Advice To One Traveling to the Far North
To get there you will travel by aircraft. Jets at first, then progressively smaller planes, until you sit crammed into the worn leather seats of a tiny Cessna 185. Your head will ache and your stomach will turn queasy. Your flights will be delayed or canceled. The weather will determine your schedule. You will spend hours looking at runways. Have a book to read. Expect things to go wrong. They will, but in ways you do not expect. When possible, enjoy the view out the window, a rare and wondrous vantage.
You must pack light, but not too light. Weigh your priorities and try to envision the range of needs that could arise. It could be sunny. It could be snowing. You could catch tons of fish or none at all. You may have to spend extra days in the bush. Know that you will get wet. If not immediately upon arrival, then soon enough. Plastic bags. Have plenty of them. You will understand why when you get there.
Some take weapons. Where you are going there are plenty of reasons to have one. They are called grizzly bears. They come in many sizes, shapes, and colors. All of them can shred you to tatters in seconds. Most of them will want to avoid you. Let them. Make noise in places where your vision is limited. Loud voices work best although it takes time to get used to hollering like a madman. If you should encounter a bear, be calm. Never run, for to do so makes you prey. You cannot outrun a bear. As an alternative to a gun, I carry pepper spray. A grizzly hunter once told me "it's only good on fish and sheep meat." It is useless when the wind is strong but it is more reassuring than nothing.
Your days will be full of hard walking. There are no trails except intermittent paths worn by game. The ground is beautiful—an undulating carpet of mosses, lichens, delicate leaves and berries—but it is murder to walk on, unstable and uneven, riddled with hidden rills and murky bogs. You will occasionally fall down. It cannot be helped. It is the way of the tussock. Miles are made with great difficulty. You must have patience. Occasionally, you will have to ford a swollen river. Move slowly, but not too slowly, for the water is frigid. Too long in it and you will begin to lose feeling in your legs. If you should fall in, you have only minutes before hypothermia commences. Do not fall in.
Rain is likely. You will curse it under your breath. You will curse it out loud. Learn to live with it for you cannot make it go away. Long periods of precipitation can wear you down. Keep up your caloric intake. Find beauty in your misery. When you are finally inside your tent, listen to the rain fall. It makes a sound like fire.
There are very few good campsites to be had. The country is huge and magnificent and thoroughly untrammeled, but flat, hard ground is difficult to come by. Be adaptable, be merry. Campsites always get better once you have been there a while. After you set up your tent, fix yourself an Arctic martini—a shot of Bombay Gin with a handful of wild blueberries. Study the sky, it is always changing. Study the land, it changes with the light. Caribou move like ghosts across the glowing tundra. Dall sheep skitter over the coal-black crags high above. A grizzly sow and her cubs ramble up a distant hillside. These things will haunt you. Sleep will come easily, for you will be exhausted at day’s end. It will still be light when you crawl into your sleeping bag. If you awaken in the night, listen closely for wolves. They have their own advice to give.