In any civilized place it would have been time to wind-down the day and head for bed. But being 100 miles above the Arctic Circle on the summer solstice with the sun refusing to set and the tundra shimmering with the fresh greens of spring, we had other ideas.
It had already been an adventurous day. It started slowly enough with coffee and pancakes in our camp on the banks of the Canning River. Once we had broken camp we rafted through several small rapids and had found a sunny bluff to climb for a picnic lunch. It was hot enough that animals were laying low, but we spotted a small flock of Dall sheep about half-way up the cliffs rising several thousand feet above the river. Ewes rested in the sun while the lambs frolicked perilously close to the cliff edge. Then we spend another couple hours rafting the clear waters, dodging rocks, lazily spinning in the deep pools and scanning the permafrost banks for mammoth tusks. Now camp was established, dinner over and the day’s work done, but the rich midnight sunshine energized us and inspired us to take one more walk before retiring for the “night”.
Our goal was a ridge ¾-mile from camp. The dry tundra made for good walking and we quickly gained the ridge. Of course once we got there, someone said “ I wonder what it is like on the next ridge.” So we all hiked onward feeling like time was an alien notion and that both the wilderness and the day were infinite.
Sitting atop the ridge taking in the view with our small camp at the river below, I was the first to hear the bleating. Then I heard the clatter of hooves. Caribou started to pour over the mountain behind camp descending an impossibly steep slope but never hesitating. Soon it was a great river of animals pouring over the land. Great skeins of caribou filled the valley till we lost count of their numbers.
We sat on the ridge most of the “night” watching caribou disappear into the distance. We saw wolves chasing them, saw a bear face-off with the wolves over a kill and watched the sun hover over the northern horizon. All of us grateful we were not in any civilized place.