The next morning, conditions were a little better at Point Lay. As usual, we took a walk in to town and visited the store. We also met some members of the local tribal council and spent a little time with them before returning to the airport. Many of the locals had gathered on the apron, as today all four of the graduating high school class were due to fly out to start attending college; unfortunately, for reasons unknown, the aircraft did a fly past and elected not to land! We couldn’t figure out why, as conditions were certainly OK.
The morning’s flight took us up the coast, steering well clear of charted walrus haul-outs, to Barrow/Utqiagvik; the most northern point of the US.
In a repeat of the previous day’s weather, conditions started out clear and slowly deteriorated. It wasn’t until close to Barrow that we had to descend though, and we joined a couple of other aircraft that were landing special VFR. Barrow was easily walk-able, but for the first time in a long time there were plenty of cars and trucks around. It was strange to have to look out for traffic when walking around. This was the biggest settlement we’d been in for a while, and after looking around a bit (and failing to find a souvenir store) we had a forgettable lunch at the Top of the World hotel.
Being tired of flat coast, we decided to push inland to find a camping spot for the night, and headed for Anaktuvuk pass in the northern side of the Brooks range. Yet again, the weather was great for most of the trip, closing in right at the end just before the arrival, where we found ourselves facing a bank of cloud almost down to the ground. We descended towards a river valley, and could see a clear and safe way through to the valley we wanted, so in we went. Approaching the airport, though, things cleared up entirely with 4,000 foot cloud-base and great visibility.
On arrival the very friendly local policeman, Daniel, came to see us and told us a bit about the village. The village post office is apparently officially the most isolated one in the entire US. We set up camp in the now familiar drizzle, but at least it was a few degrees warmer and not blowing a gale!
The weather the next morning had improved, and we set out north to Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay. This is an oil town on the north shore of Alaska; there really isn’t anything else at all in Deadhorse. The flight took us over now very familiar tundra.
As we neared the coast we passed the haul road, which runs all the way south to Fairbanks, as well as the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline. The line runs across the entire state (which is, despite what Texans may protest, even bigger than Texas) to Valdez.
On arrival we parked up at Colville aviation who were exceptionally helpful with running us around during our stay, and in sorting out accommodation. We stayed in the Colville accommodation camp, which was more like a well-appointed, basic hotel. $120/night got us each an en-suite room and meals were included, along with 24/7 snacks and drinks free of charge in the “spike room”. Good value for this part of the world! We took advantage of the free laundry to refresh our clothes.
The next day was Sunday, and in this part of the world, Canada is closed on Sundays (no customs at the only port of entry). We therefore elected for a day trip to Barter Island, which holds the village of Kaktovik, and Arctic Village to take advantage of the good weather.
Kaktovik is renowned for being the “Polar Bear Capital of America”. Officer Tony, the friendly local policeman, met us at the airport as he was conducting his rounds and took us for a tour of the island. Unfortunately for us (but fortunately for the polar bears) the unusually cold summer and long lasting sea ice of this year meant that the bears were all still out on the ice. One young male was spending a lot of time on the spit, but was away while we were there. We ran into a couple of men preparing a boat to go out for the first time that season; the sea ice had kept the boats shore-bound until now.
The skies were mostly clear so rather than heading directly back to Deadhorse, we doglegged south across the famous Brooks Range to Arctic Village. The scenery was, once again, stunning. I wished we could camp there overnight by the river, but alas, this time the schedule would not allow.
From Arctic Village we pushed back across the range to Deadhorse, another free dinner, and the preparations for entering Canada. I filed the flight plan, and the required notification to the US authorities that we were leaving the country.
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