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October 24, 2017

Employee Trip Profile - Molly Harrison & Crew Explore the Brooks Range by Raft

Adventure Stories, Photo Gallery

This summer, Alpacka Raft Customer Service Rep Molly Harrison and four close friends trekked 160 miles through the Brooks Range

“There is still wild country left to explore, and we saw the tiniest piece of it up in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

Our trip began with a tape deck, 90s tunes, and five friends stuffed into a Subaru as we drove north from Fairbanks. After a fourteen hour hitchhiking ordeal, we began our overland hike through the Ribdon River Valley, where any thoughts of car rides were soon forgotten. We slogged through low-land marshy bogs with hordes of gnats, hopped to and fro on tussocks, and crashed through willows with heavy backpacks- but mostly we were able to make good time strolling over smooth river cobbles and the rolling hills of the Arctic tundra. Here Tommy uses his packraft to hide out from the rain and bugs to little success, but thankfully both nuisances held off for the rest of the trip!

Photo of gear explosion by Tyler Marlow

Left to Right: Tyler, Molly, Karsten, Tommy and Will

Spending time in the far northern reaches of Alaska was my first experience in the land of the midnight sun- which never fully set, meaning we had a complete 24 hours of daylight. Golden light blanketed the surrounding mountains as a rainbow arced through the sky over our first night's camp at 11:30pm as we went to bed, and we were able to sleep and wake at any point in the day as our daytime travel was unlimited. On this morning on the Ivishak we woke to socked-in mountains, a grey sky with low visibility of our surrounding peaks, and a strong headwind. I planned for a slightly miserable day on the water, which quickly turned into one of the most scenic experiences I’ve had in the backcountry. Photo by Tyler Marlow. 

Photo by Will Govus

The wildlife in the Arctic is truly wild. Walking along the sandy shores of the river braids showed the prints of the many animals that inhabit the tundra: caribou tracks and sheds littered the valley, as did wolf prints and the giant paws of grizzlies. Our little boats were the perfect transportation to spot wildlife, as our travel was silent and we were able to scan the horizon far out in front of us. Some highlights of our sightings included: paddling alongside arctic char, floating directly beside two huge muskoxen on the water, spotting a black wolf running up a steep hillside, and seeing three large grizzlies all in one day, which left me absolutely awe-struck. Photo by Will Govus

Tyler walking with the ice aufs by Karsten Foerster

Tyler and Karsten paddling. We put on the river very close to the headwaters of the Ivishak, allowing us to paddle over 100 miles on the clearest blue water imaginable. In fact, it was often hard to determine how deep the water truly was, because the rocks and fish below looked so crystal clear. It is amazing what packrafts allow us to do in the backcountry- easily floating in just inches of water and cruising the miles down valley. Photo by Will Govus

Group holding up caribou sheds. Photo by Tyler Marlow

Photo by Molly Harrison.

Tommy blowing up boat with my boat empty in foreground. When we first began to plan and I made my packing list, I felt like I was bringing an obsessive amount of gear. To me, summer usually means splashing in water to cool down, and wearing shorts and a t-shirt to feel the sun on your skin. Why would I be bringing wool layers, neoprene socks, and a dry suit anywhere in August? While the daytime temperatures were sunny and warm on our trip, I learned how invaluable a dry suit really is in Alaska. The water that drains into the Arctic ocean is cold, even on the warmest days, and sitting in a boat for more than ten hours a day became numbingly chilly. Carrying a heavier pack and being prepared made all the difference for our enjoyment of the trip. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I had decided to leave behind my warm gear to pack lighter! Photo by Molly Harrison

Will paddling. The upper stretches of the Ivishak appear to be untouched by man. As we paddled by steep cliffsides and peaks, camped on rocky shores, and ate blueberries by the handful it felt like we were the first people discovering this landscape. But even in this unmarked scenery, it was hard to ignore the fact that the way we accessed the Brooks Range was via the Dalton Highway, created to maintain the oil pipeline running from Prudhoe Bay. While we were grateful for the ease of access to this beautiful area, we know that it comes at the cost of potential further expansion into the northern reaches of the ANWR- and we deeply hope that this entire area remains preserved as one of the nation’s last true wildernesses. Photo by Molly Harrison

My first backcountry trip in Alaska has left me feeling beyond spoiled- our group often joked about how this experience was going to ruin us for any other trip because the bar was set too high. Perfect weather, pristine waterways, safe and exciting bear encounters, the most beautiful scenery, avoiding the famous Alaskan mosquitos, and spending time with some of our best friends, what could ever beat that? This trip spurred many grand plans and big dreams, and we cannot wait to return. Photo by Will Govus. 

Photo by Karsten Foerster.