Wild Wild River

A text from Sven asking me if I want to fly to Bettles for an overnight visit with Angela sees me prepping for a quick trip and buying a handful of groceries for Angela and I before meeting Sven at the East Ramp of the airport, and after fueling the 1969 Citabria, we are airborne and within a short time, crossing the massive Yukon River enroute to Bettles. After a bit, the monumental Brooks Range becomes visible stretching from one extreme horizon to the other, showcasing but a fraction of this massive range of peaks, rivers, lakes, and valleys. With a seemingly endless supply of these things and stretching from the British Mountains in Northwest Territories Canada all the way to the Bering Sea, the Brooks is one of the biggest and wildest mountain regions on the planet. Ever since reading about the Brooks Range in an old National Geographic at age ten or so, the Brooks has since been etched into my mind as the last true bastion of Alaskan wilderness and without a doubt, the scenery it exhibits is to my eyes the quintessential Alaska landscape.

After a night in Bettles, I accompany Angela to her job at the Bettles Weather Watch station at the airstrip. Sven stops in and after some conversation, he and I embark to handle some chores at his place, followed by jumping in his plane and flying into the Brooks Range ever so visible just north of town.

After crossing the Koyukuk River, we fly to the east of Mt Gilroy and into the Wild River Valley, where off in the distance we can see the southern tip of the incredible Wild Lake. We veer off to the right and into a valley containing Flat Creek, where we land on a remote privately owned airstrip where there are several remote cabins. We hop out of the plane and immediately see a long set of Grizzly tracks traversing the muddy gravel of the airstrip. After a short walk to inspect a cabin or two, we ‘re back the air, followed by a cruise back up the Wild River and across the still frozen Wild Lake. After spiraling upward to gain altitude, we cross over Seward Pass and descend into the Allen River region; Sven claiming it his favorite region in the southern Brooks Range, We fly down low along the river and over a canyon in which the river has cut deep walls and contains a twisting set of beckoning rapids; I cannot help myself to wonder if this magnificent river has ever been paddled.

Further down valley, we land on yet another remote and privately owned airstrip and set of cabins. This place is simply incredible, with a large airstrip, grassy meadows, sand several extremely nice, well stocked cabins – all right near the confluence of Crevice Creek and the Allen and John Rivers. Years back, this was a thriving remote guiding operation that had horses and a hay field and was considered the northernmost farm in North America. When the Gates of the Arctic National Park was established, the federal jurisdiction encroached upon the realm of the operation, and they slowly went out of business. Sven still uses this place as one of many stop overs on his multi-day guided dog mushing adventures with his company Arctic Winter Adventures.

After a lengthy look around, we are back in the air, crossing back over the Koyukuk, and into Bettles we land.