10 Images

Arctic rafting trip

A still life in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: nothing seemingly for miles around but a few humans and a couple of beached river rafts. Signing on with a wilderness outfitter, a group of willing adventurers had the trek of a lifetime in the remote Kongakut River Valley. (Michael Dobrin)
Who’s the fairest of them all? The setting sun is mirrored in the water as another day is done in Alaska’s Kongakut Valley. The river wanders through the remote Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and offers up the perfect locale for an exciting multiday rafting adventure. (Sarah Soroos)
The rafters encounter a choppy patch of river. The group -- four men and six women, unacquainted and geographically disparate when they met -- coalesced into a compatible and cooperative crew along the Kongakut. The adventure began in the warm, upper reaches of the Kongakut Valley and ended nearly two weeks later in the river’s delta, along the bracing Beaufort Sea. (Michael Dobrin)
Storm clouds build over the shallow Kongakut River in northern Alaska. The mountains of the Kongakut River Valley are stern and towering sentinels, reminders of one’s minuscule presence here. This vast and sometimes-austere landscape engenders a newfound sense of awareness in all who witness it. (Michael Dobrin)
With the day ending, it’s time to set up camp for the night. There was not a KOA campground anywhere in sight, however. With 19 million acres of wilderness available, just about anywhere will do. Here, a rocky, flat stretch next to the Kongakut River becomes camp in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Michael Dobrin)
Six days in on the rafting trip, trekkers have the hang of it: Row some, relax some. The cohesive paddling built muscles and good tidings. Along the way, there was even time occasionally for fishing. Grayling and char were easily snared, and quickly went into the frying pan. (Sarah Soroos)
The whale boneyard -- with the remains of bowhead whales -- lies on a spit of land along the Beaufort Sea near Kaktovik, Alaska. In the distance are barrier reefs and the Beaufort Sea ice pack. The night rafters camped nearby, a polar bear visited before padding along to the whale boneyard. (Michael Dobrin)
How green is that valley? In the case of the Kongakut, pretty green. The land may look deserted, but it’s not. The fauna are there, if you know where to look: Dall sheep on river bars, while jaegers and eagles soar above. And for a little comic relief -- Arctic ground squirrels, called sik sik by natives for their scolding tone. (Michael Dobrin)
From the air, the Kongakut River cuts through the tundra as if a ribbon of silver wound through a swath of green and brown velveteen. (Michael Dobrin)
Runway? What’s that? Bush pilot Tom Shannon brings his Cessna in for a landing where ground, water and sky meet in varying shades of gray on a stormy day. This stretch of land is called Icy Reef, an exposed, narrow gravel bar next to the Beaufort Sea on the northern reaches of Alaska. (Michael Dobrin)