The Engineer, His Camera and an Alaskan Love Affair: Part Two

Posted by: Stéphane Terrier on 5/31/15 2:00 AM

In this post, NOLS student Stéphane Terrier continues to tell the story of his Brooks Range Backpacking and River course through his camera. He gives us a glimpse of the small victories, like cooking a good meal; the surprises, like seeing a caribou swim a river; and the hard work that are a part of every NOLS expedition.

At the end of the ten-day hiking section, we traded our backpacks for large drybags at Lake Pingo. Two floatplanes brought us all the canoeing equipment and the food for the twenty-five remaining days.

float plane

Paddling down the Noatak River. At the beginning, everyone made a couple full circles on the river before figuring out how to steer a canoe.

Clear skies

We had a briefing every morning before starting to paddle. This particular morning, it was the first time in 18 days that we had clear blue sky. It felt amazing.


Emotions aren’t easily conveyable in photos, but this one reminds me every time of the serenity and peacefulness of living a simple life in this grand landscape.


Finishing loading the canoes in the morning. We started the course with the midnight sun, but lost in average about 10 minutes of sunlight every day.

Loading the canoes

The confluence of the clear Cutler and the muddy Noatak rivers.

Confluence of Cutler and Noatak Rivers

Breaks are always moments to play games, talk or simply have fun.

Having fun

Beside the traditional NOLS pizza or cinnamon rolls recipes, we took advantage of the abundance of blueberries to improvise a delicious pie.

Blueberry pie

Most of the 750,000 caribou of Alaska live in the Arctic Circle. After seeing many antlers in the mountains, we saw dozens of caribou cross the Noatak River on their migration to the winter grounds south of the Brooks Range.

Caribou swimming

Eating freshly baked brownies after reaching a summit overviewing the Noatak Canyon.


One of the highlights of the course was meeting Ricky Ashby, an Iñupiat native living by himself in his cabin at the edge of the Noatak River.

Meeting Ricky Ashby

Ricky caught a few fish in a matter of minutes and cooked them for us. He also invited us in his sauna, which was an incredible experience after twenty-eight days in the wilderness. We were very touched by Ricky’s incredible and inspiring hospitality.

Catching fish

Further down the Noatak River, Daniel caught a chum salmon and cooked it over a fire for dinner.

Cooking fish

Sunrise on the Noatak River before being hit by a major windstorm in the afternoon. Alaska is notorious for its constantly changing weather. It gave us a few spectacular sunrises like this one, which I will never forget.

Sunrise on the Noatak River

The nine course members in the mudflats of the Noatak River delta an hour before reaching Kotzebue, our final destination after paddling 718 kilometers / 446 miles in twenty-four days.

The nine course members



See Part 1 of Stéphane's story here. 

Stéphane took part in the Brooks Range Backpacking and River course. Learn more about it and other Alaska courses here. In addition to this course in Alaska, Stéphane has also gone on a NOLS course in the Yukon.

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Editor's note: Post updated 10/20/2017

Stéphane Terrier is a four-time NOLS alumni from Switzerland, having taken his courses in Alaska and the Yukon. He recently finished a PhD at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and is now working as a civil engineer. During his free time, he seeks adventure while hiking, climbing and skiing in the Alps. An avid photographer, many of Stéphane’s course photos have been published in NOLS publications. Follow his adventures on Instagram, @stephaneterrier and his website,