The second day of our trip, we woke up early and boiled some stream water for an oatmeal and coffee (hot cocoa in my case) breakfast. We wanted to get a fairly early start on hiking that day, so we cruised back on south until we reached the Atigun River 2 (creative, right?) and pulled over to park and pack. We loaded up our packs with everything we needed for an overnight trip, loaded the .45, and headed out up the river valley toward the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), home of some controversial oil drilling sites and some of the world’s largest caribou migrations.
The going was fairly slow due to the marshy tundra. For those of you who have never experienced a hike in tundra, it’s quite similar to walking in loose sand or through deep snow in that it can tire you out quick! Wet tundra is extremely spongy, and with each step forward, you sink down into it at least four to six inches. We had to hike in XtraTufs due to the standing water in the first half mile and in all the low spots along the river valley, and though I love and worship XtraTufs and they will forever be my signature footwear, they aren’t much of a hiking boot. We sloshed our way under the pipeline and up into the valley, surrounded by towering peaks that rose like jagged teeth out of the rolling hills of tundra. The landscape was serene and dramatic all at once, and I couldn’t have been happier with my pack on my back, my boots on my feet, and my beloved home all around me in one of its finest unspoiled forms.
We walked for most of the afternoon, taking the occasional break to rest our feet, sip some water, and take in the grandeur around us. The fresh herbal smell of the tundra permeated my senses and the sounds of the rushing river and whispering breeze were sensual ecstasy. We were fortunate for the wind, actually, since it kept the mosquitoes down to a dull buzz and I could generally ignore most of the bites as they drained me right through my shirt. On the opposite ridge from where we were hiking, we counted dozens of sheep resting on the mountainside, and occasional heard the alarm chirps and chatters of arctic ground squirrels as they scurried around their underground tunnel systems to dodge our tramping feet. Along the way we found a couple of caribou antlers shed by a passing animal. Visitors to ANWR aren’t allowed to remove antlers, so we used it to mark our campsite that evening, but had to leave it behind when we left. That didn’t stop us, however, from using our fortunate find as stylish headgear during our trek.
After 3 or 4 miles of leisurely hiking, we decided to find a place to camp. We chose a little dip between two small hills to block the wind and happily discovered that a nearby stream could provide us with water for cooking that evening. I should note here that one should always treat any water sources used for consumption in Alaska. Giardia, a microscopic parasite found in most of Alaska’s natural water sources, can make you miserably ill if you consume water without first filtering and/or boiling it. Before consuming any water on our trip, we first filtered and boiled it thoroughly. Giardia is more commonly found in slow moving or standing water as it has a hard time finding a host in rapidly moving water, but better to be safe than sorry and treat all water before consumption.
That evening we enjoyed another batch of Top Ramen with a dessert of Nutella on Pilot Bread crackers. Delicious! We also paid a visit to the glacially fed river that flowed through the valley for a quick face washing (with biodegradable soap!) and a chilly reminder of what carved this valley long ago. We fell asleep with with sun just beginning to disappear behind the mountains, though I don’t think it ever really properly set.
The next morning we woke up and preformed our oatmeal/coffee/cocoa routine before packing up our camp to begin our hike out. I hadn’t realized the day before that most of our hike in had been uphill, so it was a nice treat to be walking a gentle downhill slope to get back to the truck. It was sad to leave, but I’m happy to say I’ve hiked and camped a bit in ANWR, and would easily go back for an extended trip in the future. Before we got back to the road, we passed once more underneath the pipeline and had to stop for a few more cheesy photos.
Our trip home was just as beautiful as the trip up, but overall rather uneventful. We did make a quick detour to the tiny community of Wiseman not too far north of Coldfoot. I honestly can’t imagine what it is people in these tiny, remote communities do for a living, but I envy their solitude and isolation. If I can be content with myself, the people I surround myself with, and the place that I live, then I find that the need for the flashy distractions of civilization diminish, and life can be very blissful in the simplest of ways. Though we were only there for a moment, visiting the community gave me pause to wonder what things in my life I could do without to simplify my existence.
The Wiseman post office is slowly sinking into the ground, and was last functional in the 1950’s. A great example of an original Alaskan homesteading cabin.