Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Thursday night BBQ

One thing very much worthy of mentioning about our stay at Dick's house is:
This BBQ is the reason we met Dick quite a few weeks ago now, and has kept us entertained ever since. I'm sure Dick is now wishing he never did tell us we could stay in our van on his driveway, because you see, we're still there!!! Too much fun, we are simply unable to leave.

Every Thursday night a whole bunch of Fairbankiers gather at Dick's house for a night of food, wine and loads of very interesting conversations. This social event has been happening for years and there's even a website with photos and stories created especially for this weekly gathering: www.barbequenight.com
All it takes is a group email every week by Dick to a whole list of people and the request to bring some wine and food along and of course the willingness to entertain whoever else decides to show up. What a great idea, I will certainly start a similar event after this trip, but it may involve some tequila and very loud music, just to personalize it a wee bit.
The best key to success of this BBQ night, I believe, is the consistency in which it is organized. For example, last week Dick was not even going to be home on Thursday night, but still sends out an email inviting people to just show up and have a good time. How cool is that! Anyone keen to start a similar weekly social night back in NZ?

Ever changing plans

Plan A: Dick and Amy flying to Anaktuvuk Pass on Thursday august 16Th for a 5 day tundra-hike, returning Tuesday 21st
Plan B: Duane and Dan will join them on this wilderness adventure
Plan C: Dick is sick on departure day so will be leaving Friday instead, no worries according to the airline
Plan D: Anaktuvuk Pass is cancelled when: we get to the airport to find out the flight is actually full and because Dick and Amy had gift vouchers they had to fly stand-by. Duane and I could go, just not our gear we were told....
Plan E: No worries, let's drive up to the Brooks Range instead because that is where Amy really wanted to go hiking. No trees just tundra. So we jumped in Dick's car and set off for a short 9 hour drive up north... back on the Haul road. We camped next to the car on the North Slope and would head out on our hike in the morning.
Plan F: Amy wakes up miserable with a sore throat and thus is not up to a big adventure. Ohh well let's drive up to a nice spot to park and we'll do day-hikes instead. So we drove south a little and decided to go for a little hike into this amazingly beautiful valley with a stream and camp there, just out sight from the road.
Plan G: Well we had a great afternoon lazing around camp, chilling out, eating and reading books. Duane built dams of course! But Amy hardly slept that night as her cold got worse and now Dick was starting to feel bad too, so when we got up in the morning plan G was formed: Let's drive back home! Forget about hiking up to this little glacier we had planned to do that day and end this madness. Maybe it was just not meant to be!! How plans can change...

(last photo shows bear digging, probably looking for a squirrel or some other small creature)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Crawling through the Castner Glacier

Last weekend, August 11/12 Duane, Dick and I drove down South for the 2nd weekend in a row for some weekend fun. The previous weekend we went to Valdez, a 6 hour drive, because Dick was after some Salmon to stock his freezer for winter. Not much luck they had on that trip as all there was were a few million pinks, which apparently are not worthy of eating according to Alaskans: bottom of the range.

So this time Dick took us on a ice caving excursion inside the Castner Glacier, off the Richardson Highway. Well this was just an amazing experience for Duane and I. Having never done such a thing before, we were very lucky to be in the company of a seriously knowledgeable ice-caver. Dick has been exploring this glacier and many others for a very long time. He used to do these trips with his son Tyson (now 23), when he was a little boy and still does them many times a year. He's even mentioned in the book The Reader's Companion to Alaska, a gathering of some of the best travel writing ever about America's last great frontier, edited by Alan Ryan. (This particular story is written by Kris Capps and is called: Ice-caving Beneath the Castner Glacier, Alaska Range. I bought the book straight away after reading that story and recommend reading it if at all interested in Alaska!)

