Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The SNOW CAVE (Written by Chris and edited by Heidi) - December 11-12

The plan for our return trip was simple. Under no circumstances did we want to spend another night at Lonely. One night in that freezer/sleeping accommodation was enough for us. On the day we were to return to Deadhorse, the plan was to get up at 4:30am, pack all our gear, load the sleds, and call the pilot at 7:00am to check on the weather. Then, if it looked like he could fly, we would drive to Lonely using a different (faster) route, put the snow machine back in the shipping container, and be ready to fly by 11:00am or noon. That would give us plenty of twilight to fly back to Deadhorse (as dictated by US Government flight contracting rules).

On the appointed day, we got up at 4:30am, after a night of sleeping on minimal padding, as Heidi had so skillfully packed the super thick Thermarest pads into packages that were half the size any mere mortal could have achieved! We ate a quick breakfast and had everything packed and ready to ride at exactly 7:00am. Chris called Deadhorse and was given the go-ahead. Yes, it looked good for flying.

We climbed on the snow machine and headed north. This time, we lashed everything down with ropes so that there was NO CHANCE anything was going to fall off (not that this had happened previously – ahem). As it had snowed a few days while we were at the cabin, many of the troughs that had made travel so slow coming to the cabin had filled in, and the going was surprisingly, suspiciously smooth. We stopped a couple times to walk around and warm up. We finally realized at one point that travelling was so easy we could abandon our complicated path and just drive directly to Lonely. We did that and arrived at Lonely at 10:30am, as the twilight started to lift. We very skillfully packed (manhandled) the snow machine back in the CONEX, reinserted the puzzle-like mass of gear on top of the snow machine, and called Deadhorse to announce our readiness to fly. [Note: As we approached the buildings at Lonely, we saw a polar bear track that appeared to be relatively fresh. This sighting raised the vigilance level to an all time high].

Chris: “Hi Mike, we are all ready to go.”
Mike: “Ah, what’s the weather there?”
Chris: “Looks good. I can’t really tell the ceiling because everything is white, but it looks high, winds are less than 10 and straight down the runway.”
Mike: “Oh. Well, the fog just moved in here and we can’t fly. Call me back in an hour and we can see how it looks, then.”
Chris: “Okay. Talk to you then. “

The above conversation was repeated an hour later.

Then, at about 2:00pm, the following conversation occurred:

Chris: (tentative and pleading tone) “Mike, how does it look?”
Mike: “Uh, Chris, I know you want to get out of there, but it isn’t going to happen today.”
Chris: (imagining days of this weather) “What other options do we have? Does ERA have helicopters in town right now?”
Mike: “Well, they do, but you would be looking at about $8000 to make the flight.”
Chris: “Okay. We will call you in the morning.”
Mike: “Okay. I’m sorry. Have a good night.”

Dejected and horrified by the thought of another night in that freezer of a control tower, Chris relayed the news to Heidi. Together, they talked about all the alternatives.

1. We could unpack the snow machine. Load one sled with just the essentials and drive back to the warm and comfortable cabin. That would be a couple hours of unpacking the snow machine and about three hours of travel. Followed by three more hours of travel and repacking the snow machine tomorrow.

2. What about the Borough search and rescue helicopter? Could it come get us? Any more than one night in this freezer would certainly constitute an emergency. Really! [This was Chris’ idea. Heidi stubbornly and steadfastly maintained that we did not need to be searched for nor rescued].

3. We could just make the best of it and figure out a way to make it through the night.

After a few minutes of discussion, we settled on option 3. But, we had two different ways to make it more comfortable.

Heidi [marching up to Chris with a small avalanche shovel slung over a shoulder] “I’m going to dig a snow cave.”
Chris: [thinking Heidi’s idea will never work] “I’m going to try to fix the heater so we can heat the control tower a little.”
Heidi: [thinking Chris’ idea will never work] “Go ahead. We can both work and let’s see who has the better option in the end.”
Chris: “Isn’t a snow cave just going to be as cold as the air around it?”
Heidi: “You doorknob. Didn’t you dig snow caves when you were growing up?” [As she finished asking the question, Heidi was struck by images of little Chris playing on the sandy beaches of Southern California.] “Oh, right. You grew up in California.”

