Feature: Gates of the Arctic led to a land of beauty and awe

Leila Javadi
Leila Javadi
  • Leamington Fitness instructor and artist Leila Javadi’s dream of standing in the spot called the Gates of the Arctic in Alaska was realised
  • She and her American friend Moreen experienced bone-chilling temperatures and the hard slog of pulling a sledge weighing more than nine stone for a month
  • She now hopes to take part in a 1,000-mile dog sledge race

Soaking up the silence – so quiet Leila Javadi could hear the wing beat of a raven – more than made up for the bone-chilling temperatures and hard slog of pulling a sledge weighing more than nine stone for a month.

Add to that the Northern Lights, bright starry skies and a moon so bright she could chop wood bathed in its light, put the hardships of the 250-mile trip in perspective.

Leila, aged 29, and her American friend Moreen, put up with the conditions to experience the life and scenery of the Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska.

A personal trainer and GP referral instructor at Newbold Comyn Leisure Centre, Leila said: “The everlasting memory for me would be achieving something I set out to do and not accepting it was too hard to do – the trip was beautiful, but exhausting.”

It took two weeks for them to reach the spot in the vast wilderness area where two mountains are known as the Gates of the Arctic.

Using metre-long snowshoes they had to navigate a trail avoiding thin ice and sinking into the snow.

The everlasting memory for me would be achieving something I set out to do and not accepting it was too hard to do

Leila Javadi

Leila, who went to Trinity Catholic School, said: “The snow shoes helped compact the snow because if you sank into it, it was a four-feet drop.”

And gingerly making their way they also had to look out for thin ice using ski poles.

“You have to risk-assess each moment. Sometimes we’d be making our way across and you could hear the ice behind you falling into the water, so there was no going back.

“You had to make sure your laces were undone so that if you fell in you could quickly kick them off and make sure there were quick-release tags on the sledge so you didn’t drown.

“At the time of year (February-March) there are hundred of types of ice and snow to look out for and make the decision whether it’s safe to cross.”

Luckily, they didn’t face major mishaps, but they endured -20C temperatures with wind chill, frozen eyelashes and one day pulling their sledges in a snowstorm.

To help cope with the conditions they chomped on a diet high in dried meat and fat – a bit like peperami – dried salmon and what is known as blueberry leather – dried blueberries and sugar.

And a treat was what is known in Alaska as spruce bubble gum – cutting into a tree to get the sap.

“It’s different and smells better than it looks and tastes,” said Leila. “But after a month, different texture and tastes liven up the dried food.”

The two also foraged for leaves to make Labrador tea. “It’s like a herbal tea – not bitter, and very nice.”

Once the pair had found a sheltered spot for the night, they would set about looking for firewood and put the tent up. Leila said the hardest thing about the trip was in the morning: “Getting out of a warm sleeping bag and taking the tent poles down where the joints often froze in the night.”

But she said she would not have missed the experience, even though a day’s trek could last from 8am to 7pm, adding: “The Northern Lights are amazing.

“And the moon is so bright that you don’t need a headlight.

“The scenery is spectacular and the silence of the wilderness is wonderful.

“It’s so quiet you can hear the beat of a raven’s wingbeat – like a swift and soft sound.

“It’s so peaceful that you can hear the ice freezing and unfreezing – it pops and crackles.”