Alaska Wilderness by Robert Marshall

Alaska Wilderness

Alaska Wilderness by Robert Marshall was recommended to me by a Gates of the Arctic National Park ranger while researching a trip to the Park.

She said that the Park is still so remote and unchanged that this book from the 1930s is *still* one of the best resources on the Park. It turned out to be an amazing read from an unbelievable human.

Alaska Wilderness is a collection of several essays / mini-books about trips that Bob Marshall did while living / exploring outside of the village of Wiseman, Alaska (north of the Arctic Circle at the foot of the Brooks Range.

The chapters cover –

  • The North Fork of the Koyukuk
  • The Arctic Divide
  • Mushing
  • Wintertrip into New Country
  • The Alatna and the John
  • Toward Doonerak
  • North Doonerak, Amawk, Alhamblar, and Apoon

What I Liked

The book is so unique. It is one of the world’s last true “wilderness exploration” diaries. Northern Alaska was not mapped and not surveyed as late as the 1930s. It was (and still is) home to the Gwich’in, North America’s last nomadic peoples, who only settled down in the 1950s. Bob Marshall had all the knowledge and resources of the world of the 1930s – and was able to put that to use formally & systematically exploring the Central Brook Range. Part of that knowledge was that the Central Brooks Range was truly one of the world’s last remaining wild places – and that it had to be explored & mapped in such a way as to help protect & preserve it for the future rather than simply exploit it as fast as possible.

Bob Marshall’s writing is vivid, detailed, and engaging. It is very Hemingway-esque. And I honestly have no idea how he wrote so well under the conditions that he explored in.

I really appreciated his depth & specificity of detail as a backpacker and as a reader. The National Park Ranger was correct – this is still the best resource for planning a trip to Gates of the Arctic National Park & the Brooks Range. I also hope that it stays that way. There is something useful about requiring a 1930s book for trip planning. It’s democratic, accessible, and open – there’s no crazy expensive gatekeeper guide to pay…but it’s also difficult enough to ensure a minimum level of respect among anyone who travels to the region.

What I Did Not Like

I loved the few photos and wished there were more.

Takeaways

There are some people who are just on another level physically and mentally. Bob Marshall was one of those people. I do not know how he did what he did.

There are still wild places on Earth. But they are rarer and rarer every day. And the ones that we do have only exist because of the dedicated work of local peoples and advocates fighting to show the value of wild places.

It doesn’t take long to have a massive impact on history. Bob Marshall passed away at age 38, but his work ended up helping to preserve & protect more of America than possibly anyone else in American history.

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