Heidi then began to explain the basics of snow cave construction and bragged up the snow cave that she and her cousins built one year as kids growing up in Saskatchewan. Chris was certain that she was slightly exaggerating as it included a curving staircase and was claimed to have plenty of headroom that allowed even an adult to walk around comfortably. In Chris’ mind, he saw a room with Roman pillars and red velvet curtains…certainly this was a hoax.

Heidi edit: No hoax!! I’ll find a picture of the staircase and pillars, oh ye of little faith! No curtains, though. And it did take a week.

At this point the wind was picking up and visibility was dropping. Chris was concerned about a bear sneaking up on Heidi and eating her as she was digging. Chris repaired the heater (which was no simple task), but it was useless. Although it ran just fine, it didn’t even put out as much heat as a small hair dryer. Chris was dejected and walked out to concede defeat. Heidi was digging away, as happy and absorbed as a six-year-old making sand castles on a beach in Hawaii. This only served to make Chris feel more dejected.

Chris: “Geez. This wind is crazy! I can’t see very far. I’ll sit out here and watch for bears.”
Heidi: “Okay! You better call and reschedule our flights!”
Chris: [Does she have to sound so frickin’ happy? This chick is nuts.] “Okay.”

The next 20 minutes were spent making sat phone calls to Alaska Airlines to reschedule. The first was dropped just as the agent pulled up Chris’ reservation. The second (again including about 5 minutes of music at $2 a minute) was successful in getting Chris’ reservation changed. Then, the call got dropped again. A third call: more music, followed by an agent who was not as friendly. He got Heidi rescheduled, but wanted a credit card number to pay a $50 change fee. What? This is crazy.

Chris: “Are you serious? Just use the card that it was booked under. That is what the last agent did.”
Agent: “No. I cannot do that. You have to give me the number.”
Chris: “ It is -35 and windy, I’m watching for bears while my colleague digs a snow cave that we have to sleep in tonight. I can’t exactly just reach into my back pocket to get my wallet.”
Agent: “I’m sorry, sir. I need the credit card.”
Chris: [Digging under two layers of clothes to get his wallet]. &*@($ @#$@# &*%
“When you get home. I want you to go to Google maps and Google “Lonely, Alaska”. Then, as you go to sleep in your warm house, I want you to imagine me freezing in a snow cave. Here is the number….”
Agent: [Giggle] “Okay, sir. Thank you very much.”
Chris: [after hanging up] “JERK. “

At this point, Chris gives in to the snow cave construction, grabs the other shovel and starts helping. We spent another couple hours working on the snow cave. Unfortunately, Chris got so excited and had so much fun that he let himself get too active and started to work so hard that he got sweaty (not a good thing when you have to later slow down and it is so cold). We realized after the cave was 90% done, that as the wind was increasing, we should have put it in a slightly different location on the drift. The wind was blowing across the opening and depositing snow. Looking around, Chris noticed that an upwind barrier might cause a vortex that would scour snow from the opening. He tried to construct such a barrier…but it wasn’t successful. In the end, he was able to scrounge some metal roofing that we put across the opening of the cave.

At about 9:30pm, we went in to an abandoned building just in front of the snow cave to get ready for the night. We left our parkas in the building and took refuge in the snow cave. It was perfect. There was room for two large thermarest pads and two sleeping bags. It was a tight fit getting situated. Chris got in first, took off his boots, and got in his sleeping bag. Heidi followed and did the same. As Chris settled in, he realized that it was very warm in the cave. He couldn’t see his breath.

Chris: “Damn! It is nice in here.”
Heidi: “Doorknob.”

Warm as TOAST

We could hear the increasing wind blow across the opening. Although Chris expected a restless night (like we had experienced in the control tower) it wasn’t to be. Chris woke at 2:30am and checked his watch. Next thing he knew it was 7:30 the next morning and he could have easily (and very comfortably) relaxed for another couple hours. When Chris went to get out of the snow cave, however, life was not so relaxing. The snow had drifted in the hole, and packed in right down to Heidi’s toque. Chris was concerned the entire hole had sealed solid and that they were stuck. [Sidenote: Chris is claustrophobic]. Chris checked the satellite phone for a signal before panicking. No, one could not phone from inside the snow cave.

Written by Heidi in between asterisks
Heidi had roused herself enough by this point to note Chris’ concern. Swallowing her own, she said, “Don’t worry, I brought the shovel inside in case we need to dig ourselves out. Could get a bit tight, though. Try pushing on the door again.”

