American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Traverse of the Brooks Range from Kaktovik to Kotzebue

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1987

Traverse of the Brooks Range from Kaktovik to Kotzebue. On March 25 with 100-pound loads, Chuck Comstock on Nordic racing skis and I left Rokotvik, Barter Island, Alaska and headed west across sea ice. Our bottle of 80-proof whiskey froze the first night out. We then crossed the North Slope to the base of Mount Chamberlain. A ground blizzard and tight schedule foiled our attempt on that peak. We followed Carnivore Creek south and then crossed a 4500-foot pass over to Franklin Creek. We broke miserable trail to Canning River and then skied 30 miles upstream in one day on the Marsh Fork of the Canning. We skied over a low pass at Porcupine Lake into the Ivishak drainage, where I broke both skis, started a tent fire and tasted death at -65° F. By splinting both skis with a spare racing ski and aluminum ski pole cut up, we were able to continue. While crossing into the Ribdon River valley, I set off a slab avalanche above me. Other misadventures included perpetual sub-zero temperatures, 20 miles of overflow, a collapsing snow bridge in the dark while postholing in the Ribdon and wet feet at -20°. We made it to the Pipeline Haul Road after 17 days of skiing, having covered 250 miles and suffering no frostbite whatsoever. In July, my wife Peggy and I returned to the Pipeline Haul Road and hiked west up Trembely Creek over Falsoola and Kinnorutin Passes in two days. On the third, I soloed the south ridge of Doonerak in 45 minutes and spent two hours in 80° sunshine on the summit. On my way back to camp, I traversed P 6400, east of Doonerak. Finding no cairn, I assume it is a first ascent. Peggy and I then followed Amawk Creek to the North Fork of the Koyukuk, which we floated in a Sherpa raft to Ernie Creek. We crossed the Ernie Peak Pass and floated the Anaktuvuk River to near Anaktuvuk Pass. It took us another week to walk and float to the Arrigetch from Anaktuvuk. My wife, who was pregnant, hitchhiked a plane ride back to Battles from Takahula Lake. I continued on to the Arrigetch peaks, where I traversed Ariel, climbed the first spire west of Elephant’s Tooth and the second spire west. Having made these easy fifth-class climbs in the rain, I felt confident to attempt Wichman Tower under storm conditions. Verglas and rime stopped me 50 feet below the summit ridge. An anchor pulled on my second retreat rappel, but I caught myself with an arm around a rock horn. I left the Arrigetch over Escape Col between Ariel and Xanadu, hiked through the Little Arrigetch and finally reached Twelve Mile Creek on the Noatak River, four weeks and 350 miles after leaving the Haul Road. I paddled to Kotzebue down the Noatak River in a two-man Klepper kayak solo in ten days. In all, I covered 1000 miles in 60 days, making the first east-west traverse within the Brooks Range.

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