August 26, 2014

Arctic Ocean Adventure

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.” 
― T.S. EliotFour Quartets

Full Arctic Foot Dip
The season here at the Yukon River is drawing to a close and I can't say I'm super upset about it. It's been a fun ride; I've met lots of cool people, read a ton of books, seen some local wildlife, and learned a lot about the area, but it's time to move on and I'm feeling the keen pull of a new adventure.

Until this past weekend I'd only left the Yukon River Camp (YRC) once since May. Between bad weather on my days off and lack of transportation getting out of here seemed like an impossibility, but this past Saturday I caught the Dalton HighwayExpress van from YRC to Deadhorse and Prudoe Bay for a chance to dip my toes in the Arctic Ocean. Yes, it's a super touristy thing to do, but I wasn't going to leave Alaska without doing it, having been so close.

The Mountains Outside Atigun Pass
Close is a relative term I guess because the van ride itself was 12 hours each way, which is the equivalent of driving from my old home in New Hampshire to South Carolina, the difference being that we were going about 40 MPH tops and had to pull over for every big rig that passed (and there are a lot of those up here). My day began at 9am on Saturday as I boarded the van, which already accommodated three passengers from Fairbanks. We stopped at the Arctic Circle sign (not super impressive but a good landmark) and then at Coldfoot Camp (about four hours from YRC) for some food before making the big push to Prudoe. We passed through the Brooks Mountain Range, which I think everyone should see at some point because they're AMAZING (I'm already planning to come back and hike), then to Atigun Pass where one of the passenger departed for a hiking trip. After that the mountains that began as "Man From Snowy River" in the south and became "Lord of the Rings" in the north began to peter out, and then the rolling hills and finally the wide open tundra, where the only thing obstructing your view is atmosphere and the curve of the earth. We saw some Caribu and some Caribu hunters before hitting Deadhorse, a small industrial "town" housing more than 3,000 men and women who work the pipeline. Deadhorse Camp was cozy and I got a TV in my room, an unknown luxury which meant I stayed up too late.

Mountain Sheep!

At 5:30am I woke up, got dressed, packed my things, and headed to the dining room for some French toast before meeting with the security guard who checked my ID before letting me board the Arctic Ocean bound shuttle.

TIP: You cannot drive to the ocean itself so if you want to see the ocean while in Prudoe Bay you need to make reservations on a tour 24 in advance. The van needs to pass through a security checkpoint to get to the water, but it's pretty informal. All you'll need to do is have a reservation and then present your ID before the tour. Call 877-474-3565 to make reservations.

The ocean was cold and large and bland, but worth the trip if only for the story. I dipped my toes in, saw some polar bears from super far away, and then hit the road south. The ride back was more eventful then the ride up, in large part because we were joined by three ladies from New
Zealand who began cracking beers as soon as we got on the road. We saw mountain sheep, a very recent plan crash in Atigun Pass, some more beautiful mountains, and a black bear about ten miles north of YRC.
The Brooks Range

So it took me two days and 24 hours of driving to see the arctic ocean, Was it worth it? Of course and I would have regretted being up here the whole summer and not seeing it because really when is the next time I'll be in Alaska? Probably no time soon.