Day 25 (July 30)
Peek outside at 4am, rain has stopped, dark bands of clouds define the sky with tempting pockets of blue to the north. By morning, the air is hazy and sea fog has rolled over the eastern hills. However the temperature is pleasant 15C and we depart cautiously optimistic that our last few days on the river will be clear.
Ron paddles over to inspect the three legged white marker on the opposite shore. It’s a military cache – we wonder when it was laid and who would use it – Paulutak travelers? A cold war remnant? Regardless, its usefulness is questionable as it’s empty except for the metal box surrounding and steel cable.
While waiting for Ron to catch up, we inspect the big patches of pale pink Indian paint brush on the steep bank. Gazing around, we spot two or three arctic loons, harriers, peregrines and ever present caribou. In 30 minutes, the sky goes from overcast to clear...finally some decent weather for photos – however the gentle hills in the far distance are not conducive to photography with my basic camera from water level.
With ample time for poking around, we camp at the base of desert like slopes. The land seems parched even down by the water. Dry grasses, clumps of wormwood (fragrant under crushed feet and between fingers), a few desiccated dung pellets: it’s feels more like Arizona than an arctic tundra. Sorrel with blood red arrow leaves grows low to the ground on the wind sheltered slope. It’s blowing like hell at the top yet buggy on the backside – no wonder caribou trails trace the exact ridge line. The loping flight of a short eared owl carries it across the river where it settles again among the willow bushes. The hilltops peak about 650’ with views in all directions. I can clearly see our lunch spot, 10km upstream. A thin white smear in the distance suggests either sea fog, smoking hills sulpher clouds or weather moving in.
What a treat to have such glorious weather on the final few days! Golden plovers whistle up top. We relish the sunlight and life itself. After dinner we celebrate our good fortune with hot milk, rum and honey. By 10pm a thick band of sea fog has hidden the opposite shore and a moon rises.