This is part of a series of posts about a four week youth expedition to Alaska that I led in during the summer of 2010.
There was no doubt about it after our trek in the Wrangell Mountains we were exhausted. The weather was punishing and our 55 mile journey had been both physically and mentally demanding. As I said at the start of this series of posts this was the hardest and remotest expedition I have ever done with young people.
After the trek we took our shuttle charter to Fairbanks Alaska and stayed at one of my favorite places in the world – Billie’s Backpackers!
I had stayed at Billie’s Backpackers in 2005 with a group of students from Knox Academy in Haddington. Joe, who was running the place at the time asked me if I would ever be back – I told him then that I would.
He greeted me from the bus with a beaming face announcing that, ‘I remember you’ and that he still has his, 'Knox Academy Expedition T-shirt’.
We stayed in Fairbanks for a couple of nights, ate, fixed clothing, fixed gear, fixed ourselves and bought supplies for the next leg of our adventure. Our biggest challenge was getting the weight of our equipment down – in the Arctic, where most of the travel is by small bush plane and you are charged by the pound!
After two days rest we headed to Bettles Air at Fairbanks Airport where we flew in two groups to Bettles Lodge. Bettles is a very small village north of the Arctic Circle where pretty much all Arctic Expeditions to the Alaskan Arctic are launched from.
We flew to Bettles in two groups and when we arrived pitched our tents next to the runway. The people at Bettles Lodge were lovely and could not have been more helpful – we ate in the Lodge during our stay and were treated to home made Pitza and also fresh sheefish.
We also took part in our Gates of the Arctic National Park Orientation. National Park orientation is compulsory for all groups who are going into the National Park. It involves a talk with one of the rangers, watching a video on low impact procedure and then an opportunity for question and answers.
Whilst at Bettles we also had the massive job of sorting out all our food for the next leg of the journey. This was no small task as everything had to be divided up and packed into bear barrels. Again we were concerned about weight and everything was cut down to a minimum. We also pumped up and tested the inflatable canoes that we would be using on the next leg of our journey.
In the evening we chatted to other people staying at the Lodge, read books and at 10pm most nights watched the huskies being exercised around the air strip. They exercised by towing an old VW Beatle – it was quite a sight!
From Bettles Lodge our aim was the canoe the Noatak River from its headwaters to Noatak Village. The headwaters of the Noatak were deep within the Gates of the Arctic National Park and about a 1 hour flight from Bettles. To get there we had chartered three float planes.
After a days delay due to bad weather we finally loaded up the first plane with as much gear as it would carry and off we went back into the wilderness.
In my next Alaska post I’ll talk about the early stages of our adventures on the Noatak River.