ANWR

1:37 p.m. on April 2, 2009 (EDT)
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Hey all,

 

three friends and I are planning a trip from the PNW (lower 48) to the north. We plan to drive up to Inuvik for the Great Northern Art Festival and then back across the Yukon to Alaska-Which brings me to the point of this post: the ANWR.

After a little reading, doing a 10 day hike in the ANWR is of interest, but still in the "wouldn't it be neat" stage of planning. So first I would ask: has anyone on this site has hiked in the refuge? If so, do you have any first-hand experience and/or advice.

I recognize that this is a serious wilderness trip plan, and I don't want anyone getting in trouble or hurt. Furthermore, we are not rich. These thoughts raise several concerns. Are we skilled enough? Can this hike be done with packs weighing less than 50 lbs? How much does (air) transportation cost? Should we plan on boating part of the trip? And so on.

We = Of the four of us, all have moderate trekking experience in rugged terrain (though none of us has hiked in the Tundra). Two of us have a moderate level of wilderness survival skill, though no formal training beyond first aid. The same two of us are proficient in the use of a map and compass. All of us are in fairly good shape. All of understand other basic stuff like low-to-no impact camping, bear precautions, how to start fire under adverse conditions, how to bivouac, and super basic rope skills (such as knots, rappelling, fording waters, etc.). Gear is not an issue, I think, as we have what is needed.

So, that's that. Just curious if anyone has any input...

Thanks,

G

7:35 p.m. on April 2, 2009 (EDT)
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Barb and I did a little hiking in a corner of ANWR when we went up to the Brooks Range, though I can't claim expertise and extensive experience. But the first reaction I have to your plan is - do you really realize how big Canada is? Do you really realize how far it is from Inuvik across Nunavat, the NWT, and Yukon to the Alaskan border? Canada is the second largest country in the world in land area. I would assume you plan to fly to Inuvik, do a few days backpacking, then fly to Fairbanks and either rent a car (there is a car rental agency next to the Fairbanks airport that rents cars modified for the drive up the Haul Road, aka the Dalton Highway) or take the bus up to ANWR. It is a really long drive (or bus ride) from Fairbanks, and a bit dangerous, due to all the really big multi-trailer trucks on the Haul Road. You really do not want to drive your own vehicle up the Haul Road, unless you are carrying at least two oversize heavy duty spare tires and lots of spare parts. The rental cars have beefed up, raised suspensions. You will have to have a CB radio (you transmit your location before virtually every turn to warn the trucks, who travel typically at 50-60 on the downhills, and keep in mind that the Haul Road is gravel, with deep mud stretches, and less than 10% paved after you get about 75 miles north of Fairbanks (Livengood - the gravel and mud are in the summer - it is ice and often not plowed fall through spring).

Standard, unmodified SUVs and pickups are not really up to the Haul Road, and that's a good road compared to what you might take as the most direct route across Canada (I would suggest swinging back south to Canada 1, the TransCanada Highway, as a better and faster route choice if you really want to drive that far, and do check the distances so you won't be too surprised - this is much farther than driving New York to Seattle). Most people take 4-5 days to drive up just the US Border to Fairbanks part of the AlCan (though I know a few who claim to have done it in a single 48 hour stretch by swapping drivers).

If you do have a breakdown on the Haul Road, be aware that there are only 3 or 4 places you can get repairs done between roughly 75 miles north of Fairbanks and the North Slope. Well, actually only at the Yukon River and Coldfoot, if it's anything more than a flat tire. And that's about the only two places to get gas, too, in the 450 miles (count on averaging 40 mph or less).

Years ago, Barb and I (and our son) flew our plane from where we were living at the time (Mississippi) to visit her parents in the LA area, then up to Calgary, with the ultimate goal of getting to the shores of the Arctic Ocean. As we stopped to visit friends in Calgary, we suddenly realized that our distance remaining to the Arctic Coast was more than we had flown to that point from Mississippi via LA. Our plane was well suited to bush flying (we had flown it into and out of small clearings in the Rockies, among other places, many times).

