It is Thursday, 8/21/2014, 10:02 a.m., marking the first lull in the rain spattering my tent since 7 p.m. last night. (I’m dry, thanks to my tarp tent stratospire, but I love you sun! ) Camped on a gravel bar along the Noatak River in the Gates of the Arctic National Park, I’m waiting for a pickup from my pilot friends at Coyote Air. Let me emphasize “waiting” since that prospect looks dubious today given the current weather–the clouds are to the ground and it is not a happy flying day. This was to be my final day of a week long photo trip in the Brooks Range (I still hope it might be, but I’ve been in this situation many times before to keep hope at a proper distance). Yesterday I left my camp at 4600 ft., situated under the shy and precipitous spires of Mt Igikpak, the tallest mountain in the Brooks Range (8500 ft.). After trekking 13 miles across tundra, boulders, tussocks, fording rivers and creeks, I arrived at this gravel bar along with the rain about 5:30 pm. My packraft was waiting for me here but I lacked the time and the good weather to paddle down river to a different pickup location–the skies were ominous and dark, and it was pouring rain!
The Brooks Range is rugged country. Vast. Wild, and at times extreme. It is the whole continuum of elements that create the experience that I love about these ventures (being stuck in this tent right now is one end of that continuum). In contrast, two days ago I was bathing in a mountain stream under warm and sunny skies high in the mountains. For the past week, the sound of water in creeks, streams, waterfalls, rivers and rain on my tent have been a constant audio background. Since the weather ultimately defines a time schedule on these sorts of trips, I bring extra food in case of a delay. And speaking of delays…waiting is the largest challenge in my photo journeys. People often say “you must be patient”. But it isn’t really patience, it is more like endurance or perseverance to me. What one does in the “periods in between” great light is much of the story of this occupation. While it is more fun and glamorous to write about and share the outrageous photo ops, the hidden stories about enduring bad weather while stuck in a tiny tent in a rainstorm is notable. I don’t bring paper books due to weight and bulk but I have dozens of ebooks on my iPhone along with lecture series and podcasts. For me, this is a vital item on my list (along with a backup charge source since my battery reads 22% at the moment. (See the exciting view from my tent below).
Note the items at hand: satellite phone, GPS, maps, 44 pistol, air horn and coffee cup-not the items on my bed stand at home). In case you are wondering, the and air horn and pistol are for bear protection (the latter I take only on solo trips), and I always place them in the same spot in my tent out of habit, so I instinctively know where to reach if necessary. I only saw one bear on this trip, and more about that in a later post. I’ll be calling the pilot in 45 minutes with a weather report and all I can say is that I wish I had a better one to give.
12:41 p.m. update:
Still raining but it got bright enough to see the circle of the sun behind white clouds and I even saw a shadow for a moment.
2:00 p.m. update:
Stopped raining so I removed everything from my tent to dry it all out and repack. Just as I finished it started raining again so I hopped back in the tent.
5:45 p.m. update:
I hear the buzz of the bush plane and rush to pack up my tent. I’m out of here!
I can’t wait to share some of the wonderful sights I saw and captured with my camera. It was an epic adventure that ranks up there with my top back country trips ever.