4.14 Leaving the ice camp or up in the air again (Part 2).
We flew to Prudhoe Bay at about 500 ft so that we would have a good view of the ice. The ice looked like a flat white egg shell. An egg shell that had been torn apart into pieces and then the pieces slammed together and reattached. Mile after mile, the ice looked like a rubble field of pressure ridges, with a few open leads. The ridges and leads were chaotic zigzagging all over the place.
About an hour into the flight, roughly 20 minutes from Deadhorse, we started to notice 2 parallel straight lines. The lines seemed to have a purpose and were going somewhere. Sometimes the lines crisscrossed with other lines. If you looked closely enough you could make out individual foot prints. They were polar bear tracks! There seemed to be more polar bears on the ice closer to land then our ice camp. We kept looking along the tracks hoping to see a bear, but we never saw one.
As we approached the Deadhorse Airport our visibility dropped to zero. We were flying blind in cloud cover and were on instrument approach. I could see the instruments that the pilot was using from my seat in the plane. A long white line indicated the airport approach to the runway and there was a small plane indicating our position. We crossed the line, banked sharply to the left and dropped down through the clouds, suddenly the runway appeared right in front of us and we were on the ground.
Cathy and I helped off load out gear and then tried to make arrangements to locate and place equipment for shipment in specific places. When this was done we walked over to Alaska Airlines to see about flying to Fairbanks. We had come off the ice a couple of days earlier then we had predicted and didn’t know when we would be able to get a flight out of Deadhorse to Fairbanks via Anchorage. As luck would have it we met up with Bob, an Alaska Airlines employee that we had met on our arrival. Bob helped us with our travel. Cathy and I got our gear checked through and stepped onto the next flight. We were probably in Prudhoe Bay a total of 1 ½ hours.
The flight to Anchorage was gorgeous the visibility over the Brooks Range was outstanding. We arrived in Anchorage and it was 38 F and winter was ending. Our flight to Fairbanks was overcast most of the way. But when we arrived in Fairbanks it was mud season and a balmy 48 F. The change from the icy north to mud season in Fairbanks was a big dramatic change and mentally disorienting.
We arrived in Fairbanks at 5:00 p.m. on a Saturday, with no one to meet us at the airport and no place to stay. We had permission to stay at Jenny Hutchins house, but despite repeated calls, we couldn’t reach her house sitter to get a key. So I took this opportunity to connect with an old friend from my graduate school days. Joanna Roth and John Bost picked us up and let us crash in sleeping bags on their floor. It was great fun catching up. Joanna is a biological consultant specializing in vegetation mapping. She rowed crew at Brown and is now very passionate about bicycling. John is in my line of work and teaches third grade. They were wonderful hosts and we had a terrific time.