Chris pushed. It didn’t budge.

Heidi: “Sit on your bum and kick.”
Chris: “It won’t work!! Relax, okay, just relax, Chris.” [Heidi’s concern grows over Chris talking to himself]
Heidi: “Chris. Look at me. Sit down and kick.”
Chris: “It won’t work!!”
Heidi: “Take one breath. Now sit. Good. Now kick!”

And the door gave in, luckily, as Heidi was not entirely sure where they would have put the snow in the event that they had to dig out. She chose not to mention this.
Chris: “Heidi, you were right. I like this snow cave sleeping!”

Chris’ wife upon arrival back in Anchorage: “Good thing you took a Canadian!”

Heidi: “Good grief.”

We’ll tell you all about flying back to Deadhorse with contaminated fuel in the next installment!

The Door, after 1 hour of blowing in the next morning. You can imagine what the 10 hour blow-in looked like!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Our Transportation Plan Backfires on Us (written by Chris and edited by Heidi) (December 10th)


Chris: “Go ahead and shut it down.”

Heidi: “What’s going on? Did I break it?”

Chris: “I’m sure you didn’t break it, but I’m not sure what is wrong.”

We had just finished fishing at a spot that was only about 1mile (1.6 km) south of the cabin and Heidi had driven the snow machine until we came to a stop just at the lake’s edge at the cabin. The snow machine started back-firing and wouldn’t go any further. Heidi made a few suggestions/questions about what it might be and then quickly surmised that Chris needed some time alone with the uncooperative snow machine. She went about the task of hauling gear the 100 m or so to the cabin. Chris raised the cowling and started poking around to figure out what the problem could be. Perplexed, Chris called a friend in Anchorage.

Chris: “Hi, Paul. I’ve got a little problem with the snow machine. Can you help me?”

Paul: “Sure, what…”[dead silence as the sat phone dropped the call]

Chris goes through the 2-minute drill of dialing the phone and waiting for the satellite. This happens three more times.

Paul: “I know. Satellite phone dropped us. So, what’s up with the snow machine?”

Chris: “Well, it was functioning perfectly and then began backfiring and won’t make enough power to move. But it seems to idle okay. “

Paul: “Have you been running in a lot of blowing snow?”

Chris: [Picturing the view we had on the ride back the night before in a 30 knot crosswind when we used the direction of the snow to aim for the cabin – this is actually another anecdote*.] “Uh, yeah, we don’t do much else.”

Paul: “Well, I bet you have carb ice then. “

Chris: “Ah! That makes sense.”

Paul: “What’s the temperature right now?”

Chris: “Hmm…I’m guessing it’s minus 20 today.”

Paul: “Ohh…it’s going to be hard to get that warm enough. “

So, carburetor ice (or carb ice) can block the flow of fuel to the engine, which can kill it. In our case, Paul (who owns this snow machine and one just like it at home) thought that we picked up some of that blowing snow, which was now coating the inside of the carb. Sounded reasonable.

To get the carburetor warm enough to melt the ice, Chris decided to wrap the cowling with his down sleeping bag, build a snow berm to block the wind, and let the machine run until everything got warm enough to melt the carb ice. Then, he put some duct tape (can’t have a bush repair without duct tape) over the cowl openings in the hopes that we could get a little warmer running temperature. After about an hour, his sleeping bag was completely saturated in hydrocarbons (luckily he had a clean one in the cabin, otherwise he would have asphyxiated while sleeping) and the surface of the cowling was warm to the touch. Great. That carb ice had to be gone.

Chris hopped (well, waddled, let’s be honest – he was wearing a LOT of clothes) on the snow machine, gunned it and drove around for about 200 meters, when…

BANG. POP. REVVVVVVV….same thing all over again

[Insert foul language of your choosing that Heidi could hear from inside the cabin]

At this point, Chris came into the cabin for a snack and a warm-up. Heidi was packing. She looked up when Chris came in the door and quickly surmised that asking any questions was unwise. There is a natural division of labour that evolves during field trips, usually based on ownership and/or experience. For instance, Heidi was in charge of all things gill net during the summer sampling. The gill nets were hers, and she nets a LOT. Chris has more experience with motors, planes, snow machines, etc, and the machine belongs to Chris’ friend. When the person ‘in charge’ of a certain piece of equipment is facing a potentially trip-threatening problem, it is generally wise to shut the **** up until your assistance is requested.

