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Life in Alaska

Posted by on July 19, 2006

Back from the Alaska bush. My trip into the Brooks Range was, well, exciting to say the least. We left Friday late afternoon and arrived at a lake about 185 miles north of Fairbanks and 80 miles north of the Arctic Circle. I’ll say now, it was beautiful…

We had a great dinner and got up early Saturday morning and loaded up in the plane again. The plane was a 170 Cessna two seater, so my buddie Jake sat in the rear cargo space to give my long legs some stretching room. We flew another 20 miles, give or take, further north into the Brooks over some very high peaks to another little landing strip. We’ll the pilot called it a landing strip, it looked more like a flat open space with some gravel on it to me and low brush growing in the middle. I didn’t really worry about it till we clipped a small Willow bush, but we landed fine with no issues.

On the ground we found what we came to get, 2 Polaris ATV’s that Jake and I had to drive back to the main cabin, that is 20 air miles to the cabin we just spent the night at. Now I didn’t think to much about it at first, I figured it was just another adventure in Alaska, and I wasn’t disappointed. We had to do some repairs to get the ATV’s running. The first one was a fairly decent Sportsman 500 that only needed a new spark plug and some heat in the gas, the second one was a bit more challenging. Both of them had been sitting there for over a year under a trap, a tarp which was torn to shreds by the local bears and didn’t do much to help the rigs anyway.

After we rebuilt the front hub, fashioned a seat from some form padding, aired the tires, changed the spark plug, tied the broken brake cables out of the way, the 350 was also ready to go, or at least as ready as it was going to be ..

So off we went, starting along a gravel trail that went to nowhere but did go over those high peaks we flew across earlier. As I said, it was just beautiful wild open Alaska at its best. Yeah I know, we were riding motorized vehicles in the wilderness and some folks get all riled up, get over it. Till you have lived in Alaska, not just visited, but actually lived here, you just won’t understand. Going over the passes we had to climb to 5138 feet on a switch back trail that was built by miner prospecting for gold in days past. We stopped by a couple of their diggings and I was in awe to think of what these old timer had to do to get here. First take a boat up the Yukon river, buy supplies, build a drag sled out of wood (heavy) load it with their supplies, wait for it to freeze up and snow, walk across the Yukon Flats, over 5000 foot peaks, arrive in this desolate wilderness and build a cabin before the temps got to far below zero. Wow and all this with no more that the power of their legs and muscles……

Anyway, being of a more modern nature, we drove over these same hills in what to those old timers would of been luxury and ease. We saw some Caribou, Moose, a creamed colored Grizzly Bear, got whistled at by a couple Marmots in the rocks above tree line and drank some of the freshes spring water I ever remember having. This first leg of the ride back was easy and very enjoyable but didn’t last. As soon as we crossed the high peaks we had to drop down into a couple of glacier valleys. Wet, swampy, and over grown with 6 foot high willows and lots of tracks.

Here’s where the work began. First off, the trail wasn’t what I’d call a trail anymore, more like a strip through the wilderness that someone at one time or another had walked through to get from point a to point b and not much more. First off, we started down the valley on the northern side, thinking it might be drier, not. So we headed down into the valley figuring the creek banks might be easier, not again.. But we knew we had to follow the creek, that was our only land mark to make it back to camp. Then the tire fell off the 350, so we fixed that, then the 4 wheel drive went out, not much we could do with that, so I had to 2 wheel it out, with Jake towing me when I got stuck. Then the linkage went and so did reverse, so Jake had to tow me backwards when I needed to go in reverse. A long trip, but we actually made back to base camp in one day and in one piece with no one hurt, but man was I tried.

Now this in itself would of been an adventure, yup, it gets better. While Jake and I are wheeling our way back to base camp, Dave the pilot is making a few supply trips to stock up the cabin. On his last return flight he starts getting oil spots on the windshield, not some thing one would call healthy in an airplane. So Sunday morning we take a look at the plane, the prop seal has gone out and we are now officially stranded. Dave does have a satellite phone with him and after numerous attempts, he gets a hold of his mechanic, another Dave, who is also a pilot and flies out Monday afternoon to deliver and replace the prop seal. Great, the plane is fixed by 9:30 PM Monday, problem, the seal has to sit over night to make sure it’s properly seated and the seal adhesive had dried. OK, no biggie, another day to fish and relax. For you fisherman out there, the Brooks has 30 pound Trout and Pike, just in case anyone wants to go fishing. And yes I said 30 pound Trout, that’s like catching a small King Salmon….

During the night a fire breaks out along the east channel of the river and the smokes is so thick you can’t see to the end of the lake. Not good, so we wait some more, hoping the winds will change, they don’t. After a couple of aborted attempts to get above and beyond the smoke, a charter plane arrives. This one is running on IFR (instrument), where we are only flying VFR (visual), so smoke makes no difference to them, and yes you got it, we (Jake and I) jumped on that charter flight for its return to Fairbanks and left Dave and Dave to wait for the weather to improve. I heard last night that they did make it back safe and sound, so all is well that ends well.

Well I’m home and wondering if i might get a chance to go back and fish some more, it’s really a fantastic place to visit. Anyway, I have some excellent pictures that I”ll post to the web site photo album, just as soon as I get them back from developing…….


The Brooks Range, my first trip to Chandalar Lake, August 2005

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