The topics range from the history of winter recreation in the La Sal Mountains tonight, Feb. 7, to the story of a man’s 3-year biking journey from Alaska to Argentina (the last week of the month).
The library kicked off the series with a lecture on Thursday, Jan. 31 titled “Exploring the Arctic Wildlife Refuge: Climate Science and Backcountry Adventures in Alaska’s Brooks Range.”
It was standing room only with listeners converging to hear the story told by Chris Benson and Jeff Gutierrez about their journey through the wilderness of northern Alaska.
Benson, who received his master’s degree in geology from Northern Arizona University, focused on the scientific aspects of the trip. The data he collected during the trip was part of an ongoing project to use changes in glaciers and sediment composition to track climate change.
Benson presented other findings that highlight evidence of climate change, including patterns of average global temperature, overall shrinking extents of glaciers (particularly in the Arctic Circle) and evidence of a record amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Gutierrez joined Benson on the trip to assist with data collection and other tasks. He is a local music instructor who has led hiking tours in northern Alaska. During his parts of the presentation, Gutierrez focused on the trip itself, describing a grueling journey through slushy tundra and constant sunlight.
Due to the seasonal timing of their trip, the sun never set on Gutierrez and Benson, instead only grazing the horizon at its lowest point. This provided warmer temperatures during the journey, which also meant they had to stay on the lookout for bears, of which they said they only saw one throughout the trip.
Gutierrez described during the lecture the transcendental experience of flying over the Brooks mountain range to their drop-off point, realizing the extreme remoteness of the area through which they would be trekking.
Benson estimated that the packs they carried throughout the trip, which lasted over a week, weighed roughly 80 pounds each, including food, inflatable rafts, tents, scientific equipment, backup supplies and more.
In the end, Benson and Gutierrez said they hit their main data collection goals, and they successfully completed the hike to an oilfield on the Alaskan arctic coast, where their plane picked them up to take them back to Fairbanks.