Tonight as we settled in to bed for the evening after the first day of our hike to the tundra, a herd of about 200 caribou ran through our camp heading towards the same destination. We began the day in fog and occasional drizzle, but the most annoying part of it was the thick swarms of mosquitos. Fortunately just as we began hiking, a small headwind picked up and kept them mostly at bay. The aufeis provided a bit of a highway for us on the way downhill, but it didn’t last long and soon we were in the worst section of hike – scrambling over large loose rocks covered with slippery wet lichen, to avoid the waterfall that forms in the bedrock constriction in the stream. This section is truly awful, especially when its wet, and the most nerve wracking for Kristin and I as it is the only section with a serious risk of hurting Turner. But we took our time and Kristin did great as usual. We also took our time because of the seriously heavy loads we were carrying. With the additional food and fuel I was carrying for the hike, my load was now pushing 90 pounds, probably 40 pounds of which was various electronics and camera gear needed either for the trip or in Kaktovik or safety gear. Jason was carrying a differential GPS unit with battery, a multi-parameter stream probe, and a packraft to attach the equipment to in the water. Kristin, carrying Turner at 40 pounds and their essential gear, was probably about 65 pounds. So we were pretty loaded.
The hike started out on the aufeis, which was pretty easily traveling.
It wasn’t long before the ice was too broken to travel on.
Descending from the nasty rock down to the stream bed, Turner needs a drink.
Turner eating lunch without the mosquitos eating him.
Turner feeding the mosquitos.
Turner’s favorite pastime is throwing rocks in the water.
The bugs knew we were here.
And they brought their friends…
Once past the scary rocks, we descended back down to stream level and had relatively easy hiking to our campsite at Jaeger Pass. The bugs were a continued annoyance but not overly so, and before long we were heading up the pass to the flat spot our tents sit on. We have a nice view of the valley here, as it takes a bend here and we can see up to the glacier and out to the Jago River. After dinner, the Nolans hung out in our tent while Jason and Joey went for a hike up to the top of the pass – without packs! – to enjoy the view of the coastal plain. Our tent is an interesting lightweight design, with an inner shell made completely of bug netting. So in nice weather we can leave off the rainfly and enjoy the view, sans bugs. I wish we had done more of this earlier on the trip. With a rainfly on, one really gets the sense of having a space separate from nature and surrounding environment. It’s almost like being in a house, and the philosophy that goes along with being in a house. But just being inside a nearly transparent net tent creates a much different mental feeling, which is apparently difficult to describe. In any case, it affords much better opportunities for wildlife viewing. We noticed a small caribou herd up on the ridge near Jason and Joey, no doubt finding a breeze there to escape the bugs. After they returned to camp and went inside their tent, which was out of shouting distance from ours, we noticed the caribou beginning to muster and head down the pass towards us. We watched from inside the tent for a while, but after a few minutes it became clear that this was not just a few isolated individuals, but a small herd led by bulls and followed by cows and calfs. Kristin ran over to wake the others, while I took some photos of the animals that were probably not more than 150 meters from our tent. It was a really neat experience. There is something about seeing packs of caribou out here that is invigorating and magical.
The Nolans, glad to be horizontal.
The locals wanted to join us.
The caribou, preparing for attack. Fortunately we saw them from inside the tent, where this photo was taken.
The bulls led the charge.
They were about 200 meters from our camp.
Going for a swim.
The cows and calves took up the rear.
The mamas always had an eye on their babies.
Turner wanted to go with them.
(Click on the panorama and drag to look around, press Shift to zoom in, Command (Mac) or Control (PC) to zoom out.) Enlarge this panorama
Watching caribou is hard work. Time for a snack. Note how the bugs are only in the lee side of the breeze.
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Sunday, 29 June 2008 04:47
Day 68: Caribou stampede!Written by Matt Nolan
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