Friday, April 18, 2014

The Arctic coastal plain, midway on the journey from Toolik to Teshekpuk

Arctic fox near our campsite west of Nuiqsut.

Set up on a lake Ben, Chris and Guido are studying. Hard for the average man to tell water from tundra this time of year at 70 degrees north. But the boys have a sixth sense.

'Tis pretty remote up here. But we never felt lonely so close to Alpine oilfield and it's tundra satellites.

Some visitors rolled in.

Clay, left, and Mike are surveyors for ConocoPhillips. Their tundra buggy goes anywhere, Clay says.

Had another problem with Chris's sno-go. Was unrelated to what Bodey repaired at Umiat. Boys couldn't fix it in the field, so coworkers sent another one by sled from Barrow. Two guys from Barrow delivered the new machine outside our tents at 3 a.m. After some sleep at Nuiqsut, the heroes we never met picked up our dead machine and snowmachined back to Barrow, arriving at 1 a.m. A 300-mile round trip!

In the meantime, Guido discovered that his bouncing sled makes bowling balls. 

Science writer at work, arctic coastal plain. Blogging by satellite, yet another miracle of our time.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Population about 50 and constantly varying. On the Colville, largest river in northern Alaska. Born with the Naval Petroleum Reserve in the 1940s.

Ben, Chris and Guido have done their arctic lake studies in the surrounding area as Chris's banged-up snowmachine spent time with the only mechanic within 100 miles.

We emptied the Qounset hut when we heard a sno-go pull up and the mechanic delivered the news.

"It's better than it was before," said Bodey Winningham, who welded the frame while listening to Mettalica in the shop here. Bodey is 27, owns a few monster trucks and one monster Subaru wagon, and spent five years fixing things on a nuclear sub in the Navy. Boy is goin' places.

Machine back from dead made us happy, as is Chris's wife Sarah today.

Boys tested the machine back in the field, somehow finding salmon-shape lakes under the snow.

Then back home for dinner. And the chance to send this dispatch through the air to that dish. Then 22,000 miles up to a satellite, and 22,000 back to you.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The long trail to Umiat

Goggle selfie with Ben's help. Left Toolik on a sunny cold afternoon. Four machines, eight weighty sleds.

Stopped at Toolikhenge, as Guido called it. Throw a caribou skin over these rocks, you're set.

The riding was fantastic until we stopped near a shelter cabin. Chris noticed his machine was listing to the right.

Using this magic green wire, a four-foot steel rod, lots of hose clamps and a nylon ratchet strap, the boys somehow made the machine drivable.

Rollin' on, we saw farthest north river otter slip n' slide.

The Anaktuvuk River fire of a few years ago, with a tundra scar bigger than eastern counties, sprouts grass.

Had to cross a few snowy dips. With our double sleds loaded down, we transitted some of them very slowly.

Enjoyed the far north sunset at about 10 p.m. We were still a long way from the barn. But Ben got us on the ice road that connects The Dalton Highway to Umiat when we really needed headlights to see. There followed a few hours of ultra endurance snowmachining. As the air cooled to its low of -27F, we saw the lights of this little oil-exploration/science research camp from 20 miles out. We buzzed into Umiat at 1 a.m., never so happy to see the inside of a cold Navy Quonset hut.

Chris Arp and Ben Jones, this morning. They already have a welder here working on the sno-go, along with a few Plan Bs.

Guido Grosse enjoys the Umiat wireless.

Monday, April 7, 2014

On Toolik Lake

Dalton Highway

Ben Jones predicts it will get colder on the North Slope side of Atigun Pass

                                                   mud-ice art at Coldfoot

               A lobe of thawing soil and drunken trees headed for the Dalton Highway.