Clear water, sun came out, easy water crossings. Fantastic
hiking. Lots of bear, wolf, moose prints and scats on gravel bars. Some
human footprints too. Hiked until we were across from Swede Creek tributary
and camped on bank above Glacier Creek. Gorgeous and sunny, I swam in creek.
Hung food in trees overnight. No skeeters! Sore bodies for all, especially
shoulders from 55+ pound packs (20 pounds of just food). About 13 miles
Aug. 8 Very sore today. A little rain overnight but nice weather during the
day, with hot, sunny breaks. I had to start taping blisters on my heal and
ankle. We crossed gravel bars and cut through the woods when the river made
large bends. Hiking in woods reminds me of hiking through desert with sage
or chaparral, due to the spacing of plants. Lots of cool rocks, marble,
slate, schist, limestone, fossils on river. I found a cool fossil with a
bunch of crinoids in it. Played mind benders in sand on breaks. Saw a
grizzly mom and two cubs and some Dall sheep. Soreness and heavy packs took
their toll, we slowed by 6:00 pm and camped by 7:00 just below Chimney
Mountain, which was very cool. Looked like Yosemite. Chimney Fork of
Glacier River went through a cool canyon. Low water helped all day as high
water marks were visible and would have made hiking very difficult.
Campsite on cool knoll above creek. No-see-ums came out a little after
dinner, so we went to bed. About 12-13 miles today.
Aug.9 Hiked final two miles to Chimney Pass and accompanying lake. No bugs
during day. Cloudy today. Bushwhacked and tussock stumbled down to Clear
River (silty). Some parts of creek ran red. Brrr… colder today and cold
water. Some snow patches on gravel bars. Lunch in wind on gravel. Rain
clouds chased us up Holmes Creek. I stayed with river, others followed rim,
which cliffed out. Cool canyons all the way up Holmes Creek, some were real
slots. We did have to climb around cliffs a few times when water was deep
and fast. Some parts of creek had white precipitate (with footprints
visible on it) and water ran very white. Very odd. We could see where
white came into clear water up high. No hot springs though. P0uring rain by
the time we climbed up a few cliffs and came out on Holmes Pass. Camped and
ate in the thick rain on tundra. Not trees for hanging food tonight, and
lots of bear scat. Under clouds we could see down Pyramid Creek to the
Koyukuk River. About 11 miles today.
Aug. 10 Packed up camp in rain and ate a quick, cold breakfast. Hiked down
into canyons of Pyramid Creek. Eventually we climbed the south bank and
bush whacked along rim above canyons, then dropped back down to a wider
canyon by lunch. Rough walking today. Much duct tape and blister stuff on
my feet. A little duct tape on some of the other’s feet. At confluence of
Pyramid and the Koyukuk Hans realized he had lost his combo watch, altimeter
and barometer from his pack strap. I had seen it within a mile, but he went
all the way back to lunch spot looking for it (2.5 hours) prompting us to
send out two search parties for Hans, who without watch had lost track of
time. We were happy to find Hans, who was sad not to have found watch, but
he did find a can of bear spray. Two camping Kiwi’s gave us energy bars
(chocolate), snapped our photos, and helped us laugh. While waiting for
Hans we dried out all our gear on breezy Koyukuk braids. Sun even came out
for at least 15 minutes. Clouds blocked view of Boreal Mountain, but we
could see most of the Frigid Crags. The two make up the “Gates of the
Arctic”. Hiked up old braids and flood paths through woods, past much wolf
scat, to confluence of Ernie Creek and Koyukuk River. Camped on a small
gravel island. Build campfire and dried out some socks and other gear a
bit. Hans made heroic dive into Koyukuk River to fetch a mug that floated
away during dish duty. More wet clothes. Went to bed, pretty much dry, as
rain started again. Hiked about 8 miles (with packs) today.
Aug. 11 Staying put today, we will camp at same spot tonight. Dried my
running shoes out last night, so I am switching to hiking in my Adidas
Marathon Booties and using the running shoes for camp. This should help my
blisters. Socked in mountains again, not much view, although last night we
saw most of Boreal Mountain (briefly). Robin saw it on bathroom break
overnight, apparently it was totally clear when she had got up. Slept in,
at hot breakfast and drinks around campfire and strategized the rest of day
and trip. Bear tracks across our island that weren’t there last night. No
sign of interest in us or our food, thankfully. Did a day hike behind camp
and up the side of Hanging Glacier Mountain. Food hanging in tree, with
some difficulty. Crossed steep talus face, flanked by rocky outcropping and
rocky gully. Good views up Koyukuk Valley and into the Valley of
Precipices, at least what was visible beneath clouds. Hiked over a small
summit into very hostile weather and onto bench on west flank of Hanging
Glacier Mountain. Dropped down west side of mountain in large scree gully,
back to knolls of blueberries behind our camp. Still rainy and wet. We had
hiked for about 4 hours. Made dinner in brief break in rain. The sun teased
us a little right before bed, but it rained pretty much all night. Felt
great to give our shoulders and hips a rest today. My pack should be almost
10 pounds lighter tomorrow than when the trip started, due to food eaten.
