Hulahula River Trip

The Northern Passages blog has been silent of late due to the many diversions of an Alaskan summer.  As noted in a previous post, I am largely taking the summer off from blogging, while continuing to make occasional posts on the Northern Passages Facebook Page and other social media.

Pasted below are several Facebook posts relating to a trip I made recently on the Hulahula River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

While on this trip, the naturalists in our group identified 32 types of wildflowers and 21 bird species.  This isn’t really my thing, but it is fun to watch others who are passionate about it.  The lists are also pasted below for anyone who might be interested.

Sad news update (January 2, 2016)

Sad news out of Seattle over the New Year holiday.  Noted outdoorsman, entrepreneur and philanthropist Doug Walker died in an apparent avalanche.  Doug was one of the 8 people on the rafting and hiking trip described in this blog post.  

Doug had served on The Wilderness Society governing council since 1998 and recently served as the council chairman. He was an avid hiker and mountain climber and a year-round bicycle commuter, and an active charitable supporter of conservation and community organizations.

Here is a statement from Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society:
“The Wilderness Society sends our heartfelt condolences to the family of Doug Walker, the immediate past chair of our governing council. Doug’s work to advance charitable causes – particularly conservation, recreation and access for all to our shared public lands -  serves as testament to his commitment to making the world a better place. Doug’s passion and leadership for protecting wilderness and getting kids from all backgrounds into the outdoors is something for which many generations will be grateful.  He was an inspiring leader and a great friend. The legacy of Doug Walker will always be a part of our fight for protecting America’s parks and wild heritage and he will be sorely missed. Today we are deeply saddened by this loss.”

Doug Walker was a natural leader and a great wilderness companion who seized every day and made the most of it.  His passing is a great loss not only to his family and friends but to the broader conservation community.

Here is a link to Doug's obituary in the Seattle Times:

June 20, 2015

I am currently enjoying a cold Alaska Summer Ale on a hot afternoon along the banks of the Chena River in Fairbanks.

Tomorrow, I will meet up with a group from The Wilderness Society and then travel with them to the Brooks Range headwaters of the Hulahula River, in the heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Over the ensuing 10 days, we will raft the river out of the mountains and across the coastal plain to our take-out point near the Arctic Ocean.

Fairbanks is sweltering in the heat of the sun today. It is also preparing to celebrate the Summer Solstice with midnight sun partying tonight (Saturday) and tomorrow. I like it that folks here use "have a good solstice" as a generic greeting and farewell. They don't do that in Anchorage.

Of course, as my daughter pointed out a few years ago, the days will now be getting shorter, so what exactly are we celebrating?

I thought the linked ADN article on hours of daylight and civil twilight was illuminating (pardon the pun), interesting and relevant on this midsummer eve.

Enjoy.  And have a good solstice! 

July 3, 2015

I just got back from a 10-day trip with The Wilderness Society on the Hulahula River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, paddling from the headwaters mountains across the coastal plain.  The photo below is of the other one of our two rafts, skippered and crewed by 4 of the 5 women in our group of 8 in the far north. Mt. Chamberlin, at slightly more than 9,000 feet the tallest peak in the Brooks Range, is peering over the horizon.

[Subsequent update based on news reports in 2015, as reported in this case by  "Mount Chamberlin was long thought to be a contender for the honor of highest peak in the Brooks Range. The 1956 USGS topographic map has its elevation at 9020 feet, higher than the 1983 USGS elevation of Mount Isto 25 miles to the east. However, new accurate GPS surveys from 2014 show that Chamberlin has an elevation of only 8901 feet, making it the third highest peak in the range, 75 feet lower than Mount Isto and 16 feet lower than Mount Hubley."]

The entire length of the river has breathtaking scenery, with a wide variety of wildflowers that others in the party delighted in documenting.

Caribou were scarce on this trip, but the other expected megafauna (grizzly bears, wolf, arctic fox, Dall sheep), raptors (gyrfalcons, peregrines, golden eagles, merlins, rough-legged hawks) and numerous other bird species, also well catalogued by the birding enthusiasts in the group, were in evidence.

The Arctic Refuge is a very special part of the world, a robust and intact ecosystem, raw and primeval, worthy of being cherished and protected as a national icon of wilderness.

July 4, 2015

Arctic trips often involve chance encounters. For example, just two days ago (seems much longer!), I flew with two members of our Wilderness Society rafting party from our last campsite on the Hulahula River to a gravel airstrip known as Kavik. This was part of a complicated logistical maneuver necessitated by fog that closed the airstrip at Kaktovik, a village on Barter Island that the rest of our group was able to reach by shuttle flight from our camp.

Kavik consists of a Quonset hut where one can buy coffee and sandwiches, several ATCO trailers that serve as bunkhouses for overnight stays, and a small fueling hut for aviation gas. Like many such spots in the north, it is a crossroads where various groups intersect and mingle briefly.

On the occasion of our visit the other day, Kavik was populated by its year-round manager, Sue; a young man who appeared to be her only employee; a couple of geologists (read: oil exploration) with a helicopter; Michael Brune, the head of the Sierra Club, and a portion of his group who like us had been diverted to Kavik from a trip elsewhere in the arctic; and a German photographer and his brother and small-plane pilot.

Which leads me to the point of this little story. The photographer was Florian Schultz, who has been spending years in the circumpolar arctic, both summer and winter, making beautiful photographs and videos. He is a committed conservationist and is using his art to spread the word about the beauty, complexity and fragility of the arctic ecosystem.

I was very familiar with Florian's work, in particular with his beautiful pictures in Debbie Supple Miller's book, On Arctic Ground. Accordingly, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to chat with him for almost an hour before we were able to take off and fly to Kaktovik, where the fog had lifted.

Florian has a wonderful photographic exhibit, To the Arctic, currently on display at the Anchorage Museum. This link will take you to a gallery of some of those pictures:  click here.

Wildflowers and Bird Species


1.     Alaska Cotton

2.     Bistort

3.     Moss Campion

4.     Monkshood

5.     Alaska Poppy

6.     Bear Flower

7.     Mountain Avens

8.     Lupine Articus

9.     Fireweed

10.  Dwarf Fireweed

11.  Lapland rosebay

12.  Rock Jasmine

13.  Arctic Bell Heather

14.  Frigid shooting star

15.  Coastal paintbrush

16.  Capitate Lousewort

17.  Frigid Arnica

18.  Alpine Arnica

19.  Narrow leaf Saussurea

20.  Shrubby Cinquefoil (aka Tundra Rose)

21.  Northern Yellow Oxytrope

22.  Jacob’s Ladder

23.  Mountain Heliotrope/Valerian

24.  Labrador Tea

25.  Ladder Campion

26.  Wild Sweet Pea

27.  Wintergreen

28.  Yellow Dryas

29.  Sudeten Lousewort/Fern weed

30.  Northern Wormwood

31.  Purple Wormwood

32.  Spotted Saxifrage


1.     Peregrine falcon

2.     Parasitic Jaeger

3.     Long-tailed Jaeger

4.     Pomarine Jaeger

5.     American Golden Plover

6.     Lapland Longspur

7.     Semi-palmated Sand Piper

8.     Rough legged hawk

9.     Gulls

10.  Arctic Tern

11.  Tundra Swan

12.  Gyrfalcon

13.  Merlin

14.  Whimbrel

15.  White-crowned sparrow

16.  Savannah sparrow

17.  Long tail duck

18.  Pintail duck

19.  Common Merganser

20.  Canada geese

21.  American Robin