Gates of the Arctic: Adventures in Northern Alaska

Sled dog racing is popular in Alaska.
Sled dogs race through the boreal forest near Bettles, Alaska.

The steady thrum of the Cessna 206 engine is drowned out by a crackle of static, followed by an enthusiastic voice over my green headphones.“Now thisis Alaska!” enthuses our pilot, Tyler Klaes.Below, jagged pinnacles and spires look as if a giant chef has whipped a bowl of cream into stiff, frothy peaks. The endless variations of pitched angles and triangular blue-gray shadows, combined with the banking of the plane, gives me the sensation of looking through an immense, horizon-to-horizon kaleidoscope.We’re flying over the 7,000-foot-high (2,134 m) Arrigetch Peaks, the most awe-inspiring array of upthrust summits in the 8.4 million-acre (33,994 km²) Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, in Alaska’s Brooks Range.

To my left, frozen waterfalls cascade down the shady side of an immense block of snow-dusted granite. We draw closer, and then pass into the shadow of the monolith. “This one is called Xanadu,” Tyler says. Just beyond, a ridge shaped like a giant, uprooted tree stump reaches skyward. Another peak spirals gracefully inward like a nautilus, with shell-thin edges.

From these jumbled crags flow numerous tributaries of four major rivers: the Colville, which flows north to the Arctic, the Noatak and the Kobuk, which course west to the Chukchi Sea, and the Koyukuk, flowing south to the Yukon.

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