You can use a bush pilot to take you from Fairbanks to one of the airports on the boundaries of ANWR, but it ain't cheap (despite the heavily subsidized avgas prices in AK).

I would actually suggest, based on your statement about not having a lot of experience or training, that you should do a shorter trip from Inuvik or up the AlCan to Fairbanks, then rent one of the modified cars.

Once you have solved the transportation question, the backpacking is a breeze. You will only have a few brown bears and musk oxen to deal with, oh, and a few wolves. There was only one couple (canoing by themselves on the Yukon) eaten by a bear last summer. The rest of the critters are pretty innocuous for humans. Well, except for the State Bird of Alaska (and the Arctic generally), namely the mosquito. I was talking to someone today about mosquitos, who thought he had seen big mosquitos. I showed him some photos we had taken of these small "aircraft" with other things that showed the scale. They are huge, to say the least. But, they do not carry diseases like mosquitos in most of the rest of the world, and they tend to fly slowly. On the other hand, when you are approached with what looks like a WWII bombing run over Dresden or Tokyo, it's hard to swat fast enough. Pure DEET barely keeps them at bay. (legend has it that during WWII, the Alaskan mosquitos crossbred with B29s. Truth is, they get that huge because of the 24 hour daylight north of the Arctic Circle).

On map and compass - you do realize that you will be close to the geomagnetic north pole, and that the magnetic dip is rather large, don't you? Plus the magnetic declination is rather large (up to 30 deg or more in the area you say you are going). Canadian maps are fairly difficult to get for the Nunavut province, and USGS maps for ANWR are 1:50,000 or smaller scale, hence the detail is small and hard to read (though there isn't all that much to use as landmarks on the tundra in ANWR, plus a lot of it looks the same - now which stream is this? Looks like the last 3 we crossed!). This is one place where skill with a GPSR comes in handy.

Anyway, the backpacking (or canoeing) is a piece of cake. Have fun on your adventure!

8:47 p.m. on April 2, 2009 (EDT)
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Bill, thanks for the in-depth (for the internet) and thoughtful reply. Really appreciate it. One thing I should have mentioned is that this is a 5 week trip, so drive time is less of an issue. Expense and safety are my concerns.

On vehicles: mine is a toyota 4x4 with some modifications (differential armor, brush guard, rock sliders, roll cage), about 17-18 mpg on gravel at 40mph with a 17 gallon tank. I was planning on carrying 4-5 5 gallon jerry cans, extra electrical parts (sparks, starter, etc..), two extra tires (32 inch goodyear mtr), and probably a hi-lift rather than a winch. Of course, I would carry basic tools and crap like jb weld/bondo, electrical tape, and other quick "fixes." So, fuel range should be sufficient for event the longest stretches with poorer than normal mileage; I can always strap on another jerry can, as well. Repairs are sketchier, as you mention. In the event of a catastrophic break down-always a possibility-I guess someone would have to hop on a bike and start pedaling...

I had heard and read that the highway between fairbanks and deadhorse was basically the worst in North America, and definitely don't feel compelled to drive it. I guess I thought that if we were to hike in the refuge, then we would need a bush pilot to get us in and/or out. Most of them seem to feel that prices can't be set in advance because of changes in fuel prices. Who am I to argue?

On compasses: I mention this just for an indication of general experience/skill-though I was unaware of the actual declination at that latitude.

On bears and mosquitoes: yeah, brown bears pretty much scare the crap out of me (I've never seen one). However, I guess that if one wants to experience the wilderness, one needs to be willing to accept the responsibility for (failure at) self-preservation-largely by being as well prepared as possible. I reckoned that bears may actually be less of a problem in ANWR than in, say, Denali, due to the relatively lighter tourist presence and food-conditioning. I don't know, though.

Thanks for the mosquito tale. B29s, that's great! I hate the bastards, but they seem to love me. I use deet when it's at all an issue. Then I attempt to achieve enlightenment through meditation to block out the itching. Then I just swear a lot. It seems to get better after a few days, no? I've been told that you develop antibodies for regional mosquito populations, maybe that's it. But based on stories I've heard about ANWR, it sounds like a burly few days.

