It was a sharp 3 degrees Celsius when we arrived at the Gwich'in Helicopters hanger in Inuvik, on route to Black Mountain for a day of hiking and watching sheep with the staff of the Gwich'in Renewable Resources Board (GRRB). Chigwaazraii, otherwise known as Black Mountain, is a special mountain area in the Northern Richardsons and is part of the Ehdiitat Cultural Landscape. The closest community to this sacred mountain is Aklavik and despite the complete lack of road access, the area continues to be used by Gwich'in and Inuvialuit people.
It isn't far from Aklavik that the colours of the Richardson Mountains begin to bleed like water colour paints into the delta. Right now, the pallet is transitioning from deep green to the rich ambers, reds, and yellows that signal the coming of fall. As we began circling Black Mountain for a safe place to land and set up a little basecamp for the day, we came across a group of ~26 Dall's sheep and watched them scurry across a rugged side slope. We ended up being treated with views of sheep all day in all directions you could see. To the east, your eyes drew out across the delta and to the west, a gradient of rolling mountains transitioned to sharp, snow capped rocky peaks in the far distance.
The rest of the group had taken a scheduled fixed wing flight from Inuvik to Aklavik in the morning and waited patiently for the helicopter to ferry them up to join us. After the whole staff group was present, including a bear monitor for the day, I took some group photos and packed up my camera gear, heading out to traverse a nearby ridge. About 1km away from the base camp was one the cameras deployed for my MSc project. This camera was scheduled to be replaced on our survey yesterday but due to bad flying weather we weren't able to make it (read about it here), so Steve and I broke from the group to hike in and perform the swap. After months of viewing the camera data from my computer and memorizing each camera's beautiful backdrop, it was so special and exciting to see it all on the ground for myself. Within an hour, we rejoined the group and enjoyed the picnic lunch as rain and fog began to cloud in around us. The helicopter began working on the multiple trips required to get everyone off the mountain - which I want to add was operated by real-life badass Ruth, my first ever female heli pilot!
As the helicopter chartered back and forth from Aklavik, our group thinned and I took advantage of the quiet to find a little draw in the slope, padded generously with bryophytes to lay in. A misty rain speckled the exposed skin on my face and the fresh old smell of the rocks and plants came to life in the damp air. In this quiet moment, I was able reflect deeply on the events in my life leading to this moment and how I want to continue pursing these meaningful experiences as a lifestyle.
There is something so humbling about being physically present on this landscape. I think this feeling is born from a deep respect for the land and all the Gwich'in and Inuvialuit people who have treaded this area so lightly for countless generations, leaving the range in a pristine and truly wild state for future generations to explore. I am grateful beyond my own articulation for this land, these people, and this day.