The ANWR, according to the local vernacular, is the largest reserve of its kind in the US, covering most of the Brooks Range from the Canadian border to the Trans Alaska pipeline on Dalton Highway. It is a bit bigger than Ireland, a bit smaller than Austria or about the size of Maine or South Carolina, take your pick. In this huge area there is no habitation, no roads, no trails and no bridges. Most of the water-ways and the mountains have no names. From where I was standing it was about 65 miles, as the crow flies, to the nearest Native settlement, Arctic Village. The ANWR is one of the few places left where you are likely to find spots where no other human has ever set foot.
So, what was a lone Swede doing in these parts? The answer is simple, and perhaps the only one really worthwhile, when it comes to the important things in life: Living a dream. Harder to answer is perhaps another question: Where does a dream start?
It is probably easier for most of us to say when a dream starts. For me, this particular dream began when I was 11-12 years old and it was the dream of travelling alone through a pristine wilderness, where you could hike for weeks without seeing any trace of man.
So that was when, but where did this boyhood dream have its roots. My own family roots were going back hundreds of years as farmers in southern Sweden. My parents left this and moved into a small town. None of them were into camping or visiting the natural world, except that they had grown up in it, simply because that is the way it was when you grew up on a farm nearly a hundred years ago.
I suppose the answer of where is the same as for many other people, who have lifted their eyes from their immediate surroundings and gazed towards the horizon; books. That magic and blessing of the written word that has showed so many people, for so many centuries and in so many different cultures, that there is another, wider world out there; be it just around the corner or on the far side of the moon.
My inspiration came from books of the far north, of Canada and Alaska. Jack London was of course one author, but there was also a number of Scandinavians that went to the Klondike goldfields or just trapped and hunted for years in the farthest north of North America. Some of them returned to their home countries and wrote books, more or less truthfully and more or less well, about their adventures.
My grandfather's farm was my outdoor adventure playground for most of summer when I was a kid. Later, I took to the woods around my home town with my best friend, spending weekends camping, building lean-tos and fires and dreaming of the day when I would be prepared for the real wilderness.
So I had become a backpacker in my early teens, by my late teens by lack of companions a solo backpacker, and pretty soon after that by preference a solo backpacker. I had discovered that finding my own way across country was even more stimulating than trail-walking. In the early years of this millennia I discovered lightweight backpacking and now have a handful of books in Swedish and English about lightweight backpacking to my name, most prominently the Smarter Backpacking series. I could no longer seriously claim that I needed more strength or skills or courage to live this particular boyhood dream of the boundless wilderness trek.
Travelling down the tunnel of years, and noticing that the image greeting you in the mirror every morning gets increasingly grizzled, there comes a moment when you realize you had better live your dreams before the last withdrawal from your spending account.
The Brooks Range emerged as the ultimate pot-of-gold hike at the end of my personal rainbow of dreams from the mid 70's, when as a young and newly landed immigrant in Canada I had been but a hair's breadth away from going up and taking part in the building of the pipeline across Alaska.
- The dream of a huge, true wilderness
- Picking a route through the ANWR
- First taste of a serious pass
- Through the gates of Mordor
- A very serious pass
- Steep, really steep
- Wrong river
- Up the creek without a pack
- Resupplying and rerouting
- Tussocks and thoughts
- End of summer
- Snow walker
- The last ford
- The last night
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