Once the gear is shipped and the truck is packed, the 866-mile drive north begins. Starting from Anchorage, we spent the night of May 31st in Fairbanks followed by the spectacular drive up the Dalton Highway over the Brooks Range to Galbraith Lake on June 1st.
Photo credit: Lindall Kidd
Photo credit: Metta McGarvey. Ethan & Metta at the start of the Dalton Highway which begins about 70 miles north of Fairbanks and runs 416 miles north to Prudhoe Bay. It was built in a two-year period in the 1970s to service the Prudhoe Bay pipeline.
Photo Credit: Metta McGarvey. Crossing the Yukon River, we take a much-needed stretch break. Except where it goes underground, the pipeline is visible along most of the Dalton Highway.
Photo Credit: Lindall Kidd. In addition to spectacular views, the pressures of 24/7 connectivity begin to fall away and a slower, more contemplative pace begins to unfold as we head further into the wilderness.
Photo Credit: Lindall Kidd. Crossing the Arctic Circle is a major milestone of the drive.
Photo Credit: Lindall Kidd. Nearing Coldfoot and the Brooks Range, Ethan and Metta enjoy the beautiful long light of the midnight sun.
Photo Credit: Metta McGarvey. About 40 miles north of Coldfoot, Lindall and Ethan are awed by the foothills of the Brooks Range. It’s another 70 miles or so up and over Atigun Pass to the US Fish and Wildlife cabin. We stage out on a gravel airstrip maintained by the oil companies at Galbraith Lake.
Having arrived at Galbraith late on June 1st, we shift into ‘tundra mode’ summarized in the catchphrase “Hurry up and wait!” We rush to get everything ready and transported to be in place on the date we set for the pilots to meet us, then we have to wait for favorable weather conditions before we can fly into camp. Our helicopter pilot from Pollux Aviation, Nick Myers, arrived before us and we had a half day hike on June 2nd. Galbraith Lake lies on the west side of the Dalton Highway in Gates of the Arctic National Park, with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the east side.
Photo Credit: Metta McGarvey. Our group takes a lunch break after hiking to this unusual waterfall in Atigun Gorge on the Arctic Refuge side of the highway. Along the way, we encountered this impressive bear scat full of caribou fur, most likely from the previous fall.
That evening, we prepared a load of large and hazmat items for Nick to transport from Galbraith to camp with the helicopter via sling load the next day, June 3rd. Nick is a master of helicopter slinging (we will post a video of him slinging AV gas into camp in a future post), but unfortunately, the hook malfunctioned and our load dropped to the tundra from 500 feet, damaging or destroying most of the load. That created a great deal of last-minute scrambling for Stephen and Shiloh (who were still in Anchorage) and Ethan in Prudhoe, to replace all of the contents of the sling, including all of our propane for the cook stove for camp!
Photo Credit: Metta McGarvey. Nick and Ethan carefully arrange a load of large items such as our AV gas containers and Yeti coolers, along with most of our hazmat items, to be transported to camp with the helicopter sling.
Photo Credit: Lindall Kidd. Our propane tanks survived but became untrustworthy from damage. We had a special hose made in Prudhoe to transfer the propane to larger tanks in the camp at Kavik while Ethan tracked down how to purchase and fill new tanks for camp in Prudhoe.
Photo Credit: Lindall Kidd. One of our Yeti coolers was damaged beyond use, and the food inside looked like it had been through a Cuisinart!
This year, the logistics of getting everyone and all the gear to camp was especially complicated. Our camp is on the Katakturuk River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with seven people for 21 days. But we coordinated with the Canning River camp which had nine people at initial put-in and eight weeks of supplies! The drive from Galbraith to Prudhoe was spectacular though, with the highlight being two small herds of musk ox.
Photo Credit: Metta McGarvey. Driving north from Galbraith in gorgeous full sun, we could see the fog bank from the Arctic Ocean in the distance toward Prudhoe.
Photo Credit: Metta McGarvey. We saw two small herds of musk ox en route to Prudhoe, including this handsome beast right next to the highway where we took photos from inside the truck.
Photo Credit: Lindall Kidd. One group of musk ox was sleeping when we came past them; upon waking, this one had a good stretch and roll on the tundra.
For our camp, Ethan, Metta, and Lindall first had to claim our gear from Anchorage from the Carlisle warehouse at the airport in Prudhoe and repack for transport in a Caravan to an airstrip at Kavik. After a full load of gear for both camps, a second Caravan load took the rest of the gear and the last three crew to Kavik on June 3rd.
Photo Credit: Metta McGarvey. Arrival in Prudhoe Bay is a stark contract with fog, 32-degree weather, and massive industrial infrastructure for the oil industry.
Photo Credit: Lindall Kidd. Ethan and Metta prepare items for transfer to the small plane. The guys at Carlisle were super helpful and professional. A big shout out to Carlisle for their help and expertise. At last, with everything loaded, Lindall and Metta climbed in and took a selfie to mark the moment.
After arrival at the camp at Kavik, Lindall and Metta were grounded by fog until June 5th. Meanwhile, Rick Lanctot, Stephen Brown, and Shiloh Schulte flew from Anchorage to Prudhoe one June 4th, where Ethan picked them up and took them to Galbraith for a night as Prudhoe was also fogged in. After 36 hours in wait mode, the fog cleared late morning on June 5th at which point everyone was in “hurry up” mode again!
Photo Credit: Metta McGarvey. The camp at Kavik is rustic by our normal standards, but greatly luxurious and appreciated in 32-degree fog with pesky bears about!
With Ethan as chauffeur, Rick Lanctot was met by Dan Shelden, a pilot for the Arctic Refuge for FWS at a small airstrip between Galbraith and Prudhoe called Happy Valley with a Cessna 185. He then took Stephen and Shiloh to Prudhoe to meet Nick where the hook for the sling was being serviced.
Photo Credit: Ethan Beal-Brown / USFWS. The Fish & Wildlife pilot picks up Rick Lanctot and more gear from Happy Valley while Nick brings Stephen and Shiloh from Prudhoe on June 5th.
After refueling in Kavik, Dan flew Rick and Lindall with a load of gear into camp, at last, followed by Stephen and Shiloh, and Metta with the last load of gear from Kavik. It was a long night getting camp set up but enthusiasm was high and we were thrilled to be safely together in such a beautiful, remote wilderness setting to begin our work.
Photo Credit: Lindall Kidd / USFWS. Lindall and Rick arrive with a load of gear in a Cessna 185 while Metta comes last in the helicopter from Kavik with Nick.
Photo Credit: Metta McGarvey / USFWS. Our camp on the Kataturuk River, in a beautiful wide valley between bluffs.