Again, I was blessed and surprised by a weather forecast gone awry. The satellite image the evening before, the NOAA dispatch, all the information pointed toward a cloudy, possibly rainy day. Instead, we arose at 6:00 to go the the airfield only wishing that we had been up two hours before. (Yes, at this far north above the Arctic Circle the sun would have been up by then.) It was sunny and clear. We headed toward the Gates.
Named by famed explorer Robert Marshall, the Gates of the Arctic, which consist of Frigid Crags (on the right in the photo) and Mount Boreal, are an unmistakable navigational marker on the landscape. Whether looking to the south from the north, as is the case in this photo, or from the south to the north, they stand seemingly as constant guardians of the landscape. Ever present, they give me a false sense of permanence, that this land can withstand anything. The perception gets a bit different when on the ground. After landing at a gravel bar on the North Fork of the Koyukuk River, we noticed that all the dwarf fireweed had already bloomed out. The seasons were already changing in a way that was unnoticeable from the sky. We were also reminded of the fragility of the land, noticing landing strips often used by small aircraft that are essential to travel into the Park. Fortunately, though, it was difficult to notice other signs of human presence, no trash, footprints, or other similar markers of impact. This was particularly surprising given the popularity of this spot for landing to drop off backcountry travelers. It was a happy change from the more often traveled backcountry destinations, such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota, where it is almost impossible to go a day without finding a small amount of trash somewhere.