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Photo Spot 47: Gates of the Arctic National Park – The Maidens

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The first 46 National Parks I went to were relatively easy to visit. In fact, I have always found one of the big draws of the US National Parks was how easily one can access such pristine and magnificent scenery. The last ten include some seriously remote locations. This post features what is possibly the most challenging of the 58 parks to visit. It was such an adventure that I have written a more detailed account of that Gates of the Arctic backpacking trip. At the time this was written, in 2001, there were not much published information available about the area, so I had included in the logistical details in the write-up, in the hopes that they would be useful to those planning their own adventure there. This post is a shorter introduction to this wild area.

Gates of the Arctic National Park is one of the largest protected wilderness areas of the world, four times the size of Yellowstone, almost the same size as the entire country of Switzerland.

After flying from San Francisco to Anchorage, and then Fairbanks, we caught a commuter flight into Bettles, the gateway to Gates of the Arctic National Park. As it names implies, this is the routine way to get to Bettles, since the frontier town cannot be reached by road in summer. This was clearly going to be the same for the park. From Bettles, we chartered a floatplane who dropped us off at Circle Lake, inside Gates of the Arctic National Park.

After the plane took off, my friend and I were on our own. With no trails inside the park, we had to find and earn our way, step by step, into the vast tundra. My backpack weighted close to 70lbs (30 kg), with about 25lbs of camera gear and film, nine days of food, and 28 lbs of gear to survive in the harsh conditions found above the Arctic Circle – we found one morning the tent covered with snow in August. Our objective for this trip was the Arrigetch Peaks area, a place of gothic black granite spires and pinnacles considered to be one of the most beautiful mountains inside the vast Brooks Range.

After two days of backpacking along the Arrigetch Creek, we caught our first good sight of one of the most striking group of peaks in the area, called the Maidens. They were obscured by the clouds most of the time, but the few time they revealed themselves made it all the more rewarding, as I was able to picture them reaching for the clouds above one of the most stark mountain landscapes I have seen.

Read detailed account of Gates of the Arctic trip, plus logistics details to help plan your own adventure

More images of Gates of the Arctic National Park

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