 

Thanks again. I'll keep your advice in mind.

9:06 p.m. on April 2, 2009 (EDT)
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Actually, the brown bear food conditioning in Denali NP isn't much of a problem, since they have required strict food control for many years. They had the canister requirement long before anyplace else. Also backcountry access in the lower altitudes of Denali is pretty strictly limited to numbers and location. But the big furry guys are curious and will investigate anything, and a few can be pretty aggressive.

We found that the timed-release DEET worked pretty well (Ultrathon and Sawyers both). We would be fine, though surrounded in a cloud, when others would be running and slapping vigorously. That's why we used it in Tanzania as well. Just don't eat soft fruits, and eat lots of garlic and onions. That seems to help as well (though my "sweetie" Barb seems to attract them more than me - I keep telling her to lay off the chocolate in mosquito territory ;)). Clothes treated with permethrin seem to help as well, along with the newer picaradin as a substitute for DEET.

12:00 a.m. on April 3, 2009 (EDT)
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Time-released, huh? I was unaware. I'll check it out.

7:00 a.m. on April 3, 2009 (EDT)
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Can't offer any advise on ANWR or anything similar.

Just wanted to comment on 4x4 travel. I know you have a toyota, I do as well. If you have not swapped out the entire suspension system and had the transmission rebuilt with heavy duty parts consider it unmodified. That is true of all brands. Don't fall for "like a rock" or "quality is job one" and all that garbage.

12:04 p.m. on April 3, 2009 (EDT)
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I understand the suspension issue. This is something I'm working on, though I'm having trouble getting it worked out for less than a fortune.

However, when you discuss rebuilding the transmission what are you referring to? The gearing? I've looked into it and remain uncertain. Have you done this? How long and how many miles have you run with 'new' gears?

Anyway, I gues its probably a subject better suited to yotatech ot the like...

12:25 p.m. on April 3, 2009 (EDT)
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Mosquito advice: Watkins insect repellant. It's a cream and works for more than 1 hour when the skeeters get vicious. Very popular with tree planters in places ike Ontario and Quebec.

Looks like an awesome trip! But Bill is right about driving distances and possible car troubles. It would suck to have to abandon your truck in some crappy town or have to wait 2-3 weeks for parts. Dirt roads are real tough on trucks. We use F-350 Turbo diesel trucks with raised suspension and mud tires for bush work in the Rockies and even they break down sometimes. The older ones (circa 1996) seem to hold up a bit better for some reason.

2:14 p.m. on April 3, 2009 (EDT)
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When trout says "heavy duty parts" for the transmission, that's just what he means. Virtually all 4x4s come from the factory with transmissions intended for nothing heavier duty than the occasional dirt road, and farm roads. One of my volunteer duties for Boy Scouts is overseeing the timber management on several camp properties. I only take my Toyota on the "prepared" logging roads. Our professional foresters have always replaced the full drive trains on their off-road pickups right after they buy them, since even the factory heavy duty ones aren't really adequate to the places they drive.

Take a look at the 4-Wheel Parts catalog and website (a national chain that specializes in off-road vehicles). I had them modify the suspension on my old Ford Exploder when I started doing the timber management oversight (contrary to the Hearst sensationalized articles, we do selective harvest, annual tree plantings, fuel load reduction in our urban camps, and fully involve the State agencies in doing the environmental assessments and mitigation). I didn't do the drive train, and as a result had the 4WD activation die while driving on an unplowed road in a blizzard - that's ok, it's the driver more than the vehicle.

7:14 p.m. on April 3, 2009 (EDT)
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Thanks all for the detailed advice.

I guess I need to make it clear that I'm not planning on driving my Toyota in the bush. I'm not super into off-roading, other than the occasional spin around logging roads in Oregon/Washington. I wouldn't take such chances in situations where the nearest town is more than a day or two walk. That said, I think Franc puts things quite well when he points out that "it would suck to have to abandon your truck in some crappy town or have to wait 2-3 weeks for parts." With that in mind, my focus has thus far been on ensuring that the engine is as well-prepared as possible, and that common Toyota trouble spots have all been dealt with. The transmission I haven't even begun to deal with, and I was planning on throwing in an OEM should I feel the need to do something. Should I really splash down the money for a "heavy duty" overhaul if I'm primarily sticking to standard roads (gravel, paved)? It's hard to do when I think what that same money could do to help out the trip (After a few days, Ramen and Cliff Bars start to grind on a fella).

