Wolverine creek (67.61265N, 152.26408W) from my tent at midnight on the 9th Aug.
This is day two of our river float down the John river.
Fairbanks to Bettles. Sat 7th Aug
After meeting up with Tim and Michelle in Fairbanks on Saturday we drove North in convoy along the Dalton Highway which will be familiar to those who watch 'Ice road truckers'!! The majority of the road is gravel and snakes it's way north through rolling hills of stunted Sitka spruce and tundra. The road stays mostly on the ridge lines, occasionally dropping down to the water courses where the road is usually heavily patched and bumpy as t it sinks in the boggy ground. The alaskan oil pipeline snakes alongside, usually within a mile of the road raised up off the ground on pillars each with radiator vanes on top to stop heat being transferred down and melting the permafrost. We crossed the mighty Yukon river on a long sloping bridge surfaced with timber and filled the cars with fuel at a pump that had a notice pinned to it warning that only $900 could be pumped at a time! We bought coffee from the motel/diner/souvenir shop before pressing on for the final 80 miles or so to the Arctic Circle marker for pictures and then on a mile to the Arctic Circle campground for the night.
Sunday 8th Aug.
We woke to low clouds and rain which meant that our flight tacking us to Bettles would be delayed. We had breakfast, packed up, and headed for Prospect Creek airfield at Pump Station 5 where the plane would come too if or when the cloud lifted. We used the sat phone each hour to check with Bettles and eventually we heard and then saw a small twin engined plane coming in low over the hills to the Southwest just under the 1000ft cloud ceiling. 6 people got onto this plane with most of the luggage leaving Mike and me to wait for a Cessna 206 to come and pick us up. It arrived about an hour later and we packed the last bags and ourselves in for the 20 min flight. Mike sat in the copilots seat as we flew at 1000ft over the tundra following the winter road which is only opened once the ground is frozen enough to drive on.
Bettles is a busy little airstrip next to Evansville town/village. There are a variety of helicopters and planes parked up or refueling, a lodge with a souvenir shop, kitchen serving meals, a computer with Internet connection, huskies and husky puppies all clamoring for attention! Moose and caribou horns adorn the walls inside and out, while photos of hunters with dhal sheep and pilots with planes adorn the dining room. Bettles we discovered that to fit on to the two flights up to Hunt Fork Lake we would have to reduce our overall weight by 350lb... Frantic re packing reduced it by 200lb, but no more, so we agreed to have a 3rd flight at $1200. The weather was still not good up the valley so we waited for a couple of hours during which time we had our compulsory talk by the Ranger on bear safety, the 'leave no trace' policy and then talked with him about the issues facing the park which include new mines with associated roads across the tundra and the impact that has on fish and migrating animals.
Bettles to Hunt Fork
The call came for the first flight so T, M, Alex and Hannah set off with enough food and gear to last two days if the weather closed in before the other flights could be completed. The weather held and the 2nd flight was on. The plane was a wonderful red and white DHC-2 Beaver (serial number 302... for those interested)! Exactly the same type of plane that I flew in in 1964? from Blantyre to Salisbury with mother so that I could have my adenoids removed. This time I sat in the co-pilots seat :-) as we flew the 60 miles up the John Valley to our drop off point which is a small lake at the junction of two rivers. The valley is not particularly wide so we were flying up the valley below the surrounding hills and mountains with good views of the river we were going to negotiate. We arrived at the fork in the river and made a tight turn in to the lake, had a smooth landing and taxied into the reeds at the edge of the lake and then dragged and carried all the gear the 1/2 mile through swampy ground at the edge of the lake to a sand/gravel bar where we set up our 1st river camp and waited for the 3rd flight carrying our rafts and last supplies which eventually arrived at about 22:45.
The cooking area was set up about 100m from the tents, firewood gathered and a fire started. Michelle produced great homemade food she had spent the previous week making and dividing into individual vacuum packed portions that only needed to be heated in boiling water so were very quick and tasty. Two large bear proof coolers held all the frozen food and a miriad of waterproof bags held everything else...
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