Heidi’s brain to Chris’s brain: “Can we bring the snow machine inside?” (This was communicated by Heidi looking contemplatively at the door, not by speaking).

Chris: “I thought of that and measured. No dice.”

Heidi: “Rats and squirrels, as they say.”

Chris: “Let’s pour boiling water on the carb. That will do it.”

No. It didn’t.

Okay, another hour under the sleeping bag and a large tarp.

Nothing. Same problem.

Paul was called again.

Paul: “Wow. Let me think. The carb is attached to a black rubber boot with a spring clamp. You could remove that and look in the carb to see if it is clear or if something has lodged in there.”

At this point, Chris was stressed. Here they were with a snow machine that did NOT machine over snow. He had to fix it so they could take it back to Lonely. Tomorrow. And we still had to move a bunch of fuel and equipment over to the other cabin. Also, the machine was borrowed! We couldn’t just abandon it at the cabin until Spring. Although, Chris thought, if he didn’t get it running, he might just have to do that and arrange for us to get picked up here. Oh…that was not good. [Heidi edit: This would be a MAJOR loss of Alaska man-points. Also, we left the CONEX at Lonely looking locked, but not locked because the lock had frozen solid and we were too frozen solid to thaw it out and lock it before we left. Also, our snow machine helmets were there. We couldn’t get them on when we left Lonely, because they were frozen solid. Heidi chose not to remind Chris of this.]

In order to take off the carb boot, Chris had to work bare handed. That meant, he could do a few minutes at a time and, then, had to revive his hands in his jacket. Off came the boot (being VERY CAREFUL not to lose the spring or any of the other small bits in the pitch dark). Chris stuck his head in the cowling and eased the carburetor over to look inside. Nothing. No ice, no foreign objects, just a perfect looking carburetor.


Dejected, Chris went back to putting the rubber boot back on the carb. The boot was attached between a black plastic box and the carb. As Chris was reattaching the spring clamps, he realized that the black box was held together by two bolts that also held a solenoid to the spark plug and one of the nuts was missing and the other was very loose (resulting in a faulty ground to the solenoid – and hence the misfiring which resulted in the backfiring.) ARGH!!!! Why didn’t he notice something so obvious? [Heidi edit: Seriously? You think this was obvious? Please.] Chris rummaged around and found a wing nut on one of the ice fishing tip-ups. With that in place and the other nut tightened…everything ran perfectly!

We ended up losing a day due to this little incident. However, it happened within 100 m of the cabin. Clearly, karma was on our side. The day before, we were over 20 miles from the cabin and it was -30 with a 30 knot wind. The day before that we were 20 miles from the cabin and Heidi got so cold that she had to stamp up and down a patch of ice for 20 minutes while singing Christmas carols to herself. This could have been MUCH worse.
*Anecdote. Driving back from fishing on that day (we refer to it as “that day”, as it was colder and windier and scarier than any other day), Chris stopped for the 20 millionth time and said, “Heids, we’re just not making any progress. The GPS won’t run for any longer than 10 minutes, and there is no good light today and no landmarks. We’re all over the place. It worked okay when you were sitting backwards and could steer me by staring at the moon, but you can’t see that anymore, either.”

Heidi: “Wait for the GPS to warm up. Then when we’re running again, memorize the angle that we’re crossing the blowing snow at. Memorize where it’s hitting your face. Then hold that angle. Hopefully the wind doesn’t shift.”

Chris: “Ah, blonde Inuit, how in the hell did you come up with that?”

Heidi: “Driving on the south Saskatchewan prairie. When it’s blowing snow, which is 4 months of every year, and it’s night, you often can’t see the road for a few seconds at a time. But the road is straight, because it is the prairies. So I memorize how the snow looks to avoid the ditch.”

Chris (working his frozen thumb back into the trigger position): “Huh. Sounds reasonable.”

Good grief.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A typical day fishing (December 6-9, 2011)

[Slam goes front door]

Chris: “I think it might be warmer outside. I took my hands outside of my mitts to refuel the stove and they don’t ache. My hands, that is.”

Heidi: “Sweet. Let’s catch some fish!”

