Wednesday, June 07, 2006

To Fly or Not to Fly

The next morning we woke up in a dark cloud. Literally. The cloud base was only a ~100 feet above the air strip. We called back to Nome on our satellite phone and talked to the Bering Air dispatcher. After Bob laboriously transmitted the poor conditions to the dispatcher over the intermittent connection, she replied, “Oh, of course we can’t fly, Nome is all fogged in.” Thanks. After waking up in what my flight safety instructor would call canonical bad flying conditions, however, I was fine with waiting. Bob and I made another cup of coffee while we thought of plan “B” which was a trip back to Nome for, among other things, beer.

That evening we returned to Quartz Creek, packed up more met station instruments and tools, tossed the camp canoe on our truck and drove to the Kougarok landing. Here we canoed and then hiked to several more met stations, gauged the river, and installed some rods to track this season’s thermokarst erosion on a stream called Niagra. It was another late night.

The next morning we went ahead with the helicopter flight to fix the Kigluaiks radio repeater and the Skookum Pass antenna. Skookum was another met station and the Kigluaiks repeater station helps transport the VHF signal into a base station in Nome. It was really chilly at these sites and I was only wearing jeans (designer ones mind you) with no long-underwear in case I caught on fire in a helo crash. Our pilot was a Nome lifer about our age who probably burned more fuel keeping himself warm in the helo than he did transporting us, but gave us complimentary flight narration. He and his buddies were starting an ambitious hunting, flying, and fishing charter business. They were building a cabin to house the guests, but the late pack ice in the harbor was preventing the first summer barge from coming in and they were out of building supplies. Ben would entertain us, though, by flying in close to various cabins and saying “let’s see if the Hansons are out for the weekend or whether it’s too cold for them.”

We did see a bear and her three cubs from the helo. They were playing in one of the mining ditches and just looked like teddies from the air. Back at base camp the National Park Service had flown in two tiny Super Cubs for a week of bear surveys. Two NPS rangers were waiting for the planes to come in when we arrived one evening. They were a couple of goofballs: a giddy middle-aged white stoner who was probably from New Jersey and an old quiet Native guy. They were joking with us that they were waiting for a bunch of “enthusiastic young women to show up in planes to count bears”. Ah yes, everyone loves intern season.

I could go on for pages describing the rest of the trip, but I have to pack for the next one on the North Slope of Alaska. Suffice it to say that Bob and I celebrated back in town with some Japanese pizza and I flew back to Fairbanks. It’s true there is “No place like Nome” and I look forward to coming back soon.



abmatic said...

what about silk long underwear? mmm long underwear... sounds like youve been keeping yourself busy... where does Matilda go when you are away?

jc said...

thanks, abmatic. Yes, i had the silk idea too late. Ma~ goes to her finder's place (my boss' house) when I'm away...he and his wife are good sports about it. boy did i miss her !