During the summer of 1990, after I graduated high school and before I headed off to college, my Dad put into motion a trip of grand proportion. The goal was to experience one of last truly wild places in North America, a place that up to that point in time, was only read about in books or seen on a television documentary. A place that didn't seem real or tangible. The mission was simple: Experience the magnificence of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The plan: Two weeks of climbing in the Brooks Range and two weeks of rafting out to the Arctic Ocean. Our group of six would do all of the logistical planning without the assistance of a guide service. We did it all, right down to the food menus, travel, routes and equipment lists. Looking back now, it is hard to believe that I spent a month in such a place.
A few days ago my father, Paul Torrence, sent me a USB flash drive with the slides (not even sure if digital cameras existed) he took on this trip digitized for prosperity. The photos revitalized all my slowly fading memories and brought to light the fact that this was a trip for the ages. Below are a few of those shots.
Where this trip took us. North of the Arctic Circle.
A land of struggle...caribou and wolf prints. Hopefully it stays this way and we don't screw it up as the pressure for oil and gas extraction in the Refuge is higher than ever. While on this trip I saw the caribou, but never got to see the wolf.
Paul Torrence, the man behind the mission. The Brooks Range provides the back drop with its countless unclimbed peaks.
Once in Alaska the trip went like this: Anchorage to Fairbanks to Fort Yukon to the Hulahula River Valley. Roger Dowding, in red, of Yukon Air, was our bush pilot. He flew us from Fort Yukon to some random gravel bar in the middle of the ribboned Hulahula River. We would learn a few years later that Roger was killed in a crash while flying through the Brooks Range.
So what do you do when the plane, your only contact to the outside world, flies away? That's easy. Make camp and enjoy a place that only a handful of others have seen.
Backpacking in the Alaskan tundra. No trails here. Better know how to use a map. The group (left to right): Andy Kopek, Peggy Rosen, Al Rosen, Carl Solomon, Paul Torrence)
Yes, the backpacks were big. We had to be ready for every situation.
The first climb: Mount Michelson (8,855') Looks like Everest don't it?
During the ascent: A break on the shoulder of Michelson.
The summit ridge of Michelson. That's me in the orange helmet. Can you say "On belay!"
Camping in a glacial cirque.
Climb number two: Mt Chamberlin (9,020') The highest peak in the Brooks Range.
Not even legal enough to have a beer, but standing under Chamberlin's weighty summit. We never made the summit. The ice fall that shrouds it's summit was, for us, insurmountable. We stood fast to our trip motto: Live to play another day.
Now it was time to head for the coast. Rafting the Hulahula River. Andy Kopek in the rear and me up front.
Auf Eis (an ice formation typical of north flowing arctic rivers) on the Hulahula. Makes one look very small.
Made it! Al Rosen and I on the shores of the Beaufort Sea. The small village of Kaktovik would be our first "taste"of civilization in a month. I remember looking at myself in a mirror for the first time in four weeks...proof that you can forget what you look like!
Your Moment of "Alaskan Zen"
If I ever go into wine making this is what I'd call my first batch.
What was the worst part of the adventure? The freakin' mosquitos drove me mad!