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Tuesday
Jun232015

Arctic Refuge Mountaineering

In 2009, Paul Muscat and I climbed Mount Chamberlin, then considered to be the highest summit in the Brooks Range at 9,020 feet. Now, Mount Isto might be the highest at 9,060 feet. It was the excuse we needed for another trip to this wild land.

Joining us was Glenn Wilson and James Kesterson. Over the past 17 years we've been on many trips together: Denali, Mount Baker, Marcus Baker, Mount Bona, Mount Iliamna, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Mount Chamberlin, Mount Logan and the Central Talkeetna Mountains. On this trip we didn't get up Isto, but we had a blast exploring and bagging peaks.

With logistics help from Alaska Alpine Adventures, we flew direct from Fairbanks to the Jago River with Wright Air. It was a two and half hour bush flight, with no in-flight service. This region is better known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where Alaska's embarrassing half-term governor once said, "Drill baby drill."

The plane is a Helio Courier, made in the 1970's and designed for a low stall speed. Supposedly it will fall horizontally rather than nose dive. The tires are Alaskan Bushwheels, made near Anchorage in Chugiak. They are the "premier tire for extreme backcountry adventures." 

 

Paul crossing the Jago river. Mellow here, but rumors of downstream rapids kept us from floating 50 miles to the ocean. This was Paul's fifth trip to the Arctic Refuge. Paul has also visited Ellesmere Island, a land rich with Arctic survival stories. Paul has an obsession with Arctic survival. When we saw a leafy lichen he said, "You could make a miserable soup if you were starving." 

 

Glenn, Paul and James examine the skull, antlers and vertebral bodies of a caribou. The Arctic Refuge is packed with animals. We saw mostly bones and trails, except for one scaredy-cat grizzly, some chirping arctic ground squirrels and birds. The herds of musk ox and caribou are more common on the coastal plane. 

 

Our first summit was the 8,625-foot Screepik. While conducting summit LNC (Leave No Cairn) we found Tom Choate's name in a sodden film canister. In 1999 he climbed Screepik and traversed onto Isto. His trip reports are in the October 1999, February 2000 and the November 2013 Scree newsletter from the Mountaineering Club of Alaska. Choate called Peak 8625 "Spectre". First ascentionists called it Shadow Peak. Keeping with the tradition, we called it Screepik. Scree for the endless boulderfields, and "pik" for the Inuit word for “genuine."

 

Descending from the summit of Screepik.

 

Back at high camp after climbing Screepik. Ahhh, summertime in the Alaskan Arctic. 

 

Glenn checks the map for our next peak to slay.

 

"Are you farting?" Paul asked me. "Gypsum," said Glenn. The fossil-filled rocks stunk. 

 

On the summit of Lincoln Peak (7,470') above the Arctic coastal plane. The sea ice is a white line above the horizon. Pristine. Wild. 

 

Descending from Lincoln Peak. Much of the high Brooks Range is boulder fields. This one was solid. Others are shifting fields of fridge-sized leg-crushers. 

 

Resting and BSing, back at base camp on the Jago River. We've accumulated months of sitting around BSing. That's what makes a great group: enjoying eachother's company. We had a separate cook shelter, away from our sleeping tent. 

 

The Brooks Range bears are grizzlies, which have a mostly vegetarian diet and are much smaller than coastal brown bears or Kodiak brown bears. Bears in the area run away from humans, except the ones that eat humans. 

 

Lowenbrau walking. A couple hours later the wind was blowing 40 miles per hour. Then it was raining. Then it cleared. That's what you get when you place big mountains near water and ice. 

 

James near the summit of Peak 7130.  

 

Glenn supervising a zipper-removal program on our Hilleberg Keron 4. We replaced 2.1 ounces of zippers with string pulls. "Lighter, more quiet and better zipper action," said the supervisor. 

 

A wooly lousewort. New flower types emerged each day. Things move fast in the three month season of no ice.  

 

Downtown Arctic Village, where we stopped on the flight back to Fairbanks.

 

Waiting for things to happen at the Arctic Village Airport terminal. Thanks for yet another great trip guys!