Excursion in Sea Kayaking at Barrow Alaska




Gail E. Ferris


1991 there I was gazing out of the airplane window and it was my first time flying north from Anchorage.  We flew over a glacier in the photo below.


Alaskan Glacier on the way to Barrow



We flew over the last mountain range, Brooks Range and I saw this dramatic view from my airplane window.


Brooks Range just before coming to the North Slope tundra leading to Barrow


Cloud cover on the way to Barrow


As we descended into Barrow on a grey August day, August 5th, 1991.  I had an idea what the topography of the area was to be but from what I saw after the seemingly endless miles of flying from Prudhoe Bay I was not expecting the tundra to be such a drab shade of yellow but more likely brilliant dark and light shades of green. 

Then came the weather report over the plane's intercom system, with determined resolution I listened as the voice reported in decidedly ominous tones that the winds were from the west at 18 to 25 knots with higher gusts and the temperature was 45.  Immediately I recognized by the intonation that the implication was that a strong low pressure system was about to produce some nasty stormy conditions, which I would have to wait to pass before I could venture on the water in my kayak. 

Patience was as aspect, which one acquires from travel experience.  I had just returned from my first experience of traveling in a truly foreign country, which was Siberia.  There I refused to worry about things I could not control such as the weather because I had so many other things I realized were more important for me to direct my attention and pursue the endless curiosities, which I could think of that I knew I would want to know eventually.  So instinctively I knew the first order of business was to call a taxi, retrieve my Klepper, which had been UPS shipped previously to Barrow, and be driven to an area suitable for camping while the storm raged. 

Once inside the airport terminal a kindly Inupiat lady, Edith Wilson, rushed up to me and asked if I were the party whom she was to be meeting.  I told her who I was and she immediately loaned me change to use in the telephone.  This was my first experience with the native people of Barrow and there were many more, just as wonderful, to come. 

The cab arrived driven by a young, perpetually cheerful native fellow who felt as obligated as I felt guilty that he should load my ponderous luggage while I speedily piled into the cab as many pieces as I could and he handled the rest. 

Then I dropped the news that we were going elsewhere in town, where I had a vague idea, to pick up my Klepper, which was just two more bags, which weighed more than I wish to remember but their contents were essential.  As the weather blew in, I was soon going to find out how critically essential each piece of equipment was to be. 

With a pretended air of aplomb I asked the cabby to drive me to some place near the water with some grass where I could camp and launch my boat from.  As we passed by a street, which led to the water, the hack said that he could take me to a hunting site for ducks where people camp, which was near the water.  After a seemingly long, long drive over the dirt streets we began to emerge from town heading out along the dark sand beach, which I could see, was narrowing to a peninsula.  I could feel myself becoming more and more excited as there before me I could see that, yes indeed, we were driving out on Point Barrow and there on one side was the exhilarating sight and sound of the waves of the Chukchi Sea coming into shore and on the other side the Beaufort Sea, but to crown it all at the end was the great mysterious Arctic Ocean. 

The dutiful, patient cabby dropped me beside a lush mound of sand dune grass, which is slightly coarse and sharp but much better for camping on than sand.  Excitedly I generously paid him a tidy sum and profusely thanked him, for little did he know how priceless his patience and diligence were to me, because my disability makes me incapable of moving my equipment any distance over land. 

So now comes the fun I say to myself.  First order of business is to introduce myself to the people who are staying in their summer cottages here.  Spotting an occupied cabin I knock on the door and I am invited in.  I open the door and find that this house is filled with the happiest adults and the floor covered with the happiest children imaginable.  I describe what I am planning to do carefully reassuring them that I will be on my way once the winds from the storm calm down.  They tell me that they do not mind my camping there. 

Bubbling with great excitement I tell them of my previous Arctic trips and how much I like to eat seal and that I would like so much once again to eat some seal.  I ask "Could I buy some seal?" and they reply "Well we are having some seal tonight for supper, would you like to come?"  I shyly accepted not wanting to be a burden, but as it turns out this house is the place where children come to play and people share whatever they have in the true Inuit fashion.  This moment was a long ago imagined dream, which had now come true; there I was able to be among the Inuit and to eat some of their native food.  I was glad that on this trip that I was indeed by myself, because I wanted to visit the Arctic and its people, but not to disturb. 

