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I fell asleep as our dinner bear slowly ambled downstream, still close, but sufficiently fed and uninterested in us. Morning brought us to a tributary basin straight out of Hobbitt-land. Towering snow draped peaks reflected in meltwater ponds, and a small river raced down the middle of the scene.
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It was early afternoon by the time we crested the Brooks Range, and caught our first glimpse of the Kukpowruk. The view was instantly disheartening. The river emerged from a gully of snow, only to cut a slot canyon beneath the whiteness. It was mostly runnable, but there was no escape from the cleft, and the occasional death-sieve lurked. Our walk continued.
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The change in environment on the north side of the Brooks Range was immediately apparent. Hills were rounder. Strange swooping birds were prevalent. A cold Arctic breeze blew past whenever we stopped at creek confluences.
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We were wearing down. Plunging through rotten snowfields, our shoulders were screaming for relief from the packs. At last we saw no death traps ahead on the river, and we put in. The joy of floating was as real as I’ve ever felt it. We zoomed past scenery that was previously gained only with step after agonizing step, and we watched the river grow from 300 cfs to 1300 cfs in just six miles. Buoyed by the realization of a runnable river, we floated until 9 pm before making camp.

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