All photos by Patrick Farrell or Caroline Van Hemert – used with their gracious permission
Side by side, Caroline Van Hemert and Patrick Farrell walk a narrow strip of gravel and sand. The barrier island stretches for miles. Across a mile-wide lagoon lies the treeless expanse of the arctic coastal plain. Brooks Range peaks illuminated by golden late night sun grace the southern horizon. To the north, frigid water and ice of the Beaufort Sea extend to the North Pole. Layers of cold air bend light rays to conjure shimmering mirages. Bleached bones of bowhead whales and bearded seals punctuate the finger of beach. As they trek westward, the couple’s footprints join the platter-sized tracks of a polar bear. They pause at a jumble of driftwood logs. As they set down their packs, several eiders startle from hidden, down-lined nests.
For most adventurous couples, a 200-mile self-supported trek along the arctic coast represents an ambitious trip of a lifetime. For Caroline and Pat, it fulfilled a small part of a much grander dream. From the northern limit of their route in mid-July, 2012, they reflected on the 3000 miles of human-powered backcountry travel that lay behind them. They left Bellingham, Washington on March 17 in boats Pat crafted. They rowed the Inside Passage, skied across the glaciated Coast Range, hiked and paddled the headwaters of the Yukon, crossed the rugged Tombstone Mountains, pack-rafted and slogged the muddy, mosquito-infested MacKenzie River delta. Beyond their arctic coast sojourn, another 1000 miles still lay ahead. By the time they paddled into Kotzebue on September 9, they had traversed the Brooks Range by foot and packraft, and canoed the length of the Noatak River.
Caroline and I collectively came up with this one, a joint dream realized by both of our strengths. I shaped wood into boats while she researched our route and counted calories. Separately we carried our loads and rode the backs of waves. Together we navigated our way, fought off a bear, and stayed warm…
– Patrick Farrell
A decade before their epic 4000 mile, six-month Northern Limits adventure, Pat and Caroline set out on their first long wilderness journey together.
56 days, desperately hungry, with an outlandish plan to hike in and build a bark canoe. The sort of experience that builds a relationship or breaks it…
This was our version of “light & fast”–no boat, only the tools to build the canoe.
– Caroline Van Hemert
By the time they had turned birch and spruce into a canoe with hand tools and paddled it 300 miles through the heart of the Yukon and Northwest Territories, they knew their lives and dreams were inseparably woven together.
In the past dozen years, the partners have explored amazingly remote landscapes across Alaska and other parts of the north. They pride themselves on pursuing creative, human-powered adventures. These trips often combine climbing, skiing, mountaineering, paddling, rowing and hiking.
Neither Caroline nor Pat can imagine calling anywhere but Alaska home. They split their time between Anchorage and the remote log-cabin that they built together.
We spend a significant part of each year at our cabin, which is off-the-grid and accessible only by boat. Our closest neighbors are whales and bears. Glacier Bay is a short hop over the icefields that form our backyard. When we’re in Anchorage, we have access to thousands of acres of wilderness and an incredible trail system. I skate ski to work most days during the winter and we love to explore the amazing backcountry ski terrain in the Chugach.
– Caroline Van Hemert
Caroline holds a Ph.D. in wildlife biology, specializing in bird ecology and wildlife disease research. Her professional experience enriches her experience of the ecosystems and animals they encounter on their travels. She is also a talented writer, with a Master’s degree in creative non-fiction.
Some of our recent trips, including our 2012 traverse, have inspired me to dedicate more time to my artistic expression as a means to share our wilderness journeys and the relationships that develop as a result of such adventures.
– Caroline Van Hemert
Pat combines his artistic creativity with fine craftsmanship to design and build custom homes. He built his first log cabin at age 19. Following a boyhood dream, he left upstate New York for a remote part of Alaska’s Interior. He lived there alone for a year, using a dog team for transportation, before attending art school at Western Washington. Pat’s eye for photography reveals itself in his stunning images. His pictures unleash visual stories of wilderness experiences and portray his building designs and workmanship.
To me, art, building, and adventure all come from the same place. Though my work life and adventure life are often at odds with each other, the process is similar:
- Start with an abstract idea
- Get excited about it
- Design, research, plan
- Dive in and go like hell
- Adjust, rethink, modify
- Hard work and attention to detail until completion
- Once done, switch it up (either go on an adventure or start a building project!)
– Pat Farrell
- Explore Caroline’s and Pat’s incredible stories and images of
- their Northern Limits journey and other trips on their website.
- Read Caroline’s article and see Pat’s photos in
- the “Northern Limits” feature – Sidetracked Edition 08