Week 06 Are We There Yet?

Date Posted: 3.28.2011
Location: 63º20' N 142º59' W Tok, Alaska, US
Weather Conditions: Sunny, 27ºF (-3ºC)

"If we stay straight-ahead the next big town is Fairbanks; taking a left will have us in Anchorage in about six hours!" Almost there. At the time we write this its been 12 days, 1 hours and 50 minutes since the dogtruck pulled out of the driveway at basecamp in Minnesota-and we are still on the road. The dogtruck did have another breakdown indeed as a belt in the engine broke, but that was actually handled in a swift. Now, while Mille has been going at it almost literally around the clock, logistics and diplomacy this week has taken its own sweet time...

The good news is, the planes are booked, we are now in Alaska and its breathtaking around here. That's right! Since we left Whitehorse yesterday snaking our way along the Rocky Mountains we have crossed the border back into the United States from Canada; and, we along the way we have also passed one of Mille's favorite places in the world: Kluane Lake.

Caribou along the road       
Caribou along the Alaskan Highway

The largest lake in the Yukon Territory in Canada, its a lake with a story! Over just a 25-year-period from 1645 to 1670 its water level rose almost 40 feet (12 meters)!!!"I have driven by this lake in the summertime, and when the ground is not covered in snow you can actually see the elevated beaches! This area was home to the Tingit and Athapaskan people-imagine how their lives had to change swiftly as the land around here totally changed so quickly."

And as is so often the case in Beringia the story really is all about some moving glacier...

The Kaskawulsh Glacier advanced forward and this closed what was the drainage outlet for the lake and that's what made the water level rise. It also made the water go the other way! Use to be that the water from the lake would flow to the Pacific Ocean (you know, the ocean Chris and Tasha sailed with the Sea Dragon at the other end of the world, just a bit more than a week ago!). But the fast-moving water carved a new channel at the northeast end of the lake to connect with the Yukon River... then running all the way to the Bering Sea, where we are heading!

Wondering why this is one of Mille's favorite places ? Well, join the chat on Thursday 3/31 at 6:30 PM to ask her yourself!

If you can not make it, submit your questions on culture and place in Q&A by Wednesday and the questions will be asked to Mille during the chat! That also enters you in the Q&A competition this week: You can win a cool GoNorth! SIIG Water Bottle if your question is selected "the best of the week" on the topic of culture and places when the answers post on Friday! As for the chat, a transcript and a recording is available afterwards - so you can take part no matter what as Mille comes to us from Beringia before the team head for Chukotka..

Bush Camp in Whitehorse Valley

 The bush camp by Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada
Technically speaking we are actually there-in Beringia that is! The Whitehorse Valley where Joar, Jim and the Polar Huskies have been hanging out this past week is considered the southern edge of Beringia. The plan when the dog truck set out was that we either go to Whitehorse or Anchorage to catch a plane onwards to Chukotka. The Government of Chukotka have been in charge of setting up that transport; all we had to do was to make sure we were there in good time, ready to go!

Pulling into Whitehorse last weekend, no decisions had been made so we had to hang around, and to our luck we were offered to stay with Isa and Jack in their Bush Camp some 20 miles outside of Whitehorse. Whitehorse all started with the Yukon River, people finding precious gold, and lots of sled dogs! "When you walk around town, you have no doubt how important dogsledding is to the history of this place-I love it!" smiles Joar.

The toilet facilities: go fast and enjoy the view!

Jack picks up firewood for the wood stove
With its softer rolling terrain and milder climate than anywhere in the near distance, people have gathered in this place for a long time.

Watch movie
Watch Jack on living in a bush camp with his wife Isa off the power grid' and self-sufficient.

Watch movie
Watch a close bear encounter with Isa involving fat and a steel drum!


An American and a bit of a world traveler Isa came here almost 40 years ago-with her sled dogs-to settle in a remote log cabin in the woods. Yes, ok, the trees around here are not exactly huge, but woods it is! Because there is not permafrost everywhere here, trees can grow roots to establish themselves. That is also how the plumbing here in Whitehorse, unlike Nome for example, is underground.

Isa and Joar live without plumbing anyway. They get their water by going to a near-by creek, the burn wood for heat and only run the diesel generator really for minutes once in a while , to get online! The dog yard where they got married sits in front of the house with access to endless terrain of fields and mountains.

The perfect place to test the 'racing sled' and let the Polar Huskies run it out for a bit!

 Polar Huskies on a run to test the race sled and strech out

Watch movie
Watch the Polar Huskies setting out o a run to enjoy the scenery in the
 Whitehorse Valley plowing though deep snow.

Watch movie
Joar load Jim in his 'race sled' to test it in perfect conditions -- the Polar Huskies are cruising high speed (no brakes)

Watch movie As we go north in to the land of continues permafrost (permafrost
everywhere!) we move above the tree-line, so this is a last ride through the woods - no big trees in sight but lots of small poplar and willow.

So is our next stop: Willow. The official host of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race restart since 2008. Before then it was Wasilla further south, but with the changing climate, Wasilla no longer had enough snow every year to have the start there.

So for this week we have at least one answer to the question Inupiat Nora Burnes asked us from Kaktovik last week! Yes, in Wasilla in southern Alaska, they are also seeing changes to both culture and the land as a result of a changing climate...

A rainbow over the Beagle Channel       
We had the most phenomenal chat this week on that topic-we were joined by Stev who is an anthropologist doing research on the topic; and as we announced the day before the chat, Stev is to join the Polar Huskies on the trail along the Alaskan coast once we return from Chukotka!

"It's difficult to put into words how excited I am to be able to join Team GoNorth! and the Polar Huskies on this journey," grins Stev, "my employer, AECOM, has been amazingly supportive of the idea and I'm looking forward to assist the educators and scientists on the team with studying the affects of climate change and document how communities are adapting to this global phenomenon. As an anthropologist, I find it important that we take the time to understand how other cultures may be adapting to environmental change so that we can apply those lessons broadly if the need arises. I have to admit though, as someone who owns a dog that tips the scales at about 8 pounds I am a bit intimidated by the mode of transportation, dogsledding with the powerful Polar Huskies"

Student Explorer Tasha

Polar Husky Superstar Domino
Domino, this week's Polar Husky Superstar, is powerful indeed--and impatient! A big guy, Domino is incredible (and surprisingly) athletic-one to fly full-out whenever the opportunity is there.

Actually, as we are about to load planes this coming week, Domino is one we have to keep a close eye on as he taking off down a run-way or two (actually more) over the years. "I will be checking, double checking, and triple checking that his box is securely fastened before we leave him sitting in any one airport," says Mille. Part of it is that Domino is headstrong. Short as that. At first he seems really laid-back and easy-going, but don't be fooled. When Domino is on, he is on, and he is intense. At the same time, Domino is as sweet as can be, loves to give kisses and ever so gentle-much like his mother Nazca.  Especially if he is trying to convince you that it is time...to get there, to go!