26-May-2008 -- We live in northwest Alaska and looked for degree confluences in our area when we first learned about this project. Each spring our family spends time in the Brooks Range on the upper Kobuk River where summer arrives a few weeks earlier than on the chilly, ice-bound coast. We noticed an unvisited degree confluence that looked accessible by foot from one of our favorite Kobuk River tributaries. (Because there are no roads in this part of Alaska, we travel by boat in summer.)
My husband, my two teenage sons, and I set off in our 18’ riverboat on the morning of May 26, 2008. We traveled upriver for a little more than an hour from where we were staying, then set up camp on a sandbar not far from where we would begin walking. Our GPS showed that the degree confluence was a little less than 2 miles from the river’s edge on the side of a forested mountain.
At about 6:15 in the evening, we drove our boat around a bend in the river, anchored it near a cut bank, then set off walking. The arctic in late May has no darkness, so we were not constrained by that. We first hiked through tundra tussocks, then up hills of spruce and birch with lichens and moss as the understory. The climb was steep, and we soon had beautiful views of the river valley below with the mountain peaks obscured by clouds. We crossed willow and alder draws and small creeks, topped a ridge, and started sidehilling towards the confluence. The forest was not terribly thick, but the walking was still slow with occasional thickets of willows and alders, downed trees, and rocky outcrops. We were covering about 1 mile per hour.
The temperature was in the upper 30s during our hike with intermittent rain showers that turned to wet snow in the last ¼ mile to the confluence. We pushed on, finally reaching the confluence near 8:30 pm by which time we were getting wet, cold, and tired of bushwhacking on a mountain hillside. We had walked 2.38 miles and had climbed 1,080 feet in a little more than two hours (the starting point on the river was 288 feet; the confluence was 1,368 feet). Not bad for a before-dinner hike in the arctic. We took the required photos, although the view wasn’t much given the low clouds and snow.
My younger son suggested that we try to reach the ridgeline for the return trip to avoid sidehilling. We followed his suggestion, and soon we were climbing again towards what we hoped would be an easier route home. We startled a black bear along the way, which in turn startled us by bounding to within 10 feet of us. It stopped and looked at us, undecided as to what to do. I thought for sure it would be on us in another moment, but with sufficient shouting and waving on our part, the bear ran off a short distance, then stopped. My husband encouraged it to continue on its way by shooting a 12-gauge shotgun slug in its direction. The encounter happened very quickly and unexpectedly, instantly warming us as the adrenaline pumped through our systems.
The return trip on the ridgeline was much easier and more pleasant, even if somewhat longer. We arrived back at the boat around 11 pm, having covered 5.11 miles RT. In addition to the black bear, we saw two squirrels and three spruce grouse, including one that we flushed off a nest of 8 eggs.
Two days later we took another hike in the vicinity, climbing the next ridge to the south of the confluence. We took a photo of the confluence site from this ridge, which gives a nice perspective of where it is situated.