For adventurous spirits, the yearning to explore lies deep within. When Alaska crosses their path, many heed it’s call. Two and a half years ago Andrew arrived in Alaska and his passion for the outdoors is mirrored through the lens of his camera. Below is a video of some of his recent work. You can also see Andrew’s photographs of Alaska at http://www.andrewholmanphoto.com
Considered one of the last frontiers of raw and rugged wilderness, the Brooks Range draws outdoor enthusiasts from around the world looking to immerse themselves in nature and connect to a land untouched. Located in the northernmost portion of Alaska, these mountains extend into Canada and are estimated to be up to 126 million years old. To help preserve this remote wilderness, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1960 and is the largest wildlife refuge in the United States.
In the summer of 2016 five of us made plans to explore the Brooks Range over 18 days. Our goal was to packraft the Kongakut river (a class 2-3 river) and bring paragliders to explore flying opportunities. This trip was considered a proof of concept idea as we had never attempted packrafting and paragliding simultaneously for 18 days. Thorough planning and logistics were required as help would potentially not be available for days if something went wrong.
As we began our trip a small “bush” plane flew us to the headwaters of the Kongakut river. These famous Alaskan beaver bush planes are capable of landing on difficult terrain. Our pilot chose a gravel bar along the river as our drop off point. Over the next few weeks we traversed over 40 miles towards the Beaufort sea in the Arctic.
As a precaution we brought an electric fence, bear spray, and bear resistant food bags to protect from curious or aggressive bears. Grizzly and Polar bears are known to roam the northern edges of the Brooks range. With melting sea ice there are reports of polar bears breeding with grizzly bears in an effort to survive a changing climate.
Working our way down the Kongakut river we stopped along several mountains to hike its ridgelines. Joe, Steve, and I paraglided from the top, while Sven and Kim explored the rest of the mountain by foot. An exhilarating feeling overcomes you while flying through the air; an intensity beaming with joy in witnessing such a remote and majestic part of the world.
Throughout our time hiking, packrafting, and paragliding we encountered bears, dall sheep, and wolves. We fished for Arctic Grayling to supplement meals, bathed in tributaries, and photographed beautiful flowers and migrating birds. The indigenous people of this area, the Gwich’in, learned to live in harmony with this sacred land. Their relationship to this landscape has been vital and continue to teach us lessons.
After arriving to the Brooks Range Howard Zahniser once noted “Without the gadgets, the inventions, the contrivances whereby men have seemed to establish among themselves an independence of nature, without these distractions, to know the wilderness is to know a profound humility, to recognize one’s littleness, to sense dependence and interdependence, indebtedness and responsibility.”
We are filled with appreciation for the opportunity to live in a land with so much beauty . Take a look at some of our pictures and a video of Joe Mclaughlin flying off one of the ridges.
Bears are a source of anxiety for many hikers visiting Alaska. Although instinctively afraid of humans, in certain circumstances bears will attack. Over the years I encountered a few bears along the trail and fortunately they either heard or saw me with enough distance and moved away with no bad outcomes. Prevention is the best strategy, your voice is a natural deterrent and making plenty of noise on the trail will let bears know you are nearby. They will likely disappear without you ever noticing.
I routinely encourage all guests at our hostel who are hiking in Alaska to take bear spray with them. They are extremely effective as a deterrent and it is reassuring to read this recent article which found bear spray was more effective than guns. The study looked at actual bear encounters with hikers and hunters. I have attached the link below.
In the Summer of 2011 a group of friends ventured out to Aniakchak National Monument, a 3,700 year old volcanic crater measuring 6 miles in diameter. It’s one of the least visited National Parks in the United States, due in large part to it’s remoteness in Alaska. It lies in the Aleutian chain of Alaska, part of the volcanic ring of fire caused by tectonic plate movements. Alaska alone has 8% of the worlds active volcanoes. At the heart of Aniakchak is its caldera six miles wide and 2,500 feet deep. In May of 1931, an eruption caused ash to fall in nearby villages at a rate of 1 pound per hour.
We hiked and paddled 65 miles from Aniakchak river to Chignik Lagoon. Much appreciation to Roman Dial for leading the way on our journey and capturing some amazing footage; complete with a bear encounter with our good friend Gordy. Make sure to watch part I and II here.