Arctic Expedition

This was my splurge side-trip.  I had to do some fast talking since Pat was ok with just crossing the Arctic Circle.  Me?  I HAD to get all the way to the Arctic Ocean.  Just had to.

The Options

There are a few ways to do this, and we investigated them all.  You can drive the Dalton Highway, better known as the Haul Road.  Also famous for the show Ice Road Truckers.  It’s a 414 mile gravel road, that was built for the oil industry.  About 160 trucks travel this road daily and anyone driving it in a car is encouraged to carry survival gear.  Given the cracked windshields and flat tires on top of all that, we nixed that route for both Lucy and Bitsy.

You can rent a car, but it is still a significant time commitment and still all that bad road risk.  You can also book a tour to get to Prudhoe Bay, but there are only oil fields there and no Arctic Ocean access.  So, fly we must.  Plus we can get to Barrow, see the Arctic Ocean, and visit the Northern-most city in the United States.

Coldfoot

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The flight leaves Fairbanks around 8am and takes us to Coldfoot, AK and the city closest to the Arctic Circle.  The pilot dipped the wings to let us know when we officially left the Tropics and entered the Arctic.  Here we are at the Coldfoot airfield.  This city was named for the gold rush folks who got cold feet and headed back south.

Fashionable in our headsets to drown out the engine noise and to hear the pilot’s commentary.  I know I look maniacal and you can see up my nose, but that’s the best shot I have.

This trip came with a risk.  We had to have good weather in Barrow to make it all the way.  The pilot took us to Coldfoot to add enough fuel to ensure we could turn around and make it back if the coast took a bad turn.  Todd, our pilot, was constantly checking on weather reports right up until landing.  Fortunately the weather was bad in Fairbanks coming and going, but fabulous in Coldfoot and good enough in Barrow.

Brooks Range

The Arctic Ocean was the goal, but I was completely taken with the stunning Brooks Range.  This mountain range spans 700 miles and was incredible from the air.  These are a few of my favorite shots:

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The last one is a great view of the Yukon River with the Alaska Pipeline and Haul Road running side-by-side and criss-crossing the river.

As we neared the coast, the mountain range gave way to the frozen tundra.  Completely different look.

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Utqiaġvik

Barrow is now back to a variation of its original name.  Inupiats, the native residents, call it Utqiagvik and it involves rolling the ‘g’ when you say it.  We had an Inupiat guide in Barrow and I tried, but couldn’t duplicate her pronunciation.

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The original name means “the place where we hunt snowy owls”.  Phoebe told us they no longer hunt the snowy owl, but it is part of their heritage.

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The native residents still hunt the bowhead whale in Spring and Fall to provide their main food source all year long.  Pat’s telling his big fish tale next to a whale skull.  The community whaling teams go out on the ocean and kill up to three whales at a time.  After that, they call a cease fire so the whales can be butchered and the meat put up properly.  They eat everything except the brains and share it all equally among all the residents.  We’re amazed at how collaborative and tight-knit the community is, but then their lives depend upon that way of life.

We discovered from the town sign-post that we were closer to France than to Florida at this spot!  Pat was amused by the Arctic Pizza place and we made it to the Top of the World Bridge.  No longer in service, but a historic spot nonetheless.

 

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Scenes from Barrow.  They have leftover quonset huts from the military that have been re-purposed for housing.  Also, the houses and the town buildings are on stilts.  We thought it was for flooding, but no.  It is to prevent thawing of the permafrost.  That permafrost is what provides the firm foundation, so no buildings touch the ground.

Arctic Ocean

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And here we are!  I’m grinning like a fool and so happy to have made it to the frozen Arctic Ocean.  I wanted to dip toes in, but it was not to be.  This water doesn’t thaw until around the 4th of July.

The lagoon across from the ocean is home to the “summer cabins” used to hang out on the weekends, and they have their own palm trees made from driftwood and whale parts.

All total, we were in Barrow for about 2 and a half hours.  A short stop, but it’s roughly a three hour flight each way.  Alaska is so vast, and this trip helped us to really understand that firsthand.  We landed and it was cloudy, 31 degrees with light snow flurries.  When we left, the sun was shining and it was gorgeous.  Still a biting wind, but a lovely day in this part of the world.  The pilot said we picked a great day.  Indeed!

The Return

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The return flight was back towards stormy Fairbanks.  Made for grand cloud formations and different lighting to showcase the Brooks Range once again.  Just couldn’t get enough of these mountains.

Jackson’s Big Adventure

This trip involved some risk of weather delays.  The kind that could keep us in the Arctic overnight.  So, we found a great kennel for Jackson for two nights.  Holy Dog Kennels took great care of him.  He hung out with the other “seniors”, got playtime outside, treats, and a manicure.

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They call this the Holy Dog hangover.  I’d say a good time was had by all!

Next up – Denali!  See you on the way!

 

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17 thoughts on “Arctic Expedition

  1. Wow that was amazing! One of those things that you will remember forever and be so thrilled you did. I saw it on your map and I just did not understand how stop 47 took place, Now I am all caught up. Good man Pat for letting Judy have this one. She now owes you.

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    • Hey – so glad you are checking out the map. We cheated a bit with stop 47 since we didn’t stay overnight, but we figured that much of a big day deserved a point on the map. Plus it shows just how faaaaar we went!

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  2. Now that is one cold looking ocean! I’m with you Judy! If you’ve traveled that far you needed to see the northern most US city. Love the shot of Jackson

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  3. Amazing scenes Andy beautiful pics. Who would have ever believed you would go to the Artic Circle when you first thought if getting an RV and traveling the country. Thanks for taking us on your trip, your stories make it real!

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  4. This Arctic blog trip makes me love Alaska even more than I already do! And we tend to forget that this is a heck of an adventure for old man Jackson. I am betting he thinks y’all are fulfilling his bucket list. 🙂

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  5. Good choice in going to barrow. I am with u if ur that close u would have regretted not going. Looked like y’all had a blast

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  6. There was not as much snow as I would have expected on the Brook Range or in Barrow. Did the locals say whether that is typical for this time of year? Did they, by chance, express an opinion on climate change?

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    • It is extremely windy in Barrow, so unless they have a specific Winter storm, they typically don’t get a lot of snow. I think that has been that way and nothing new per our tour guide who is an Inupiat Eskimo and was born and raised there. Some of the Brooks Range mountains are too steep to keep snow as well. The pilot noted one particular peak that juts up and remains snowless even in the Winter when the rest are covered. We didn’t ask about climate change and they didn’t mention that anything had changed. Sounds like the Arctic Ocean thaw around the 4th of July is typical.

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  7. Glad you guys are having an amazing trip!! I really enjoy your posts and keeping up with you guys!! My aunt and uncle were homesteaders in Alaska and he owned a moving company. My Dad has some harrowing stories about the 2 years he lived with them and helped move those quonset huts!!! I’m glad you flew to the Arctic Circle and didn’t do the Ice Road trucking!!!

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    • I read some horror stories about the Dalton Highway, so we just decided to pay our way North. Worked out great. I bet your dad does have some good stories. So different up here. Glad you are enjoying the adventure with us!

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