After 23 hours, and 44 miles, we've reached Anaktuvuk Pass.
En route, we crossed the Continental Divide twice, struggled through the worst five miles of the trip, and stopped to take off our packs only five times.
The third time we stopped, we built a little fire, at 4 am on July 2. We took a "French adventure racer's break", removing our shoes, brewing tea, and making cream of wheat. It was a refreshing stop. We'd come about 24 miles in 12 hours, stumbling through flooded willows and struggling through a variety of willows, tussocks, and talus for the last four hours and making only five miles of progress during that time.
We'd given up caribou trails for a more direct line, but the line was slow.
After our two hour break, I was passing through birch brush and rocks, when I heard a "Squeak!" - and then again - "Squeak! Squeak!" - the squeak of persistence.
Expecting a rodent, I looked down to see two small vermin kits - little baby weasels. They were curious, so a pursed my lips, and squeaked back with a smooching sound. They coaxed their bodies out of their hole - milk chocolate on the top of their bodies and yellow custard on the bottom. Cute little creatures, they had short tails, short ears, and even furry little feet. They were very curious - darting around, only a yard or two from our feet. We guessed they must be young because they were so curious, and cute. We squeaked, they squeaked, and they darted in and out for at least five minutes while we talked with them. It was a great experience.
We moved on, climbing higher in search of good ground. Our super light and minimalist gear, and perhaps two days of food, let us move quickly, and at will. Jason commented, "These packs are so light, they're like nothing at all. Except, maybe a windbreak for our backs." And, he's right.
From a higher vantage, I looked ahead, and my spirits sagged. No end in sight of this horrible combination of brush, water, tussocks, and rocks. Then, looking down, I saw a linear feature that could only be one thing - an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) trail. We descended and found it, leading 20 miles to Anaktuvuk Pass. It was a veritable "tussock-tamer" and we made the distance in seven and a half hours.
Now, at Anaktuvuk Pass, a village of perhaps 250 mountain Eskimos, and others, we take stock of our situation.
We are four days behind our original schedule. Jason has prior commitments to keep, and because we are late, he must leave from here. He's also out of lunch food. He has breakfast, for two people, for one day. I have dinner for two for one day, and two days' lunch remaining. We decide to split the dinners and lunch, and Jason will fly out tomorrow, back to Anchorage. Meanwhile, I will push on.
My feet are sore, but the infections, which I've treated with antibiotic ointment and nightly scrubbings, have seemed to curtailed somewhat. So I plan to finish the final 70 miles to the Dalton Highway (Haul Road), giving me an even 600 mile trek, in perhaps three weeks, and three days' time.
We'll see, and I'll keep you posted.
- Roman Dial