It was gray and drizzly when I arrived in Fairbanks and continued to be so the next day as we headed to the airport for the first leg the day's journey. I wished it was sunny, or at least dry but, what da hey, I'm gonna make the best of whatever happens. At 11:00 am after a three and a half hour delay we were finally on our way.

I had been introduced to all of my fellow trekkers the night before at a pre-trip dinner in Fairbanks. It was a great little group. Josh, a guy in his mid 20s, was our group leader, and he was "leading" his first trip for Arctic Treks.

John (a.k.a. Jonathan), an avid photographer from Minnesota, is currently traveling around the country photographing every US national park. Dick is a financial advisor from Pennsylvania. John & Betsy are US Forestry employees from Montana and me, another John. Good grief there are only six people on the trip and half of them are named John. Thus the reason John from Minnesota went by Jonathan to simplify things a bit.


Da Bear

One morning we were all sitting outside in front of the cook tent went I saw something walking along the edge of the lake coming our way. It's a bear. We all grabbed our cameras and walked up near the sleeping tents to get a better view.

He was very light in color, almost blondish. It wasn't until he was within 200 feet that he seemed to notice us. He just stopped, sat upright on his butt and looked at us like. "What's this crap?"

He sat there for about a minute and then continued his path straight towards us. At about 100 feet it became apparent he wasn't going to vary his course around us. He was coming straight at us. That's when we started to slowly back up and began talking to the bear. "Hi bear. Yep, we're here. We're just campin' out and not looking for any trouble. Just keep on going." The bear was on a straight path to Jonathan's tent. Once he was within 5 feet of the tent I almost expected to see him investigate the tent or worse. But instead he just walked right past it without giving it any notice. Then past Dick's tent and he was gone. He never showed any signs of aggression but likewise he wasn't the slightest bit intimidated by these six scruffy campers.

Two days later as I was hiking by myself over the pass and around the lakes when I saw another bear. He was on the ridge just above me going in the opposite direction just 150 feet away. I don't think he ever saw me as his attention was on a herd of caribou. I was happy he kept going because I didn't have any bear spray and I was armed only with my camera. "Stop or I'll shoot."

After ten and a half hours of intermittent travel we are here. 6:30 PM and we are at Kutuk Pass, well inside the Arctic Circle, and a long way away from any thing. Once the plane flies off we're pretty much on our own. Yeah sure, we've got a radio but to actually contact anyone their plane needed to be in a direct line with us and we only saw one plane over the next seven days. Hey, this is the real deal, Arctic seclusion. Cool.

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We saw well over 2,500 caribou the week we were at Kutuk Pass

It didn't take long until we began to meet some of the local residents. Shortly after setting up the tents the first of many herds of caribou meandered past us on the east side of the valley. They didn't come very close but on the other hand they didn't appear to be too bothered by the new neighbors.

We only saw the one heard of 25 caribou that first night but over the next 7 days we saw well over 2,500 head.

Sunshine and caribou But will it last?

 

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