Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 10

I have the best crew in the world. I don't know how I got so lucky, but the four of us get along great. We eat together, work together, then hang out together during our free time (what little we have). All four of us have similar interests and we have yet to argue about a single thing. They've even told me I was a great crew chief, which is funny because I always thought I was kind of an asshole. I think it may be that we all realize how lucky we are to be on this incredible project, and how screwed we are if we can't rely on each other. Either way, I'm quite pleased with my crew.
A fine lunch of steak and chimichangas

Another great day on the north slope. Today actually was a great day, it started out sunny and in the 50's. Without a wind the bugs were worse than usual, but since we were working along the coast they weren't too bad. I even worked for a while with my bug jacket open and my face exposed. We flew east along the Beaufort Sea (Arctic Ocean) for about 45 miles before being dropped off at a pair of small streams, our sites for the day.
River and the Arctic Ocean

Along the way, we saw an incredible herd of caribou running toward the coast. Apparently the mosquitoes drive them crazy too and they sprint to get away from them. It was amazing to see a thousand caribou sprinting down a stream to the coast; straight out of a National Geographic special. I tried to get a shot, but I was buckled in pretty tight and just couldn't get the right shot. Besides, we were 1,500 feet off the ground so it wouldn't have shown much. We could also see the polar ice cap really well because of the great weather. Up here, the atmosphere causes quite a bit of distortion and at times, the ice cap looks like a 1,000 foot cliff. Five minutes later, it's just a layer on the ocean. Regardless, it's truly stunning.
Polar ice cap (kind of blurry)
We proceeded to survey a couple of streams and were hoping to walk down to the coast to actually stand on the edge of the Arctic Ocean, where no doubt we would see thousands of walruses battling polar bears while the narwhals flung baby seals in the air with their horns. However about halfway through our second site, two things happened.
Me in the water

First we got a call on our satellite phone telling us that our helicopter was having some issues and another chopper was coming to pick us up immediately. Of course, by immediately they meant in an hour and a half due to the fact that they had to bring the chopper in from an even more remote location and we were 45 miles from town. This was fine as it allowed us to finish the second site.

Also the weather changed. If their is one rule regarding weather in Alaska it is that it can change on a dime. And today it did. Within an hour it went from sunny and warm to cold and rainy. Thank God we were prepared and it wasn't a big deal. In fact my day pack weighs about 25 pounds and is completely crammed full. About 90% of the size is clothing ranging from a wool jacket, a fleece vest, a rain coat and hat, to a balaclava and winter mittens. In addition, we have a huge waterproof duffel bag that goes everywhere with us that included a tent, sleeping bags, food, survival gear,....... You never know.
Casey with the Brooks Range in background

Eventually the chopper showed up and shuttled us back to our temporary home. Once on the ground, we noticed the tour buses at the Arctic Caribou Inn. Testing our theory we decided to see what they had for dinner. Rib eye steak, shrimp, baked potatoes and coconut cream pie. It appears that our theory just became law. Two steak nights in a row, life truly is good.

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