We walked a short distance off the highway until we reached the large entrance cave to the glacier. After having a quick look inside we continued our way, exploring the glacier and climbing all over it. Now don't think of this glacier as being a crystal clear moving mass of ice with blue ice tunnels. No this glacier you can actually walk over the top without realizing you are on a glacier. Loads of gravel and rock has made its way up and now covers the glacier with blueberry bushes growing amongst the rubble.
So finding a cave entrance is quite and exciting activity. We found a little entrance and had an explore without much success so we walked on searching for more. And we found more!
A large heart-shaped entrance was waiting for us to explore its dark depths....
The cave went from light-filtered and large to a crawling space where one needs a proper army-crawl to get through. By now the light is fading fast and headlights are switched on. In the middle of the cave we took a moment to enjoy the darkness by turning off our lights and staring into the absolute pitch black of the inside of a glacier. How amazing to be inside a GLACIER!
After some more crawling and walking we found ourselves once more in a large cave where light streamed in and we could walk out to the other side. We had a quick look outside and stood in the sunshine before making our way back through the darkness and cold of this fascinating cave. What a good time!
That night we stayed at Dick's cabin, where we drank wine and ate cheese-fondue (with soy for me of course) while watching the sun set on the snow-capped mountains to the west.

Monday, August 13, 2007

View from Dick & John's Cabin

These are Dick and John and this is their cabin a few hours south of Fairbanks off the Richardson's Highway. What a great spot! The only way to get here in summer is by hiking in and in winter by snow machine. Check out the bear protection.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Dalton Highway to the top!

Off we went two weeks ago for a big roadie North. After an evening spent with our new laywer friends having dinner at Beaver's cabin, a hard-core goldmining lady, we hit the highway North.
The total length of this trip measures 498 miles from Fairbanks to Deadhorse. I suppose this may not even seem that long, but on a mostly gravel road, where potholes are the norm rather than the exception, travel takes a little longer.
As a brochure describes: 'At first, the highway was called the Haul Road because almost everything supporting oil development was "hauled" on tractor-trailer rigs to its final destination' : Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay, a large oilfield, the reason for the construction of the Alaskan Pipeline.
Fuel is not plentiful on this road and so when we pulled in to a gas station just north of The Yukon river, I wasn't too pleased when the lady told us they didn't have any fuel.
Note: Don't ask for 'Petrol' in the States, they do not know what that means.
A calculated risk it was and according to that precise calculation we would run out just before our next fuel opportunity. Well, I was wrong! We made it to Coldfoot and now know that Vinnie easily does 450 k's on a tank! Not bad for an old van. It turns out though that there was another fuel pump near the Yukon, but we had driven straight past. Advertising is not high on the priority list up there, so you have to be in the know, otherwise you simply miss out.

In Coldfoot we organized our gear and hopped on the middle fork of the Koyukuk river for a little overnight canoeing trip. The river is classed grade 1 and 2, so just right for a nice float with a few exciting moments. We camped opposite Wisemen, an old mining 'town' with about 12 residents and after a stroll around this remnant little town we made it back to Coldfoot that afternoon, where we picked up a lone Swiss hitchhiker named Martin. He accompanied us up the Haul road to Deadhorse, which took us 2 days.

The first night we stayed in the van, the 3 of us, at the top of Atigun pass in the Brooks Range. A barren land with treeless mountains, where mountain sheep roam, chased by wolves and bears, as well as caribou herds that often contain thousands of animals. While north of the Brooks Range we saw one wolf, a whole bunch/herd/group of Muskox, caribou and a marmot. Ohhh and North of Coldfoot we finally saw our first Grizz!! Crossing the road with his fluffy bum shaking at us!

The landscape up there is beautiful, huge, barren, wide and open with no trails, one road and loads of wildlife. Permafrost starts within 'inches' from the top of the ground and mosquitoes breed by the billions in the bogs.

Deadhorse was awefull I thought. It's not a town but an oilfield, where all employees are flown in for two to six week shifts. No one lives there perminently and you wouldn't want to either.
Caribou and bears live amongst this industrial zone as if it doesn't exist. To make things even worse, a fog usually hangs over the area, as was the case when we were driven around Prudhoe Bay on a tourist tour to view the Arctic Sea. Well, what a waste of time that was! For $36 pp we sat in a bus and couldn't see s... because of the fog, just to be allowed to venture out of the bus and touch the water for a minute or so. Apparently there had been a polar bear in the area, so they were paranoid about us leaving the bus.