Almost exactly ten years ago I had just arrived back home from Alaska after a month long expedition to the Alaska White Mountains and the Yukon. I've been lucky over the years to lead four expeditions to Alaska (with a 5th on the backburner). But the 2005 trip will always stick in my mind as being particularly special and a grande finale to my time at Knox Academy. It was great pleasure to share the trip with nine exceptional young people and two even more exceptional colleagues and lifelong friends (David Russell and Rhona Smith).
Unfortunately, the trip took place before before this blog came into existence (only just!) which meant it missed out on any digital documentation. We also lacked a final report because Nicola Holding (ace expedition member, amateur ornithologist and my canoe buddy for ten days - who could only paddle on one side!) was so tired as we flew back though Seattle she left her journal in the airport!
Dave reminded me last night that it was the tenth anniversary of the expedition. His reminder was timely and I had just written about the importance of residential opportunities for young people. It also gave me a good excuse to dig out my photos from the trip and up-loaded them to Flickr as well as having a chance to look though my old expedition maps and files. It is really is great to explore old memories. It also reminded me that it was also nice to still be in touch with pretty much all team via Facebook (I've lost touch with lots of members of previous trips from the mid to late 1990s - partly due to the lack of social media at the time).
Photo: Bear Encounter on Beaver Creek
The 2005 trip (as with most youth expeditions) was over a year in the planning. Originally we had planned to paddle to Noatak River but the costs were spiralling (although I did get back and paddle the Noatak with a group in 2010). In the end we discovered (and opted for) perhaps the greatest (and cheapest) wilderness float in North America. Nome Creek into Beaver Creek into the Yukon this is a 499 mile float that scrapes the Arctic Circle and is an Alaska Classic (easy grade I water, with one grade II rapid) that goes road-to-road so you don't need expensive air transportation. We spent 17 days being self sufficient on the river and we didn't see another person during the whole of that time.
As part of the trip we also aimed to hike the Circle to Fairbanks Historic Trail, which took in the Pinnell Mountain Recreation Trail. The Pinnell's were exceptional (classic Alaska Tundra Hiking) and I enjoyed our 30mile hike above the tree line as well as visiting the mountain huts on trail. However when we dropped down back onto the Circle - Fairbanks Trail navigation and bushwacking became almost impossible as we traversed areas burnt out by forest fire and areas almost impossible to negotiate due to fallen trees. Making painfully slow progress we bailed from the route eventually and made our way through forest and rivers to the Steese Highway and the comfort of Billy's Backpackers in Fairbanks. To be fair they started to up-grade the trail in 2006 (and it has become popular with Mountain Bikers) so I expect a re-visit might provide a different experience compared to our bushwacking adventure!
Happy memories indeed from bear encounters, to paddling though forest fires, to Paul's crazy driving, to a night in Mordor, to Alaskan Amber, to Joe (at the hostel) and lots and lots of laughs! What we accomplished was really quite amazing and it is great to see so many of the team still active in the outdoors.