Aug. 12 Clouds even lower today. I am bummed we won’t see Hanging Glacier
or Mount Dooerak, both with massive rock faces right above us. Doonerak
rises almost 6000 feet within 1.5 miles of the Koyukuk River. Started
hiking by 9:00 in morning, early for us. Saw a grizzly in the same spot
today that we saw it from day hike yesterday. Lots of antlers and sheep
horns on whole trip, but no actual moose or caribou sightings yet. Some
brush and tussock walking on bench above Koyukuk River today, occasionally
going along gravel braids, and sometimes cliffing out and climbing to bench
again. Once crossed the main fork on the Koyukuk in mid-thigh water to walk
on braids. Pretty wet legs. Poured rain often today. Early start helped.
By lunch we were at Amawk Creek and valley turned north, away from the
massive peaks we hadn’t seen. Met another group who had stayed previous
night in small cabin at Summit Lake, near the continental divide. They said
it was too far for us to reach that night, but the weather and our renewed
vigor from resting yesterday convinced us otherwise. We received a respite
from the rain as we climbed past Alinement Creek and around the great gorge
of the Koyukuk, just east of Twoprong Mountain. Very cool. We were glad we
had chosen this route. At top of gorge we were in thick clouds and totally
above brush line. We compassed north and just below the cloud level. The
valley was now very broad and alpine. It was gorgeous, despite the crappy
weather and sedge tussock walking. Miles of tussocks. Really felt Arctic
all of a sudden, and cooler too. Some cool Arctic Terns swoop around us.
Awesome flyers. By 8:30 we were all at the little cabin by Summit Lake:
cold, wet, but out of the wind and rain. We had gone 18 miles today, and
were pretty beat. Cooked hot dinners and drinks, and slept dry and cold on
a bunk. We had crossed the 68th parallel today, were at 3500 feet, and only
a few hundred meters from the continental divide. Unbelievable country.
The openness grabs you and begs for exploration.
Aug. 13 Cool wind came through holes in cabin all night, but we woke up dry,
and slept in late. We didn’t leave cabin until well after 11:00 am. It was
windy and cold but not raining. Clouds were a little higher, and we could
see much of Snowheel Mountain. Left our respite and hiked across glorious
tundra. Today was the best day of hiking, crossing the continental divide
and entering the Oolah Valley. Easy, dry tundra walking, solid,
tussuck-free ground, small creeks, great views and NO RAINDROPS!! I took
lots of pictures. Upper West Fork of Itkillik River looked awesome, with
huge rock flatirons and faces appearing through the thin clouds. Another
trip should go that way for a bit. Saw a bunch of tents (a wall tent??) at
Oolah Lake. Camped a few miles below Oolah Lake, where tributatries enter
the Itkillik River from both sides. We made it through whole day dry…and we
appreciated it. Of course right after dinner the rain commenced and we
climbed in the tents. Today we had went about 9-10 miles.
Aug. 14 It rained hard overnight, and was raining every time I woke up.
The Itkillik River had risen over 12 inches between dinner and breakfast.
Crossing tributaries would be rough today. Wind and a rain break got us out
of bed. Actually packed the tents only moderately wet, and ate breakfast in
dry air. Rain came and went while hiking all morning. Breaks for food were
reduced to 15-20 minutes because of the cold and rain. River crossings
were pretty serious (one took 30 minutes, and Ike got swept off his feet and
soaked). Much tussock walking today. We saw two tent camps, probably
hunters flown in, but no people. Everyone stayed in tents today I guess.
The brush and walking were still fairly easy in the lower Oolah Valley, but
gravel bar walking was out due to flooding. Often we walked on willowy
gravel old flood plains, but some of these were filling up today also. I
worried about my car across Nolan Creek and not being able to retrieve it.
