Gates of the Arctic National Park, Day 1
Trip Start Mar 02, 2011
192Trip End Oct 14, 2011
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I got up early and waited for someone from Arctic Wild to arrive. I got a phone call and, fortunately, my battery had enough charge left for me to find out my guide was at the wrong B&B. I gave him the address where I was staying. Two people arrived soon after.
One of the people was Bill Mohrwinkel, one of the owners of the company. The other person was Moe Witschard who will be my guide for the next 10 days. Due to the confusion with the address we didn't have time to chat and had to get right to the equipment check. We went through their checklist, verified I had everything required, packed it into two waterproof bags that will be my suitcases for the next 10 days and headed for the airport.
We caught a flight on a wheeled plane from Fairbanks to Bettles. Most people would have considered it a small plane but it was a regularly scheduled flight with a few other passengers.
Bettles is a tiny town in the summer and almost nonexistent during the winter. It's the main gateway for people heading into Gates of the Arctic National Park as well as other remote areas in the eastern portion of the Alaskan arctic. While we waited for our pilot we headed to the Visitor Center maintained by the National Park Service. It was the first opportunity Moe and I had really had to get to know each other. Fortunately, since we were going to spend the next 10 days together, we got along well. He's a very experienced guide with over 20 years experience in Alaska leading trips and giving instruction in a wide range of outdoor skills.
We went back over to the airstrip and waited until our pilot arrived. We then drove over to the canal next to the airstrip where our float plane was docked. We loaded everything onto the plane, hopped in and headed for a place that's called Portage Lake by paddlers but that I understand is called Nelson-Walker Lake on most maps. It was a very scenic flight through the Brooks Range including the Arrigetch Peaks, a granite section of the range that is taller and more rugged looking than the rest of the peaks.
We landed on Portage Lake and taxied over to the shore. We unloaded our gear, said goodbye to the pilot, pushed his plane away from shore and watched him fly away. We were on our own now.
We hiked through the tundra from Portage Lake to a gravel bar on the Upper Noatak River. It took us several trips to move everything. We then set up our tents and had dinner. The spot where we were camped had a nice view of Mount Igikpak, the largest peak in Gates of the Arctic National Park. It started to rain after we went to bed.