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The Arctic Circle!

USA | Friday, 29 July 2011 | Views [363]

While driving north on the Dalton Highway, the 400 mile haul road constructed in a mere five months to bring supplies to the newly approved oil fields in arctic Alaska, Shannon said to me: "if you had asked me as a child if I would ever travel into the Arctic Circle, I would have said no, even with a child's endless imagination." I thought about it and guessed that statement valid for myself as well. But here we were, driving north. To a land of permafrost tundra, through the Brooks range, past 'towns' of Livengood, Coldfoot and Wiseman and the whole time following near by the Alaska Pipeline. It was a slow, scenic drive with lots of little side adventures all over it.

On the first day we stopped at Grapefruit rocks and along the steep one mile hike, there were plenty of excellent rock faces to boulder. We climbed around for an hour or more before getting back in the car. It was fun to climb the rocks, although one line ended up being a bit too challenging and too dangerous in the last 10 feet and I had to down climb. Although we did pick a few blueberries, we could not find any grapefruit.

The town of Wiseman is funny. I guess I could say it is cute. A town of some 15 log cabins, that 'people actually live in' as described by the nice ranger at the visitors center. Some cabins were beautiful and made me want to build my own cabin from the earth. 

We hiked up to the top of Sukakpak Mountain. At 4,000 feet it marks the southern edge of the Brooks range along the Dalton Highway and was a traditional boundary between interior Athabascan natives and native Eskimos to the north. There is no trail, as in much of Alaska, hiking is bush-waking and blazing your own paths. We ended up taking a direct route, and found ourselves on some class III pitches fairly quickly, with lots of esposure beneath us. The worst was worrying if we would have to down climb; it is always much easier to go up than down. We found a route, eventually, but not without each of our stomachs nervously turning. In the end it was all worth it, the view was beautiful and we found a safe path to walk down. 

Driving through the Brooks range was marvelous. The road is steep and narrow. The trees end as the timberline is at only 2,250ft this far north. We saw our first Dall sheep of the trip along the highway here. It was definitely quiet the sight.

The initial goal of the Arctic was to swim in the Arctic Ocean. This notion was quickly dismissed, not for the cold as you might think. No, the public cannot swim in the Arctic because oil companies own everything up there and stop the public 8 miles away from the Arctic. Visitors are only allowed on a tour bus, registered in advance (for security purposes) to tour around Prudhoe Bay see the Arctic. One is only allowed to dip their toes in the ocean, NO SWIMMING! That didn't stop us however, Shannon and I did SWIM in the Arctic. Just north of Coldfoot, 75 miles inside the Arctic Circle we took a dip in the Marion Creek. It was a beautiful creek and cold. So what if it wasn't the ocean, I swam inside the Arctic Circle.

Tags: camping, hiking, swimming

 

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