(Editor’s Note: This is the first story is a series that explores the coolest trips we can think of, the kind you save up for and scheme to make a reality. We’ll release a new one at the beginning of each month. Stay tuned for stories from Japan, Greece, and more.)
The idea for the trip was simple: follow a snowflake’s journey from high atop a mountain peak all of the way to the ocean. The execution, however, was another story. Finding a mountain range with accessible peaks to ski, a river tame enough to float, and the ocean close enough to make it all feasible was no easy task. After scanning the globe, Alaska’s Brooks Range, above the Arctic Circle, seemed to be the best candidate. The central Brooks had snow-capped peaks and the Noatak River that would carry us 425 miles through untamed wilderness to the ocean. On paper it looked great, but there’s far more to an adventure than an idea, a place, and a process. We would be making first descents, floating a river that was thawing, and surviving for nearly a month in one of the most uninhabited places in the country.
We dubbed the skiing/rafting/bear-fighting mission “Operation Stupid,” because, at first glance it looks like a monumental, if not unrealistic, undertaking. Once we began to break it up, our trip as hitchhikers on earth’s circulatory system became much more feasible. After establishing base camp, we’d spend the first 15 days of the trip skiing, making three or four mini-expeditions into various zones at the headwaters. Then, we’d hit the river leaving time for another ski expedition, should we see something skiable. From there we’d focus on the 425 river-miles to the ocean. The six-mile open water crossing from the delta of the Noatak to the town of Kotzebue would serve as the exclamation point on our adventure.