The alarm went off at 6:00am Fairbanks time to get me out of bed and down to the tour desk to hopefully get on the 7:00am flight to the Arctic Circle. It wasn’t until we were being transferred to the airport that we learned that there was no flight this morning and the 1:00pm flight was the first for the day. I needn’t have gotten up so early after all.
After the normal ‘American-way’ of going through every little detail about what was going to happen, and what we would experience, we embarked a small twin engined 10 seater Piper Navajor aircraft bound for the ‘northern frontier’. From the moment of take off until touchdown, we swayed and bumped around all over the place. For a moment, I thought I could be in for a Meniere’s Attack but my mind kept saying, “No, No, No”.
The scenery was so different in a way. The vegetation was still considering to bloom from it’s winter cave. As we headed further north, the seasonal change was having less effect. Trees were showing so little attraction to the new season’s excitement. The region doesn’t have four seasons – just the two, summer and winter with a short melt down when freeze becomes melt. We could see the lakes melting at the edge of the shorelines. Some rivers were running with ice still clinging to their banks. As we crossed the unmarked line of the Arctic Circle, our pilot made the announcement but we didn’t feel any different. No extra celebratory bumps. No razzamatazz.
The flight path is generally up the Dalton Highway which goes all the way north to Prudhoe Bay on the north of Alaska. Oil companies used to own the highway while they were building the oil pipeline that generally follows the highway. More than half of the pipeline is above ground because of the intense cold of the ground which would cause the oil to freeze and not move.
We landed at Coldfoot, a very sparsely populated area where they only see the sun for 4 months of the year. Everyone lives in darkness most of the year, and lots of snow with the temperature often -60 F. Sled dogs sleep outside in the winter chill at this time and are fed frozen meat cut-offs not needing to be preserved in the refrigerator.
There is a post office beside the pub and the truckers cafe, but is only open 3 part days a week and receives mail once a week.
We took a visit to Wiseman, a village of people who only survive off the land. They rely on solar power (when the sun is shinning), and generators when needed. Hand-cut wood is the fuel for heating. The produce from the garden is stored for the long winter, or should I say frozen for the winter, under the houses. Meat has to be hunted for and if you shoot a large deer, you cannot take in a vehicle to retrieve it; you must cut up the animal and cart it on your shoulder to your vehicle. It may be 400 metres away and a 60kg shoulder of animal becomes heavy in that distance. An angry bear just may be around. Bear in the area are usually timid and shy of humans and keep away if you are in their territory but make their appearance at the carcass when you have well and truly gone.
Wildlife is just coming out into the open, this week or so after the winter, but we only saw the one moose.
After an all round trip of 5 hours, we are now proud owners of a certificate that says we have been north of the Arctic Circle.