American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Brooks Range, Brookes Range, First Complete Traverse

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002

Brooks Range, first complete traverse. In September of 2001 I completed the first crossing of the North American Brooks Range, from Point Hope to the Mackenzie River. This crossing required many expeditions over a number of years. Viewed from Point Hope in the west, the route proceeds to the source of the Ipswik, across the Wulik Peaks and the Delong Mountains to the source of the Kugururok. It continues along the Kugururok to the Noatak and than through the Noatak basin to Portage Pass and the upper Alatna. It then reaches across the Killik Basin to the Okomilaga, Chandler Lake, and Anuktuvuk Pass (by way of Kollutuk). I had lived in Anaktuvuk Pass in my teens and it was here that I first conceived of the project to comprehensively explore the entire range. In those days, hunting caribou and traveling by dog sled, I traveled as far as the Killik in the west and the Itkillik in the east. I made the first historical winter ascents in February of 1966, and two years later began a series of summer mountaineering expeditions that spread eventually throughout the entire range and into Canada. Countless peaks were climbed, passes crossed, and icefields explored. It was an orgy of mountain exploration that I thought was perhaps historically obtrusive. Like many mountaineers of that time I was desperately trying to touch something that no other human being had touched. And whereever I went there was always someone not far behind me.

In the 1980s and 1990s a good deal of time was spent in the Franklin and Romanzof icefields, climbing the most appealing of the ice peaks. Much of the eastern half of the route across the entire range was accomplished in this period. Looking east from Anaktuvuk Pass the route continues into the Anaktiktok Basin and through the Nanushuk, Itkillik, and Atigun Basins. It then proceeds up Accomplishment Creek over the summit lake, down the Ribdon headwaters to the upper Wind River and down the Ivishak. From here a pioneering descent of the Echooka was made with Deirdre Hammond. But the main route east follows the upper Canning and crosses the icefields of the upper Jago to find the most northerly point on the American Continental Divide (1991). The route goes south of the Continental Divide here into the upper Sheenjek at the fork of the great arch. A pass into the upper Kongakut leads to a region of limestone river tunnels. The lower Kongakut turns to Pagilak Creek and the Yukon border. The softer contours of the British Mountains then loom along the Malcolm River to Sheep Creek and the Firth River. We crossed from the Firth to the Babbage in 2000.

In September of 2001 the final expedition crossed the Barn Range through the canyons of Fish Hole Creek and a succession of passes to the Blow River at the very end of the mountains. Geologically, this point is the eastern edge of the Brooks Range. We ended at Bonnet Lake. The Richardson Mountains beyond had been crossed from the Mackenzie in 1999. A great deal of knowledge was acquired in the course of these expeditions in fields ranging from linguistics to natural history and geography. Many persons contributed to our success. I feel compelled to mention most especially Rebecca LeCheminant, Ruthmary Deuel, Craig Deutche, Patrick

Colgan, Walter Rogers, Paul Lencioni, Peter Balwin, Ed Hartley, Deirdre Hammond, John Morry, Olive Morry, John Hugo, and Pat and Clem Rawert.

Dennis Schmitt

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