Danielle Watson: An Over Ambitious Trip to the Gates of the Arctic National Park
So they drove north on the Dalton Highway (the “Haul Road” to the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay,) parked at a former oil pipeline construction camp near Milepost 208, hoisted backpacks and began an arduous trek toward the mountains.
The park lay over a tough pass.
“I have to say this was the most difficult park we visited,” Danielle says.
“We were prepared as far as gear, but our motivation lacked after hours of bushwhacking, tactic river crossings and hiking, and deafening mosquitoes.”
Danielle is a fisheries technician in Oregon, and Brian is first mate on an oil tanker with the merchant marines. They liked to take long trips and go on adventures in between Brian’s voyages. That summer, in 2016, they had parked their 30-foot travel trailer at a Fairbanks campground and motored up the Dalton Highway to the national park’s visitor center near Coldfoot.
Walking into the Gates seemed totally doable. It was really only a few miles.
“Right off the bat we had to cross a major river and through a mountain pass to even cross into the park boundary,” Danielle later wrote in her blog.
“Brian got a real taste of what I do as a stream surveyor by treading over loose and slippery rocks and bushwhacking up and over steep hills. He was not a fan. Have I mentioned how bad the bugs were here? Oh, well they were about the worst I've ever experienced. No relief whatsoever.”
Once their backwoods app located them within the boundary, they made camp on a ridge overlooking Kaaruk Lake. Brian went to bed while Danielle sat outside writing in her journal and sipping boxed red wine. She captured the shot of the wild valley with her waterproof point-and-shoot camera. The temperature plunged when the sun dropped behind the ridge.
They hiked back out the next day, she says. “Truthfully, we were over ambitious with the idea of how much we could explore by cutting our own track in the backcountry, but we had to try.”
After more adventures, including some in Alaska, the couple recently split up, Danielle says, “in an amicable and gentle way.” She remembers the Gates leg of their quest to visit national parks as “our happiest and maybe most adventuresome.”
Danielle is now the leader of a project tagging Chinook salmon in Tillamook Bay, Oregon.
“I have given Alaska a break and will return when my hunger gets strong for it again,” she says. “It is always an adventure, and I look forward to the next time I return.”