I politely excused myself after some tea and extracted myself from their cabin, which required some strength to push open the door against what was now becoming a 25 to 30 knot wind.  I knew that in just a moment the wind could grab the door and fold it back making it very difficult to bring around and close again. 

Once back at my conflagration of gear piled on the grass I had to attend to the serious business of finding and erecting my tent without accidentally having the tent become ripped or damaged, or anything blow away in this bullying wind.  I found the tent without much searching and then the thought came to mind, did I pack my usual tent stakes the "U" shaped 1/8 inch diameter aluminum ones?  Or did I happen to assume that I could easily find a suitable substitute here in the Arctic where no trees grow and there is very little driftwood.  As I look around before I open up my tent bag I suddenly realize that "No there are no rocks in Barrow.  There are absolutely none.  This is geologically, a carboniferous area of the Mesozoic and hence the rocks are fine silt stone sedimentary completely glaciated and weathered to coarse sand, at best.  

I would not be able to tie my tent down with mounds of sand on the flaps.  The wind will blow the sand away in moments.  This tent has to be anchored with stakes and weighted with the rest of your equipment or else it will blow away." I tell myself. I ask myself whoever heard of a place where not only do they have no trees but not only that they have no rocks but the wind blows like its going out of style! 

I'm glad my tent has the orange rip stop liner, which I made last winter just for cold conditions like this.  I must be very careful to be sure that the pole is exactly in the center where the reinforcement is located when I start to erect the tent, otherwise the pressure of the wind will cause the pole to puncture the tent wall. 

This photo is taken again not in Barrow but in Upernavik Greenland


Well I successfully erect the tent but the wind is expected to increase, which inspires me to question why do they sell airplane tickets to this destination they should only sell tickets to nice places where the wind is somber and the temperatures like August not January, where did I get the idea to come to this place? 

The reason for my choosing the Barrow area was because of its remote northern position, the Inupiat population, the small size of the town and its drier climate than the Seward area, which has plenty of rain and storms.  This is more suitable for sea kayaking and the only problems might be the ice conditions and possible polar bear population, which I expect would be found along this coast.  However the next time I look at the map and say to myself that I think I would like to go there just because it is on the map I think I had better remember this moment but on the other hand this is part of travel and one cannot always expect to know everything about an area until they learn how to access for themselves the available information.  I had been informed that the winds in this area in August averaged fifteen knots and blew from the east.  What I had not contemplated is the occasional meteorological excursions for, which this area might be known, which could occur at any time.  With this in mind I pulled out my sleeping bag, crawled in and dozed off because there was no point in worrying about what I could not control. 

Some moments later I heard the exuberant voices of children happily engaged in play outside my tent.  Then there was a little voice outside my door saying "Gail, are you awake here are some doughnuts for you."  And with that I answered yes when suddenly to my surprise a bag of hot doughnuts are tucked through the bottom of my tent door for me to eat.  I realized that it was going to be heard to starve in this neighborhood.  I opened my tent door and told my beaming new friends outside that I would come by shortly to spend some more time with them after I finished resting, which would be just a short while.  I was adjusting to the change in time zones from where I had just spent three weeks in Russia so I found that when it was convenient to nap, but after a few more moments I felt like rousting myself to put on warmer windproof clothing so that I could walk the beach and see how the approaching storm was progressing and visit my new friends.  I was interested in seeing how these people relate to weather conditions, which would keep most people in my area indoors. 

Extricating myself from my tent was no problem but walking against the wind was challenging.  I looked slightly like a humanized leaning tower of Pisa as I headed out for a short walk up the beach to look for anything interesting, which might have washed up on the beach.  The native people had mentioned to me that often there are fossilized artifacts, which wash up in the storm tides and I was hoping that I might happen to find something. 

I knew well enough not to head down wind because I would find a stiff challenge making my way back against the wind.  I put aside pessimism and decided that this storm would come and go and that my Klepper would have survived shipping so that soon enough I would be assembling my Klepper and be getting on the water, but now I would divert my attention to some other things, which most likely be just as interesting. 

