Chandalar River / by Caroline Van Hemert

Looking across the Chandalar River, we wondered if mailing our packrafts to Anaktuvuk Pass had been the best choice.  A morning swim suddenly didn’t seem so appealing.  Eventually I waded in and began to work my way across, using a contorted breast stroke that allowed me to push my pack with my chin.  Pat employed a different technique that involved a lot of splashing; he claims it was a hybrid between a side stroke and a one-armed crawl.  With the cold water and our awkward loads, the swim felt a lot longer than the equivalent three to four laps in a pool.  Once across we spotted several grey headed chickadees, an Arctic species about which little is known. The next day, a grizzly caught our scent and lumbered away across the red-gold valley.  Hunkered down behind a spine of rock, we rose to meet the gaze of two grey wolves working up the ridge below us.  When possible we opt for the high routes, trading tussocks for sidehilling, burning calves, and solid ground.  For anyone who hasn’t had the joy of experiencing tussocks firsthand, they deserve a mention.  Tussocks are mounds formed by cotton grass and are a common feature of arctic tundra.  Hiking through this deceptively attractive groundcover is like balancing on lopsided medicine balls interspersed with stepping in pools of muddy water. The “controlled stumble” is a very fitting description of this motion.  We spent last night camped in a valley with 200 caribou grazing nearby.  Today it is snowing.  Each day is full of surprises.