130 Miles, 8 Days, 1 Spellbound Photographer
I awoke to the dull ache of my blistered heel, sore back, and the chilled morning air inside the tent. Once the stiffness of the night’s sleep abated, I was overcome by the weight of the silence surrounding me.
Bjorn, my travelling partner, intermittently appeared sitting outside the tent door as it flapped under the weight of a frost coating and a light breeze. Wincing between my sleep encumbered eyelids, I could just make out the sun cresting mountains freshly adorned in spring snow. In the distance a handful of deer grazed on the sedges and myriad of diminutive plants that comprised the tundra beneath their hooves, silhouetted by golden blades of grass, harbingers of the coming year’s abundant growing season and long Alaskan summer days.
At that moment, Bjorn and I were halfway through an 8-day hiking and packrafting trek through the western reaches of Kodiak Island in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. Our plan, brewed over a couple beers a few months before, was to explore a part of Alaska that has held a great deal of mystique in our lifelong Alaskan psyches. Kodiak Island, the second largest in the United States, is best known for the main quarry of our trip, the oversized subspecies of brown bear, the Kodiak bear, that is unique to its mountains and shorelines. The journey would take us 130 miles along the notoriously rough shoreline of Shelikof Strait, across river drainages and bays, paddling our packrafts through a series of lakes that end at Karluk Lake, which flows into its namesake river and the point of the start of our journey.
The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge shares many characteristics with other wilderness areas in the United States in that it is largely untrammeled. Despite the occasional indication of human presence, the hinterlands remain much as they did when the glaciers from the last ice age began their inexorable retreat into the mountains and the ancestors of the Alutiiq people settled the island some 7,000 years ago.
These places are best experienced one step, or paddle, at a time. Capturing the wilderness connects the present with a past beyond my own. It connects us all to the earth and our collective past.