[15 minutes of dressing later]

[20 minutes of packing later]

[1.5 minutes of last-minute babybel-cramming later]

[30 minutes of snow machining later]

Heidi (yelling): “All I can smell is exhaust. Also, I’m starting to lose feeling in my right foot, despite foot warmers and these $200 boots.”

Chris: “Same here.”

Heidi: “They’re supposed to be good to -100C or -148F.”

Chris: “Thus, we can only conclude that it is below -148F. I hate it when that happens.”

[2 minutes later, after Heidi does windmills, karate kicks, and otherwise stomps around to get warm, and Chris warms up the GPS, we resume our positions on the snow machine]

[Repeat 30 minutes of snow machine, 2-6 minutes of warm up, several times]

Chris: “We’re here. Let’s drill some holes. Of course, this would be easier if we hadn’t broken the auger. I was told not to buy Eskimo augers.”

Heidi: “Why did you buy one, then?”

Chris: “They didn’t have any Jiffy augers in Anchorage. I would have had to go to Wasilla.”

Heidi: “Where the heck is that?”

Chris: “It’s where Sarah Palin is from.”

Heidi: “Okay, well, we have most of an auger. And we can operate it, as long as we divide the labour into holding the auger and operating the throttle.”

Chris: “This would also be easier if my thumb wasn’t permanently frozen.”

[After drilling holes, Heidi and Chris stare at each other]

Heidi’s brain to Chris’ brain: “So……who’s going to take off their mitts and put the bait on the hooks?”

Chris’ brain to Heidi’s brain: “Someone also has to operate a pair of pliers. This will be next to impossible.”

Heidi’s brain and Chris’ brain: “Both will take mitts off.”

[35 minutes later, all tip-ups are set, and Heidi is jigging. Chris is going from hole to hole and slushing. Holes tend to freeze up quickly on this lake (quelle surprise)]

[20 minutes later, Heidi and Chris switch, without saying anything. Repeat several times.]

Heidi: “I think I’m hungry. All of my snacks are frozen in my pocket. Also, I don’t want to take off my mitt to get into my pocket.”

Chris: “I think the lake trout have been extirpated from this lake.”

Heidi: “Time to cut bait and return to the land of zucchini casserole and a stove???”

[Repeat most of first half of this post. Substitute playing tag for windmills and karate kicks]

Saturday, December 31, 2011

First Day at Tesh (December 5, 2011)

8:00 am – BANG…..bang….clang……whoooosh.

Heidi: “Sounds windy.”

Chris: “I’m going outside to fill up the snow bucket.”

[Bang goes door]

“HOLY *****!!!” [Muffled yell from outside]



Chris comes in, panting slightly.

Chris: “The wind whipped the bucket right out of my hand. I can’t stand up out there.”

Heidi: “Yikes.”

Chris: “We won’t be working today. I’d also recommend that you pee in a bucket.”

Heidi: “Yuck. I’ll take the risk on the spray zone. The key is orientation.”

Chris: “The key is staying upright!”

Hangin' in the cabin on a windy day

Friday, December 30, 2011

Leaving Lonely for Tesh (December 4, 2011)

Chris looking a trifle frosty

Sounds straight forward…..17 miles, a few hours of daylight, 3 GPS units. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, we woke up frozen. Heidi, particularly, was slow off the mark and even when she did manage to get up and into her super-suit (long underwear, down pants, long underwear shirt, merino wool, micro puff, giant Canada goose jacket, 3 toques, 2 pairs of mitts, 2 pairs of socks, Baffin boots, etc), she had to stomp up and down the 5000 ft runway several times before feeling returned to her extremities. She was essentially useless. Chris started to get things ready, and then had to take his own warm-up break. Basically, we used most of our ‘light’ (twilight) getting ready.

And so we started.

Problem 1: The GPS units were pretty much all popsicles and did not function well. We had to keep putting them in our jackets to warm them up.

Problem 2: There are NO landmarks and NOTHING to point toward when the GPS arrow is not arrowing.

Problem 3: We could see Lonely for over an hour. [Demoralizing.]

Problem 4: Not much snow on tundra = very slow progress. We were slower than a herd of turtles stampeding through peanut butter.

One hour into the trip we stopped to stomp around and warm up.

