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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Being Caribou: 350 Miles On Skis

We follow a giant, endangered caribou herd from the Yukon to Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Part 2.

by: Karsten Heuer

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(Photo: Karsten Heuer/Leanne Allison)

Thousands of caribou migrate to their calving grounds in Alaska.

This is second report flown in from the expedition. Karsten Heuer and Leanne Allison started their expedition in the Porcupine Caribou Herd's wintering range near Old Crow, Yukon on April 8, and hope to travel with members of the 123,000-strong herd to their endangered calving grounds in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and back again.

The purpose of the 2,000-kilometer journey by ski and foot is to understand what's at stake in the decades-old debate over whether or not to open up the herd's calving grounds to oil and gas development.

The Arctic - After six weeks and 350 miles of skiing across remote mountain ranges, past wolf packs, hungry grizzly bears, through blizzards, and icy rivers, Karsten Heuer and his wife, Leanne Allison, have reached the endangered calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. Just in time too: Thousands of pregnant cows are now giving birth to calves.

"What these animals have led us through over the past six weeks is more than amazing," said Allison, who will produce a documentary about their journey. "We've forded rivers with floating ice, skied across razor-thin mountain ridges, kicked steps down avalanche slopes, braved ground blizzards, traveled with and were stalked by one of the many grizzly bears shadowing the herd."

"I'm not sure what we will find in the heart of their calving grounds, but it's got to be pretty special," said Heuer, a wildlife biologist and park ranger on leave from his job to do the trip. "Why else would they go through all this?"

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