After dealing with the logistical issues of getting our gear off the island and to a more suitable base camp, we planned our first mini-expedition. Tupik Creek, a tributary of the Noatak, offered some legitimate alpine faces and what seemed like a manageable approach. That’s when we found out just what traveling in the arctic was like. Imagine a field of muffins, varying in height from six inches to two feet, with standing water between the muffins. Now imagine walking across the muffins for miles. That’s what traversing thawed tundra is like.
Then came the river crossings. I’m not sure an adjective exists that can accurately capture just how cold the rivers were. Frigid, mind-numbing cold, nauseating cold—none of these seem to really do the glacial-fed waters justice. Once we got across, all we could do was throw down our packs and try not to dry heave.
Still, we pushed on with relatively few complaints—we knew what we had signed up for. By the time we reached our second camp, we were nearly a day behind schedule, but that was okay. Our camp was right on the snow line, there were enough ramps, chutes, and couloirs to keep us entertained for weeks and we had the mid-night sun making daylight literally endless.