Heidi: “Let’s take stock.”
Chris: “The GPS’s are barely functioning. We can point toward the sun-ish for about another 10 minutes. We can still see Lonely. I’m uncomfortable. Do you think we should go back?”
Heidi: [Thoughtful for several minutes]. “Probably. But I don’t want to. The lure of a warm cabin is simply too tempting.”

So, onward we forged. It was painful. We saw the tail lights of another snow machine going goodness knows where. Other than that, we saw very little. We lost some bags off the sled and had to backtrack. Heidi did step aerobics on the tundra while waiting for the retrieval mission to return.

The Borough cabin at Teshekpuk Lake is right beside the only feature – some cliffs. (A bank in any other topographical setting). Seeing those cliffs elicited a feeling of indescribable relief. Four hours after our departure, several stops, several course corrections, and 1 retrieval mission, we arrived. And the stove started.

Arrival at Lonely (December 2, 2011)

So, after waiting a day or two in Deadhorse, Chris and I headed out to Lonely on December 2, 2011. Chris had flown out with Bob the day before to drop gear at Teshekpuk. They also flew over the route that we would be snow machining (Lonely to Teshekpuk).

Chris (yelling to Heidi over the noise of the generator as we were madly flinging gear around the hangar): “Just to warn you, it’s a little eerie. Flying, that is.”

Heidi: “What do you mean?”

Chris: “Well, it’s kind of like being inside a dimly-lit ping-pong ball.”

Heidi: “Surrounded by white…..sounds good. Can you see anything – textures in the snow or tundra?”

Chris: “Nope. Just white. Until you get to Lonely. Then you see a big radardome and a giant hangar.”

So off we flew. An hour later (Heidi was a Heidsicle), we landed at Lonely. Bob, not wanting the plane to sit for long at -30, quickly threw the engine cover on and we tossed stuff out of the plane. Bob took off.

And there we were. Lonely is an odd, odd place. It was quite pretty right when we landed. The sky was pink (as light as it ever got), and we could actually see a horizon of sorts. Lonely is an abandoned DEW line site and has supposedly been ‘remediated.’ I’m going to go ahead and call it random. In one building, which we called ‘disgusto building,’ there would be a wall ripped out, insulation down, light tubes taken out, and then a case of unopened Comet, a nightstand, and a closet with hangers in it. It was pretty eerie. The place was silent with the exception of a persistent and very rhythmic, “Clang……clang…….clang..” It sounded like an empty flagpole.

Chris: “Phew. This is like being in a creepy sci-fi movie.”
Heidi: [Surveying the scene] “What this adventure needs is a little more cowbell!”

Our first task was to find Chris’ colleague’s CONEX, unpack it, and extract the snow machine. This turned out to be a little more time-consuming than anticipated (as is everything at –stupid degrees Celsius), and started with the lock being frozen solid.

Heidi: “Too bad we don’t have a propane torch. Not that it would work at –30.”
Chris: “We’ll have to light the MSR stove.”

Turns out, matches don’t like -30, and white gas doesn’t like -30. Heidsters also do not like -30, but we knew this in advance and planned for it.
Several minutes later, the lock was thawed out.

Heidi: “Let’s take stock.”
Chris: “I am going to hold up this ridiculously heavy door and frame. You grab that 4x4 and wedge it underneath bit by bit as I lift the frame higher.”
Heidi: “Good plan. Wait. What if we get crushed?”

We were not crushed, but we could have been by the leaning tower of field gear Pisa that threatened to avalanche out as soon as we had the front open. After about an hour of meticulously removing a jumbled jigsaw puzzle of action packers from the CONEX, we could see the snow machine, and lift it out. AND it started on the second pull. Clearly, higher beings were on our side.

Until, of course, the snow machine refused to move anywhere. Turns out, the belt does not engage when the machine is that cold. Apparently higher beings enjoy amusement. We spent 20 minutes trying to start the machine for the second time. By the time it was running and moving and the sleds were hitched together, it was getting dark. We decided that it would be better to stay at Lonely than to snow machine in the dark to the cabin.

Ah, fools we be.

Chris recounted the experience to Mike via satellite phone later in the week.

Chris: “Yeah, we have a plan that will avoid the need to stay at Lonely another night.
Yeah……that was TERRIBLE!”

The good parts were: 1) zucchini casserole; and, 2) hand and foot warmers. That was all.

