WHO: Eliot, 64, and Jan Putnam, 66, of Wellesley
WHERE: Brooks Range, Alaska
WHEN: Two weeks in June
WHY: "We had made one trip a couple years before, to Denali and other places," Jan said. "We loved it, but were mostly in a car. " Eliot knew the place would be Brooks Range, the mountain range that spans north Alaska into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. "I've wanted to go there all my life," he said. "There are thousands of peaks, most of them unnamed and unclimbed. It's beyond remote."
CONVINCING JAN: "Originally it didn't sound all that appealing to me," she said, "encountering those mosquitoes and the cold. It turned out it wasn't that cold and I used DEET for the mosquitoes. The click point came when I saw a film on public TV and one was on the Kongakut River [in the Brooks Range]. It was so appealing that the minute the film was over, I said, 'Book us.' " The Putnams signed up with Alaska Discovery (800-586-1911, www.akdiscovery.com) for a rafting tour down the Kongakut.
ARCTIC ADVENTURE: "We flew into Anchorage, drove to Fairbanks, and took a 90-minute flight in a small plane to a town called Arctic Village, well above the Arctic Circle," Eliot said. There were eight travelers, the youngest being 50, two guides, and two inflatable rafts. Two bush planes took them to the river.
DAY BY DAY: During the day they'd float and paddle down the river. "Our guide was fabulous," Jan said. "There was only one place where we had class 3 or 4 rapids. But it's glacier fed, heart-stoppingly cold." At night, they'd make camp along the pebbly riverbank. Guides cooked, guests cleaned up. "It never really got dark because the sun never goes down," Eliot said of the summer sky.
OFF THE RIVER: "We loved to go off and absorb where we were," Eliot said. "We'd usually take a walk after dinner. There were virtually no trees. This was tundra on top of permafrost. We generally hiked up to hills and mountains. You had to watch for tussocks, the grassy mounds. They were somewhat wobbly to step on, and between them it's boggy. It's good, demanding hiking. The vistas are beyond description. We stood at the bend of the river one night and I looked to the mountains climbing higher and higher. Then we turned to the right and saw the same thing."
CARIBOU, WHERE ARE YOU: "We did see some caribou, but fewer than we thought we would," Jan said. "But when we did, it was just a huge high. One night, one came right through our campsite. We also saw moose, arctic fox, mountain goats, and birds. And the blooming flowers blew our mind."
NICE ICE: "There was more ice than I expected, even ice on the river," Eliot said. "It layers itself on the bottom in turquoise layers. It's wide enough you can get up on top. The caribou would move out on patches of ice. We saw one patch covered with caribou hair, and saw wolf and bear tracks."
LAST CLIMB: "When we got almost to our takeout point," Jan said, "the signature hike of this trip is up into a place called Caribou Pass when you look onto the Arctic Ocean. It was four hours up and we stayed two hours at the top. We heard birds, wind, and water, and that was all. No motorized sounds." Added Eliot, "It was such a marvelous sensory experience. I felt privileged."