Posted on: June 11, 2019
Author: Metta McGarvey
Preparing to deploy a camp for field research is a big job in any location; working in the Arctic by helicopter makes the logistics especially challenging. On the one hand, conditions in the Arctic and working by helicopter require more gear to handle the weather conditions and prepare for emergencies. On the other, the cost of getting everything needed to such remote locations is daunting so we try to keep it to a minimum.
Every year we go through all our gear and supplies in the warehouse to determine what is good to go, what needs repair, and what needs replacing or to be purchased new for the specific projects each year. Fortunately, after nearly 20 years of running field camps in the Arctic, we have our prep down to a science as well. My gear spreadsheet has 5 tabs with 464 lines covering camp and crew gear, and banding and office supplies. That doesn’t include the food and the other shopping list, which is 274 lines. In addition, we have to pack carefully, labeling contents so we can find essential items for putting up camp when we arrive, as well as designating hazmat items that have to be separated in different ways for commercial truck and air, bush plane, and helicopter transport.
This year Ethan Beal-Brown (Stephen’s son) and I devoted most of May to working out of the US Fish and Wildlife Service warehouse in Anchorage preparing for our camp on the Kataturik River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. After a couple of weeks of testing gear, staging what is needed, and shopping, the packing begins.
Once everything is packed, we load pallets for shipping by truck to the north slope. This year we had 3 pallets including an Arctic Oven work tent, a large cook tent, 5 bear barrels with food, camp kitchen gear, helicopter helmets, flight suits and emergency gear, and other essentials.
Days are always long working on these projects, with early mornings often spent at the computer, days in the warehouse, and evenings catching up on emails, revising lists, and preparing meals. With people working long hard days under tough conditions in camp, I plan a good dinner every night and tuck away special treats to pull out later in the project. This year with 6 in camp (5 of us and our helicopter pilot) for most of June we planned 144 breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners in camp, plus several days of travel and transit for a smaller group.
This year I also prepared two homemade meals to freeze and bring to camp while staying at the home of our colleague River Gates who many of you may remember as the ornithologist who coordinated Manomet’s Arctic Shorebird Demographic Network from 2010-2014, and who ran the camp at Cape Krusenstern in the NW Alaskan Arctic. River and her husband Bert Lewis, together with their sons Simon (5) and Logan (1) have provided us with the most wonderful lodging and hospitality for the past several years at their home in the hills of south Anchorage.
The final days of preparation are dominated by tracking down hard to find items, and packing gear we bring by a FWS truck, including most of the fresh food items, propane tanks, a generator and gas cans, 3-30 gallon AV gas containers for the helicopter, as well as our personal gear. All told this year our shipment was 1400 lbs., with another almost 1000 lbs. in the truck, not including the 630 lbs. of AV gas when we fill those containers at an airstrip close to camp. Not so great with respect to keeping it minimal!
In addition to all the work, we try to find a little time to enjoy the incredible opportunities for outdoor adventure that Alaska provides. This year Ethan and I managed two-day trips, first a boat trip from Seward for a Kenai Fjords wildlife tour, the other a spectacular day hike in Chugach State Park right from Anchorage. A big part of what motivates my work in this project is our deep understanding of the importance of wild places and protecting the needs of all the other beings with whom we share this planet. We hope you get a moment of respite and renewal from these photos that capture some of the ineffable and essential soul-nourishing qualities that being in the wilderness provides.