In April of 2020, shortly after the world had shut down and I lost my job training reindeer and guiding educational tours in Fairbanks, Alaska, a good friend of mine and I went caribou hunting for ten days in the Arctic, north of the Brooks Range. We took fourteen sled dogs and spent our days hunting caribou, playing with dogs, spotting wolves and enjoying some of the most beautiful and transcendent scenery I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in my lifetime thus far.
The story in particular I’d like to share is one of the only “Type 2” days we had.
We were incredibly lucky to have had clear weather and comfortable temperatures during most of our Arctic stay. But, one day out looking for caribou we had taken the dog teams about ten or so miles from camp and spotted a herd about 500 yards from our sleds. It was a warm day, about 20 degrees or so; and when I went off on foot after the caribou, I had to traverse a wide angle around them to try to push them towards my friend. Camouflage isn’t easy on the snow-covered tundra, and we wore white wind suits that weren’t the most breathable material. Underneath my wind suit, I wore my Duckworth Comet Tunnel Hood, Powder High Neck sweater, and WoolCloud Full Zip Jacket.
It didn’t take long before the caribou spotted me and began their charge away from us and the sleds. I began sweating profusely, but it was early in the day and I didn't think much of it since the weather was so pleasant and I’d have time to dry off when I was back at the sled. I proceeded to follow the caribou for “a while.” I can’t be sure how long or far I hiked after them, because it is awfully easy to lose awareness of time and distance in the monochrome landscape of the tundra. I had lost sight of the sleds and even the caribou at this point and began to head back.
I was slightly disgruntled because I had yet to get a shot on caribou in the seven days we had been there so far, and I could feel the air beginning to chill and become damp. Finally to my relief, I reached the sleds, though not before I had noticed the clever herd of caribou right behind me, but not in a good position to try for a shot. I swear I could hear them laughing at me.
Full of sweat, thirst, hunger and good spirits I arrived at the sleds and we headed back for camp. I had removed my wind suit and had on my sweaty Duckworth layers . I took off my Comet Tunnel Hood to give my skin some extra breathing room while the dogs took us the ten miles back to camp.
The “Type 2” really began here, when it started to rain. Here I was, cooling off, wearing sweaty clothes, standing stationary on a dog sled, in the rain and dropping temperature. I was becoming hypothermic. I proceeded to do squats, calf raises, abdominal flexing, hand shaking and drank lots of water, but we still weren’t anywhere near camp. Once we arrived at camp I could hardly feel my hands or feet, was groggy, shaking and my speech was slurred. After unhooking the dogs and getting them settled, I went into our tent and stripped. We got a fire going and I laid under blankets and sleeping bags with my dog Skunk to help warm me up. Maybe not the next best choice, but I took a nap.
All was and is well. It wasn’t a restful nap, but I woke up warm and could stretch and feel all of my sore, tired muscles. The first piece of clothing I put on was my Duckworth Vapor Tunnel Hood. I wanted something that was warm, light and breathable as I was definitely spending the rest of the night in the tent staying as dry as I could in a tent we’d spent the last 7 days in with our damp, stinky gear.
My friend managed to bring two caribou home during our time in the Arctic. It was the most incredible experience of my life and I cannot express how humbled I was during my time there. Not only by my experience walking right into hypothermia, but the vast, unforgiving, yet inviting nature of the tundra. I saw the most colorful choreography of the Northern Lights I’ve ever seen; I literally reached my hand out to touch them as they danced around us and our camp. I stood about 400 yards from an arctic wolf on my cross country skis one morning glassing for caribou. The wolf and I stood watching one another for a few minutes, then both turned our attention to the caribou herd nearby and I hope the wolves ate well that day. My dog Skunk and I got to bond more deeply in our relationship spending ten days in the wild and he and I will always appreciate that time spent together.
Being in the Arctic with sled dogs filled me with such peace and comfort; honoring the relationship of working dogs and humans is something I deeply cherish. It was also my farewell to Alaska trip, as I had decided to return home to Montana, and Alaska couldn’t have said goodbye in a more poetic and magical way. I hope to return for another trip someday, but none will ever be quite like my first Arctic hunting experience.
If you’re called to the Arctic, I recommend heeding that call. I felt so at home there; in the raw, silent, stillness and magic of a white, wild, tundra and want to thank Duckworth for always being in my gear bag. Without Duckworth, I feel as though I wouldn’t have fared quite so well on this particular trip and I am grateful for their products and dedication to their craft and all aspects of it so we can explore with confidence and humility the places that call us home.