The edge of vegetation boundaries, or small banks and ledges, usually
offered pretty good walking, without many tussocks. Some sedge meadows were
totally flooded. One had our soaked, slap-happy group, wading through knee
deep “rice paddies” looking for dry ground. We could see the Itkillik
flooding into our bayou and had no recourse but to laugh and be glad we were
in good company. Expected to see alligators. Raincoats were soaked through
as the downpour strengthened. By mid afternoon I was pretty nervous as I was
soaked through the raincoat, everyone was wet, and Ike was in his only dry
clothes, and they were pretty wet. In late after noon we could see
Itkillik Lake and the North slope ahead of us. The clouds lifted a bit and
the rain let up. Immediately we took off our raingear to dry out. Had to
keep hiking pretty quick though, to stay warm in wet clothing. The break in
the weather was very lucky at this point, as being wet on the North Slope
could lead easily to hypothermia. Other than the weather the Oolah Valley
had been very nice hiking. After crossing some large, dry alluvial fans, and
quickly drying a lot of gear, by hanging it off the pack, we started hiking
along the very tussocky Itkillik Lake. The weather got better and better,
but our pace slowed in the tussocks and with fatigue from the day. I
checked out a cabin on Itkillik Lake, but it was locked. By 8:00 we were
exhausted and camped on a small bump of dry ground in the tussocks. The
wind died down completely, and the mosquitos came out in full force. Ahh,
the North Slope. Used headnets and bug dope for the first time, but it was
worth a little good weather. We drank swamp puddle water. A few glimmers
of sun shone through the clouds and most of our gear actually dried out, and
was still dry in the morning. The vastness of the land was awe-inspiring.
Our early start and nonstop pace in the rain had taken us 18-19 miles
today…wow! Now I know my pack is getting lighter.
Aug. 15 Today we were only about 13 miles from our car at Galbraith Lake.
Between the bad weather, mosquitos, and Hans’s allergies acting up we had
decided last night to hike out a day early. Robin would have taken another
day, but us wimpy men were ready to head out. The morning was dry and the
bugs were down (it was nippy out). The walking was sometimes easy, sometime
tussocky. I got to see a pingo today, one of my personal goals. We crossed
a small tributary and the Itikmalak River, with some difficulty, but not too
much. The rains had not helped though. In the afternoon the rain started
up again, and as we crossed the pass from the Itikmalak River towards
Galbraith Lake I began to soak through the raincoat again. With the bad
weather, I was glad we were hiking out. My hands got cold and I put on my
neoprene gloves for the first time on the trip. Ike and I kept hiking ahead
and then getting cold waiting for Hans and Robin. There was a lot of
tussocks and low clouds obscured views of the North Slope as we rounded the
last mountain before Galbraith Lake. Finally, we crested a low bench and I
could make out the lake, runway, and pipeline in the distance. Civilization!
Ike and I filled our bottles with water once more, and with Hans hiked out
to a road to a gravel pit, with an RV parked in it. Robin followed shortly
behind. We followed the road for a mile to the Galbraith Lake runway and
airport. On the solid ground of the road I began to fully feel how much my
feet hurt. Just beaten down. Arrived at the runway and took backs off for
good at 6:30. Ironically, by now my shoulders and hips did not hurt at all
from the pack. In an alcove of the locked airport entryway Hans and I hid
from the rain and wind and changed into dry clothing. Robin and Ike dropped
their packs and hiked to the campground 1.5 miles away to get the car. Even
in all my dry clothing and out of the weather on three sides I was cold.
Call me a wimp, but I was very glad not to be camping on the North Slope
today. Cold, wet, and no visibility. Ike and Robin brought the car, and we
drove back to my car at Nolan. Artificial heat in the car was nice. I
guess one reason for camping is to appreciate the creature comforts of home.
The Dalton Highway had deteriorated a lot in the rain, and it took over
two hours to do the drive now. By Sukukpak Mountain the rain had stopped,
but Dietrich River was totally flooded, and the Middle Fork of the Koyukuk
wasn’t much better. I was pretty nervous about my car, but Nolan Creek was
low, and luckily I could drive right out. We gave ourselves déjà vu by
camping on Nolan road as we had on the 6th. It was a beautiful night, with
sun, rain, and big rainbows. About 105 miles hiked total, not including
Aug. 16 Woke up at 6:00 am, packed camp, and drove to Coldfoot. Now it is
sunny, go figure. Got my flat tire fixed and mounted ($25), Hans and I had
breakfast buffet (yum, $10), and returned bear bin. Left Coldfoot by 8:15.
Highway was in really bad shape all the way to Fairbanks. Rain trashed it.
Mud and ruts, swollen creeks everywhere. I guess it hadn’t only rained on
us. Fairbanks by 3:00 pm. Shopped for food, washed Robin’s folks car, and
left it for them at a friends. Squeezed back into my car, and left
Fairbanks at 5:00. Home just after midnight. Two new dings on windshield
today, oh well. In Trapper Creek all called Clint Farr and wished him good
luck with his upcoming wedding.
Aug. 17 Dinner, beer and good cheer at the Bear Tooth Theatre-pub while
looking at pictures of trip. I am thankful for the wonderful friends I had
on this trip, the beauty of the Alaska wilderness, and the humility that the
weather teaches me. We are already looking into the next trip…