Part 8 in the Alaska Series. Click here to start at the very beginning - Part 1: Above the Arctic Circle.
It surprised me how warm it was (relatively speaking) this far north. Granted, I was wearing thermals the entire time and I had that wonderful sleeping bag to keep me toasty at night, but even so, Alaska put on a few gloriously sunny days for us at a balmy 12°C (55°F). It was wonderful for me, out with my camera, but not so thrilling for the caribou-hunting crowd. Steve, his brother and sister were spotting and stalking, sitting and walking, further afield each day.
I was the rookie in camp, but given that so far I was the only one who'd seen something other than a raven, the hunters started arguing over who would go with me when I headed out for the day. It was our third full day in camp and the four of us hiked 9.5km (6 mi) south to The Island, a 100m x 20m (328ft x 66ft) flat-topped hill which, come the spring melt, would be an island in this valley. Two days earlier the wind made a 180º turn and started blowing from the north, giving us hope that the weather had turned cold up there and would drive the caribou down.
We would hike for a while, then stop to spot with binoculars, then carry on with our hike. The only sounds we heard were the crunch-crunch of our boots on the riverbed rocks and the light wind rustling through the scrubby plants.
I was hoping to capture on video the majesty of the landscape, but unfortunately my slider got a little too banged up by the airline folks while in transit. A smooth, panning shot is lovely - a shuddering, jerky piece of footage is best deleted to save space on your hard drive.
We made it to The Island and sat down to have lunch and do some more spotting. From here we could watch the entire valley without being seen. I took the opportunity to photograph (of course! - the photo at the top of this post is taken on top of The Island) and write in my journal.
If there's one reason to keep a journal, it's to help you once again use your senses, not just your memory to re-experience an event or location. Here's an excerpt from Day 2 of the journal I titled The Great Alaskan Adventure! Corny, I know, but I was pretty darn excited to visit the top of the world:
The land here is magnificent: untamed, rugged and dramatic. This is a glacial valley with a river running down it [...] The sounds I hear are the wind in the pine trees, an occasional raven, the crackle of a fire and laughter.
[...] The comforts of central heating and air conditioning are enjoyable, but they make you forget what it's really like to be alive.
We hung around until the sun moved west and down along the horizon, debating the likelihood of each dark spot on the surrounding hills being an animal. The caribou still didn't show themselves that day, which made for another unsuccessful foray into the wilderness. It was a bad day hunting, but still it was better than a good day fishing. And you know what they say about a bad day fishing.
Next up: the last post in the Alaska Series.