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  • Ken Ilgunas

Hike on the continental divide

I recently went on a two-day hike with my friend Sarah on the North Slope of the Brooks Range, about 30 miles north of the northernmost tree. It amazes me how such a desolate, barren, and empty place can still be appetizing for the eyes. You’d think that an endless vista of 7,000-foot rock piles–bearing only the most resilient patches of moss and lichen–would produce sensations of disgust and repulsion. But oh no. While the wavy green grass of a well-cared-for pasture entices us with fertility, and the jungle, biodiversity, the desolation of the Brooks bedazzles us with a different kind of beauty; the kind that–through awe and wonder–sets our imaginations astir.

We drove up the Dalton Highway in a truck my friend Chad lent us, before parking atop Atigun Pass–which is a mountain pass that’s also along the continental divide. (If a water droplet split on the pass, half of it would head north to the Arctic Ocean, while the other half would wiggle south to the Yukon River before being poured into the Pacific.)

We came across a grizzly crossing the road near a place called Chandalar Shelf. It walked into the grass and began scraping off layers of tundra either with hopes of pulling out an edible root or a ground squirrel to snack on.

The mountains we climbed were around 6,500 feet, though we started at a relatively high base: something like 4,500 feet. From the picture below, you can see the Dalton Highway snaking across the valley.

A band of Dall sheep choose to inspect us from above. The stared at us curiously and motionlessly. They seem to have rather stoic dispositions, despite their keen curiosities.

On the trip back, I slipped on some ice and fell into a small creek. For the rest of the way back, I had a small stone stuck in my finger, which I didn’t want to pull out until I had my first aid kit supplies at hand. (Finger was fine.) Much to my disappointment, though, my camera, which was in my back pocket, has been severely damaged, so I regret to say that my pictures will be severely reduced in quality until I buy a new one. (Which is atop my materialist desire list.)


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