The Arctic Adventure
Dutch and I are going to the Arctic!
We leave tomorrow for a week-long dog mushing expedition into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with our friends, Champion dog mushers Aliy Zirkle and her husband Allen Moore. This trip has been planned and in the making for about six months, and after so many weeks of anticipation, it is finally here.
For about ten years, Aliy and Allen have been offering guided tours in ANWR for small groups of clients after they have finished the Iditarod. When I first met Aliy and heard of these trips, I thought “Oh yes, I want to do that!”
Last year, my beloved friend, psychologist Susan Rangitsch came to visit me in March (and I blogged about it here, here, and here). I told her about the ANWR expeditions and she said “Oh yes, let’s do that!” Susan’s work involves a wide variety of outdoor challenges and she was immediately thinking of the trip as a program offering. Susan is the leader of the Women’s Harvest Celebration, which I blogged about here.
And so it all came together. Aliy, Allen and Dutch will be the dog mushing guides and support crew for a client group of eight people who will comprise Susan’s arctic program, Motion in the Arctic White Silence. I am excited to be one of the eight, and delighted that Dutch will be there as support crew. It is going to be an awesome adventure. After ten years in Alaska, this will be my first trip above the Arctic Circle.
Just getting to where we are going will be arduous. We all fly in to Fairbanks, then take small charter planes to the village of Coldfoot, on the Haul Road north of Fairbanks (a gravel road that parallels the Alaska Pipeline from Fairbanks up to the North Slope, used primarily to supply the Slope and service the Pipeline). From there we transfer to a van for four more hours of travel up the Haul Road to an uninhabited wide spot at a place called Galbraith Lake. There, Aliy and Allen will meet us with many dogs and sleds for the two hour mushing trip to our base camp just over Atigun Pass on the Sag River.
For a week we will live in the most amazing tents with wood stoves in them known as Arctic Ovens. They are so well constructed that you can camp out in 40-below weather and be comfortable. And it can be that cold in early April in the Arctic. Aliy said one year they were having a hard time getting the Arctic Ovens set up and wondering why the fabric was so stiff; Allen looked at a thermometer and it was minus 50! I am very much hoping that we will be blessed with a little more warmth than that; zero to ten above would be great.
The daily structure of activity for the group will evolve out of the combined energy of the group itself, and will likely include morning and evening sessions in the Gathering Tent to do the kind of meditational/spiritual work that Susan is so adept at leading; and the afternoons will be devoted to learning how to be dog mushers and driving dog teams. Over the years, Aliy and Allen have established some nice dog trails through the mountains for half-day trips. We will have to do daily water-hauling chores with the dog teams, as all our water will come from a hole in the river ice about a mile from base camp.
The dogs are crucial to the entire operation; no snowmachines or any type of motorized vehicle are allowed in ANWR. The entire camp—all the tents, gear, food and wood to burn—must be hauled in by the dogs, about 25 miles from where the trucks are left at Galbraith Lake. We will have about 50 dogs in camp.
There will be plenty of daylight for this expedition. Here in Bethel, at 61 degrees north latitude, it is light out this week from about 7:30 AM until 9:30 PM; up on the Sag River we will be a smidge north of 68 degrees, and should have an hour or so more light than here. But the dark of night will be truly dark, and Allen tells me that the Northern Lights up there in April are fantastic. They don’t just appear along the horizon like they do here in Bethel; they cover the entire night sky from horizon to horizon, flickering and dancing in a mesmerizing display of color. I so can’t wait to see that!
The past week has been a chaos of trip staging and packing—sorting gear, changing batteries, airing the tent and checking woodstove and stove pipe, washing fleece. It is pretty much all packed, and a veritable mountain of gear it is; our Arctic Oven alone takes up two large duffles. Tonight I am down to the last few details, and wondering what I have forgotten.
There may be no more posts until we return on the 14th. We are going deep into the wilderness.
First three photos by The Tundra PA: Aliy mushing her dogs, Susan on the Kuskokwim River, Aliy with her leaders. Last two photos of ANWR by Aliy and Allen.
Labels: Dog Mushing