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Brooks journal - Page 2

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8/9/03 - day 7

A Porcupine Cave and the Marble Mountains

We're sitting by a fire on another unnamed creek, driving off mosquitoes with smoke, and cooking our last cooked meal for the leg. I made an attempt at washing myself in the stream, as we expect to reach Arctic Village tomorrow. I'm sure I still stink, though.

The past two days have been calm. Calm and sunny, which makes us hot walking and brings the mosquitoes out in droves. We've certainly seen worse, though, and probably will again this trip.

This morning we woke up late in the dim recesses of a porcupine cave. Porcupines are small animals, but this one had chosen a spacious home. We could easily stand up, stretch out, and move around in it. The cave hadn't been occupied recently, but there were droppings at the entrance and a few quills inside. The cave was on a little shelf over a spot where our stream turned into a small gorge. A surprisingly large fish lived in the pool below, eating the squashed mosquitoes Hig dropped in the water for it. We chose to camp there because it was a neat spot, but after a night of tossing and turning on somewhat sloped and rocky ground, feeling occasional drips from above in the moist air, and being hidden from the morning sunlight, I think caves are better explored than slept in.

The past few days we've been following the edge of what we have come to call the Marble Mountains. They aren't named on the map. The Marble Mountains mark a sharp change in geology. North of them, the hills are soft and green, plants grow everywhere, and the flatlands are full of tussocks. But right at the edge, the mountains turn from green to grey, from soft to rocky, and from vegetated to barren. You can see the boundary from miles away. These sharp grey mountains are all marble, where the others were crumbly slate. The marble breaks into angular grey slabs that drape the mountains in talus, and rounded white cobbles that fill the streambeds and provide roads for us to walk on. We're following them because they make for good walking and are beautiful as well. Sometimes rusting rocks make red-orange stripes and waves down the grey slopes. The streams following the edge run into little gorges, splashing down small waterfalls, which are unusual in such a dry place. We've seen sheep (moving white dots we assume are sheep) grazing in the hills.

Wildlife is sparser here than in southern Alaska. We've seen much sign, but hardly an animal. I don't know where the moose go after they leave their droppings all over our path. Those sheep are the only large mammals we've seen. We've seen a ground squirrel as well, and a couple voles, and quite a few birds. One was surfing the rapids on this creek when we got here. It dove into a pool before I could tell what it was, but it looked kind of like a loon. I wonder if loons live here.

My body has finally adjusted to hiking and eating hiking food, happily. Although we have discovered that grinding up calcite rocks into calcium carbonate dust can make a fine substitute for Tums when necessary. That was Hig's idea. I was somewhat skeptical, but it did in fact cure my stomach ache.

We're about to leave our bug-free haven to head up over another pass and into Crow Nest Creek valley. There are more names as we get closer to civilization. We should reach Arctic Village by tomorrow evening. Travel is fast here. We went 27 miles on our second day. Even with our three day delay I hope we will reach Kaktovik in time to fly home.

The climb will be hot, as today is about 60 degrees. We've not seen warmer here, but we had one night well below freezing, where we woke up with frost on our gear and ice filling our water bottles.

8/10/03 - day 8


Today is hot. I'm not sure how hot, since Hig's thermometer is in the sun, but it's definitely too hot. You wouldn't think we'd be so hot in the arctic. Sitting still, the temperature is perfect, but it's at least ten degrees too warm for walking in our raingear (which is our lightest clothing, and almost our only clothing). It's buggy as well today (it would be cooler if there were some wind), and we're driving the bugs off with smoke so we can rest here awhile. Hig is sewing up his rain pants so he can be decent when we get to town.

We're trying to push to Arctic Village today. We started walking at 7AM, the earliest we've done yet. But it's been a hard hot slog down Crow Nest Creek Valley, and I doubt we'll make it before tomorrow morning.

Hig's been teaching me to chip sharp flakes from rock as primitive tools. The archeologists taught him on Sitkilidak. Kind of fun.

We're back out of our marble mountains, following the edge of a large valley of spruce. It's cool to be in the forest, but harder to see if you're getting anywhere. I hope we don't hit too many more tussocks. Tussocks can drain the life out of you. They aren't as slow as a thick bushwhack, but much more energy-consuming.

8/11/03 - day 9

Arctic Village

This time as I write I'm being distracted not by mosquitoes, but by television. We're taking a rest day in Arctic Village before making our push on to Kaktovik. We pushed almost to the village last night, so we had only a mile or so to go this morning. Once we could see the town, from a ridge six or seven miles away, it was much easier to push on, despite my sore feet and the long day.

We had to blow up the rafts for a crossing for the first time today, just to get into town. It's not a fast river here, but deep. This is a very small village, and almost entirely Native. We've seen one white guy (washing a kayak) and he definitely didn't belong here either. I feel more like I'm in a foreign country than in an American town. We've even heard the native language being spoken, which I've not come across before in any village. We're a bit out of place here as white tourists. As we have found before, people are nice, but think we're weird. I think we're weird too.

Everything we need is here. We got some non-hiking food in the small general store, washed ourselves and our clothing in the washeteria, picked up our food at the post office, and are renting Louie's extra house for the night.

Picking up our food was a bit of an adventure. The postmistress is gone, and her substitute didn't know where it was, so we had to hunt around for awhile, call various people, and finally just called the postmistress herself. I'm glad we don't have to go with stuff from the village store, though we were thinking for awhile about how we might do it.

It's always odd to walk into a new town. We knew nothing of it but a dot on the map, so we wandered for awhile, obvious strangers in the morning drizzle, waiting for everything to open. Nothing gets going before 10 or 10:30 here. I guess it stays light so late that there's no reason to wake up early in the summer.

It's raining and opaque today, for the first time on the trip. It'll be difficult leading out of here tomorrow if we can't see the mountains. Compass navigation, I expect.

I'm excited about this next leg. Instead of traversing the mountains, we'll be heading up over them, and I expect the terrain and the ecosystems to change more quickly as we move north.

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Last modified: 12/17/2003