The Arrogance Quelching Arrigetch

The glacier crossing had gone smoothly, soft snow and rock on top of ice, and we stood at what we thought was Independence pass at the limit of the snow in the fog.  Perched on bouldery talus we peered at an unbroken face of granite cliffs rising all around.  While Russell calculated our position I scouted the only exit upwards along a loose rock shelf under the righthand cliff.  After a short scramble, the full affront of the spiry Arrigetch was shocking my senses as the fog lifted.  I yelled down and we were soon exuberantly exposed at the top of the pass.  In two days we had travelled the equivalent of half a day on the Pacific Crest Trail, having taken many trying steps through thick brush and a swamp, down-climbed a waterfall, and boulder-hopped a stream bed, not to mention all the rock and ice on the approach to the pass.   Later, while descending Talus Top Pass, a two ton boulder somehow dislodged by my weight rose up like a tombstone and started to crash down towards Russell.  As I fell back he heeded my warning to watch out,  jumping behind a larger boulder with catlike agility, though it came to rest just above where his head had been with the stinging smell of flint.   He likened the hiking to an endless and constant mountaineering approach over large unstable rocks, and I couldn’t disagree.

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After five passes in 6 days, I turned to Russell and proclaimed this the most rugged, challenging, sublimely beautiful trek I’d ever been on.   We were blowing up our pack rafts in an overly hasty attempt to float the upper Noatak River [we did a fair amount of river walking in the shallow grey-blue water].  Soon the rapids dwindled into a lazy river float and we approached Portage Creek on schedule to meet our float plane in two and a half days.  The Alatna was an even faster and more pleasant conduit for our tired bodies, and soon we were relaxing and eating our spare food in the sunshine with the Arrigetchs’ monster jaw skyline looming in the distance–we had done it, eight days, five passes, 113 miles, two crossings of the Arctic Circle, one black bear, two hail storms, swarms of mosquitos,  two airplanes [one of which was dropping off the only three other people we saw], and some stunning scenery.   The float plane arrived on time very near our drop off point, and I watched the reflections blossoming on the tundra ponds below while discussing the possibility of burgers in Bettles with the pilot.

I flew to Fairbanks today feeling satisfied and awed by the Gates of the Arctic.  The Native man from Alakaket behind me on the plane summed it up:  “Shit man, you guys were walking in the Arrigetch, WALKING?  That is rough country, God’s country”.

~ by Scott Hamilton Peters on June 28, 2010.

One Response to “The Arrogance Quelching Arrigetch”

  1. Your mother is speechless.

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