Saturday, August 8, 2009

GANSE II: The Great ARSC North Slope Expedition II

I was kindly invited to be a driver for the ARSC intern trip up north to Deadhorse, the farthest north point on the Dalton Highway. And of course I could not say no since it was a new place to go. Sure I'd prefer to travel places with friends I know well, but what did I have to lose in wrapping up this summer? This trip wasn't as I would have planned it, because I think I would have gotten to the Brooks Range and parked the car and began walking, but all I had to do for this trip was show up self-sufficient for 4 days and drive the Haul road (as many of you might know from Ice Road Truckers.. even though the Dalton is NOT an ice road), while getting to know the interns. I regret not getting to know the interns earlier.. as I had a fun time with them and it is nice to hear why other students come up to Alaska as interns. Some of them have family connections up here, some of them said 'hey why not' like I did, and some came for the program more than location. Little do they know that their life probably won't ever be the same and they're going to keep coming back until they move here.. ha!!

The day we left Fairbanks, visibility on the Elliott Highway was at about 10 feet. It was very scary to drive through, especially when you have 6 other peoples' lives in your hand. The Dalton is a dirt road, in much better condition than even 2 years ago, but it is mainly a trucker road, hence the name the Haul road. Below Don is making sure we don't lose our water and some gear.
The Hot Spot. Seriously, has the best burgers on an Alaskan highway.
The interns did a jumping picture for me. I think they enjoyed it. :)
On the way we stopped at Coldfoot and there were two completely loaded bikes outside.. so I had to go inside and spot who it was and interrogate their travels. I have gained the ability to be able to smell a biker from miles away, ha! It was Alex and Fin, two guys from the UK biking from Deadhorse to Panama. AWESOME! Check out their site and blog. It was really cool talking with them. I haven't gotten my dose of meeting adventuring foreigners this summer. Fin just had knee surgery last year, and realized that there wasn't any better time but now to do what they're doing. That's my kind of people.

Mike and his sheep friends...
Atigun Pass! This was my farthest north on the Dalton before this trip.
We set up camp for the night just north of Atigun Pass at Galbraith Lake. The interns went on a mission across the stream and down to some aufeis, but I had to decline that hike since I could not find a good path to cross without dealing with slippery rocks. Instead, I joined Don on a short hike up in the higher country where we could overlook the smokey surroundings. I could have continued for days, but dusk was coming and camp awaited.
The next morning we headed north all the way to Deadhorse. On the way we paralleled the Sag River.. what a beautiful waterway.
I liked this truck, with "Pilot Car" written with duct tape.
YES! The other Happy Valley!! I was so excited to pass this, and even though in this picture it doesn't not look so happy, the location actually sits just at the foothills of the Brooks Range. Things could be worse.
Tourist time! This sign was entertaining.
We went on a tour to get to the Arctic Ocean. Though I've been to it before when in Barrow, I definitely did not go all the way in. This time, we did. We found out that the water there was only about 2 feet deep, OOPS! That was a surprise... Polar Bear Plunge count: 2. The Mon River in Pittsburgh felt SO much colder but maybe that had to do with the whole 16 degrees outside thing.. rather than 35 degrees in Prudhoe Bay.
After the tour which had one goal - to plunge into the Arctic Ocean, we had dinner, and said goodbye to the industrial town of Deadhorse, seeking somewhere warmer and more welcoming in the Brooks Range. We landed back at Galbraith Lake for the night.. and I had absolutely no problem with that.
The interns were a lot of fun and had made up a clever rendition of the 12 days of Christmas, college-style.
The moon rose above the mountains and a slight roar from the others about it made me realize that it's been months since we've seen it. Summer is breaking.
Lee made his famous sourdough pancakes in the morning.
The next morning we decided to hit the road south, cutting our trip a day short. I don't know if the chaperones in the other car were getting sick of us or what, but they called the shots and we returned to smokey Fairbanks a day early.
This fire, the Ft. Hamlin Hills fire, was burning just on the east side of the Dalton.

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