Obviously, I don't know the road conditions in AK. But when I look at the Milepost and see RVs and sedans in photos of the Dempster, I feel like my rig shouldn't have too much trouble on similar roads (I'm *not* including the haul road because I just as soon not $%*& with stressed out truckers on a crappy road to a town I don't really feel the need to visit).

So, thanks again. I really appreciate the straight forward talk. It's great to get such experienced input so quickly and freely!

11:17 p.m. on April 3, 2009 (EDT)
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goyo,

I am not a transmission guy, unless you count tearing them up.

Nowadays I use only manual transmissions rebuilt with heavy duty parts, I have a guy that can do the work at his house so that helps with the cost. He also takes pride in his work and that may well be the most important component. He does all my work and lets me "help" so I can learn some. But I'm no mechanic.

If you plan to drive on something that can be called a road,(gravel / improved) you are probably okay with OEM, provided you take it easy when needed. Some of the jeep trails I have to drive on will push a stock (OEM) vehicle to the breaking point, and usually at the worst possible time, you know?

You sound like you have given this quite a bit of thought and don't have a problem with proper planning, or asking for info. That is good, some people don't. I have had to rescue guys in their so called off road 4x4's that had them burried up to the floorboards, wedged between trees, or just out of gas, and so on.

Usually it's just a case of poor planning or too much macho for the level of off road skill they had. Lot's of younger guys think "modified" means a luggage rack on top, new mud tires, or a hood scoop. Or worst of all a cheap 3" lift kit, yeah that'll do it. Well, actually worst I've seen was a 4x4 truck with DVD players & those neon under lights, HUH? Should have spent the money on a winch.

Hey, we all have to learn! I did, and a lot of it the hard way. Your probably fine with your 4x4 on decent roads given that it is in good repair. So I would say don't spend the money on modifications if you don't plan on a good bit of real off roading.

I hope you have a great time, BTW which Toyota do you have?

5:34 p.m. on April 4, 2009 (EDT)
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Trouthunter,

It's a 5 speed 94 extra cab with the notorious 3.0 (I'm having the head replaced with warranty by a professional). But hell, it was cheap and with ongoing elbow grease it seems like a scrappy little creature that will run a long time. Going through the process of learning how to restore it has been really satisfying (and just a tiny bit maddening). Some of its quirks (e.g., biggish tires) came with it, and since most of these are of good quality, I just decided to keep them. I was considering putting a tiny lift in the body so that the wheel wells stood off the tires a bit more, but I'm not sold on the idea yet. And yes, the things that people do to these trucks are insane. Everytime I see a great old 22r-carburetor with a bobbed bed (or no bed), 7 inches of lift, and 38" tires, it makes me a bit sad. Some day there will be none of 'em left in decent condition.

Anyway, I promise that no one will have to pull me out after getting stuck between two trees! Nor will I ever be caught with neon lights and DVD player.

We do all have to learn by trial and error. I just try to keep laughing at myself.

Happy trails!

9:39 p.m. on April 4, 2009 (EDT)
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Sounds like a nice little project truck! I certainly would not go out and get a nice new or like new truck just to take apart and re-do it, or just to bang it up in the woods either.

The reason to do a lift should be because you have replaced the stock suspension with a performance suspension with lots of articulation, (up and down travel in the wheel well). In other words the suspension takes all the bumps and humps and still leaves all four wheels in contact with the ground, also makes for a smoother ride at higher speeds. The lift gives you room for the tires to travel the full distance (articulation) in the wheel wells, if you then turn around and fill up all that space with a huge tire you have wasted your money on the suspension package.

It's not quite that simple, different types of off road travel require different set ups of course. I ran stock vehicles for years before I was able to build one. Best money I ever spent was for a winch.

I laugh at myself all the time!

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