Waking up dark-circled and chilly on the morrow, we found that our sleeping bag torsos were covered in ice from breathing inside the bags (yes, we know, winter camping instructors). At this point, Heidi allowed that yes, wearing part of a dead seal and a dead otter on her head was indeed warmer than not. Chris was pondering at this point if it would have been: a) more comfortable; or b) less comfortable, if we had lit a bunch of pallets on fire in the hangar and attempted to sleep there.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

And so it began…….Mike, Bob, and Jesus H. Dog

We can’t make this up. 70N Aviation, who flew us from Deadhorse, AK, to Point Lonely, AK is composed of Mike, Bob, and Jesus H. Dog (all pictured below). Upon arriving in Deadhorse and phoning Mike for a ride, we were enthusiastically greeted by a golden lab that we recognized from the summer.

Chris: “What’s the dog’s name?”

Mike: “Jesus H. Dog.”

Mike has a long beard, hip glasses, and lives in a seacan (CONEX for you Americans out there) beside the unheated hanger. Bob (owner) lives in a Winnebago parked at the back of the unheated hanger. Jesus H. Dog LOVES playing fetch with sticks. Sticks are thin on the ground up here (particularly in winter), but this dog can find the smallest sticks imaginable.

Mike and Bob are great. They managed to get us out to Point Lonely, AK, and back. Thank you, Mike, Bob, and Jesus H. Dog.

The plan

So, some of you may be wondering what in the heck was up with field work on the north slope of AK in December. Back in July, a group of us, including USGS folks and Nancy and I, went to Teshekpuk Lake, AK to catch lake trout. We were foiled. Big time. Those nefarious LKTR completely evaded our attempts to capture them. So, we had the bright idea that we should try ice fishing. Part of the problem with Teshekpuk Lake is that it is HUGE, and it is difficult to get to some spots on the lake from where the research cabin is located without a lot of fuel, a pretty big boat, and a lot of luck. Travelling on the ice would surely be easier, non?

Ah, yes.

The easiest thing we have ever done.

The plan was for Chris (USGS) and I to charter from Deadhorse, AK, to Point Lonely, AK. Point Lonely is an old DEW line station with a nice airstrip, and some other USGS folks have equipment there that they kindly allowed us to use. The plan was to snow machine from Lonely to Teshekpuk and go ice fishing. Why now? In the dark? Well, we thought there would be too much ice in April. Like, a LOT too much ice. And the ice was late coming on this year. Hence December instead of November.

'A' on the map is Deadhorse. 'B' is Point Lonely. 'C' is Teshekpuk.

Easy, right?

What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

I should mention that this plan was a lot easier than earlier iterations of plans, including 60 mile snow machine rides and self-propelled transport.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Exploding Toilet

So, living on the Arctic Star (barge) involves what Nancy and I call 'suction plumbing.' It sounds like an airplane, but much louder. The first time Nancy took a shower and the suction plumbing kicked in, she was so startled and jumped so high that she hit her head. When you hear the sink valve trip, you brace yourself for an almost deafening noise.

A couple of weeks ago, I was eating dinner while Nancy went to take a shower (having previously eaten, of course). With a spoonful of corn halfway to my mouth, Nancy came running in.


This was all she said before blasting off down the hallway. Turning back she yelled, "Heidi, FASTER!"

Upon arrival in our room, I saw that the toilet was about 0.5 nm away from overflowing.

Heidi: "What did you DO?"
Nancy: "NOTHING! I didn't even pee - it just started doing it."

Quickly turning the water off, we rushed back to the kitchen.

Nancy to room in general: "Who takes care of the toilets around here??"

Keith was the person to look for.

Heidi: "What does Keith look like?"

"Oriental. Or Native."

Heidi: "This is not entirely helpful."

Nancy ran upstairs to find a person yielding a shop vac outside a bathroom and quickly ascertained this was the person we were looking for.

Nancy: "Our toilet's exploding! Are you Keith?"

Keith: [Throws down vac] "ANOTHER ONE?"

Apparently, the lines had been flushed that day and some of the valves had gone. After fiddling with some things for a bit, Keith left and then came back.

"I just checked the system and she's right pinned. This whole line is running at 60 PSI."

Nancy: "60 PSI??? The TOILET is running at 60 PSI?"

Yes. And this is why it exploded.

Last day of fishing today - Nancy is back down south and Chris has been in for a week. Wish us luck catching spawners in a boat that floats.