Alaska Trip (Part 9) — Gwich’in Hunting Camp   1 comment

As my friend Rob reminded me, I haven’t posted anything here for a while.  I’ve been doing a lot of photography work — and even had a couple of my photos selected for a 2013 regional calendar — but there’s no doubt I’ve neglected Photoriety.  So if hurricane Sandy doesn’t bring the power down (it’s raining sort of sideways at the moment) I’ll pick up on one of the highlights of our trip to Arctic Village, namely our visit to the Gwich’in summer hunting camp.

Hunting camp was a 4 to 5 mile hike “up mountain” to a plateau overlooking the valley where the Chandalar river separates Gwich’in land from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and a couple of miles below the peak of the mountain on which we camped.  It is a breathtaking view as well as a breath-taking climb, and our visit to hunting camp was one of the primary reasons that I lost 8 pounds in twenty days.  That I shed those pounds despite eating half a dozen of Marion’s stolen-recipe biscuits is testament to the level of exertion.  Four of us did twenty miles in a twenty-four hour period.  If that sounds self-congratulatory, well . . . I guess it is.  I don’t think I can ever thank David Radcliff enough for challenging me both physically and mentally on this trip.  I’ve shed a total of 30 pounds in the last ten months, and if I ever start to put them back on I’ll just go on another New Community Project trip.  As David says, “No charge for the weight-loss program.”

So here are photos from our treks to and around hunting camp.

(Above)  Several of our group head up mountain.  The Gwich’in hauled food and gear up to camp on ATVs for us, although Melanie and I decided to carry our gear up on our backs (part of the challenge).  Gotta say, my wife is quite a trooper.

(Above)  We didn’t leave for camp until evening and arrived after 9:00 p.m., although there was still plenty of light left in the day.  The colors and scenery were exceptional, but I had to wait several minutes for my heart rate to come down before I could take this photo.  It was markedly cooler up here than down at the village.  That point was driven home the next morning when I stripped down to my skivvies and washed up in a nearby stream.  Now that was breath-taking!

(Above)  The log pole structure served as our kitchen area.  The plastic sheeting is used to enclose the structure and smoke / cure caribou meat during hunting season.  Thin strips of meat are suspended on the poles while a small fire burns below.  This sheeting was no longer usable, so before we left we tore it down and took it back to the village for disposal.  Ground squirrels in particular will sometimes attempt to eat the plastic, with fatal results.

(Above)  The only other “permanent” structure was this canvass sidewall tent where our Gwich’in hosts Marion, Marie, Derek, and Deena slept.  Here Melanie stands near the tent for a little shelter from the cold wind.

(Above)  Melanie photographs out toward ANWR while we wait for the food and kitchen supplies to arrive.  It was approaching 10 p.m., we had hiked 4 to 5 miles up mountain, and hadn’t had dinner yet.  Photography was a good distraction from hunger!

(Above)  Nay Quoy accompanied us up to camp and slept about 100 feet uphill from the main structure.  His job?  Keep an eye out for any approaching bear.  Two years earlier, Marion had shot and killed a grizzly that was circling camp and acting aggressive.  Nay Quoy was quite at home sleeping out doors.  He made a nice little “nest” in the tundra grass, curled up, and covered his snout with his long bushy tail.  I suspect that sleeping in 30 degree temperatures is a piece of cake for the dogs in Arctic Village.

(Above)  After dinner we were treated to a midnight sunset.  These mountains are part of the Brooks Range in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  Melanie and I were exhausted, but would not have missed this show for anything . . .

(Above)  The next morning Derek was up and ready to go.  He followed me down to the stream when I fetched water, which provided me with the opportunity to carry both the water and Derek back up the hill.  It was just the beginning of a rigorous day.

(Above)  Marion Swaney got a fire going in the morning and made a pot of “cowboy coffee” — pot, water, grounds.  Filters?  We don’t need no stinkin’ filters!  The coffee was delicious and, thankfully, hot.  Spit out the grounds or chew on them — your choice.

(Above)  We took two hikes that day — a four mile round trip hike to the top of the ridge and back in the morning, and then a 12 mile round trip hike to another mountain overlooking Old John Lake in the afternoon / evening.  The morning hike provided us with this view of Arctic Village and the Brooks Range mountains in the distance.

(Above)  No grizzlies, only ground squirrels on our morning hike.

(Above)  On the afternoon / evening hike, Jim, David, Judith, and I were treated to more spectacular high-elevation scenery.  We were well above tree line for most of this hike, and we were glad for the cooler temperatures considering all the climbing we were doing.

(Above)  David (holding camera), Jim, and Judith on the peak overlooking Old John Lake.  It was a spectacular 360-degree vista.  We ate some power bars and trail mix and got ready for the six miles (mostly downhill) back.

(Above)  Jim – carrying the rifle — follows David and Judith on the trail back toward hunting camp.  After 16 miles in one day, I’m sure my friends all slept as well as I did that night!

Posted October 29, 2012 by ~ Bruce in Landscapes, Nature and Wildlife, Uncategorized

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One response to “Alaska Trip (Part 9) — Gwich’in Hunting Camp

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  1. Beautiful!

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