The photo  is taken in Upernavik Greenland but it is of myself and my Klepper Aerius I.

Gail Ferris


I noticed as I slogged my way up the beach that the waves were not as high as they should be in proportion to the strength of the wind.  I recalled the remark that the ice was out far enough that it could not be seen but that it never is really that far off shore when it goes out in this area and that a powerful storm can bring the ice back in.  I had the feeling that we would soon be seeing the wind driven ice packs back in on the Chukchi side of Point Barrow.  I was glad that I had anticipated this problem and had available the east side of Point Barrow, which was protected by barrier islands. 


Umiaq of Barrow covered with seal skins


On the beach there was an inverted umiak, which had a new skin covering and some paddles lying next to it.  The white skin was made from six hooded seal hides, which had been meticulously prepared and sewn on by six of the older Inupiat ladies of the area.  The younger women have to be taught when it is considered the time for them to learn how to sew these skins by the older ladies who know this sewing technique for blind stitching.  The sewing has to be done in synchrony so as to evenly stretch the skin over the umiak frame in three dimensions.  In the world of the Inuit respect for tradition and survival go hand in hand because the umiak is the most suitable boat to use for whale hunting in Barrow by the Inupiat because the umiak can best withstand collisions with the omnipresent ice floes. 


interior of umiaq on the beach at Barrow


The structure of the umiak is designed to act as a shock absorber starting with the widely spaced frame with a strong keelson, which has ribs that are attached to the stringers by single point attachment and the skin covering is sewn together in one piece over the frame and gunwale attached only to the inner frame longitudinal with coarse lacing.

The umiak is light enough to be picked up and placed on an ice floe.  With ecstasy I looked at every inch of the umiak admiring its fine double blind stitched seams, which is waterproof requiring that no stitch completely penetrate the hide but still be strong enough to hold the hides together.  I crawled beneath the umiak to look at the frame and hoped for a bright calm day when I could take pictures and video shots for myself to share with others at home. 



I decided that it was time to visit to happy cottage of my friends, Roy and Flossie Nageak, for dinner.  I couldn't think of anything to bring as a gift at that time but I knew that at a later time I probably could find something suitable.  At least I knew that we would have a wonderful time together telling stories about our different experiences and laughing together as the children romped about. 

I arrived and there was Lucy one of their cousins watching the children and making those delicious doughnuts while Flossie and Roy were away in town.  I had a wonderful time watching just how those doughnuts were made although I was really only watching the cooking portion of the recipe.  Flossie and Roy arrived and out came the dinner.  First there was dried harbor seal in seal oil, then there were chunks of harbor seal and lastly there was hooded seal boiled.  Everything was very good eating and we ate until we were full, which didn't take long because seal meat with its oil is very filling and very warming because of its energy and iron content.  With the expected cold windy night I was most thankful that I could be eating this meal because this is some of the best food to eat.  With the food, which I had brought I had to bring a pound of butter to supply sufficient fat in my diet. 

We discussed and compared our perceptions of being on the water, interacting with others who are native and non-native people and living in the Arctic.  We strongly agreed that people who have not adapted to the Arctic cannot relate to the Arctic and that this extends to the most subtle things.  What most delighted and deeply touched me was to at long last find that, yes, there are Native People who have a very realistic good self image of themselves and are in control of their world with justifiable pride.  Things like alcohol are strongly condemned to such an extent that it is forbidden to sell alcohol in Barrow, because these people are tired of witnessing its devastating effects.  These people, the Inupiat, do things with strong conviction and are committed to passing on tradition, maintaining strong family structure and strong devotion to religion because this area is a very challenging place to survive in, even in the twentieth century.  I was glad that I had spent years reading about the Arctic and knew how little is really known about human nutritional requirements before I made this trip.  During the conversation I carefully interjected the impression of myself that I had acquired over the years enough experience in cold open water paddling to safely paddle in this area alone because I did not want people to feel apprehensive about my adventure.  I related to them my experiences and how well I knew that not without good reason do native people in the Arctic avoid being on the water in threatening weather. 

Despite the howling wind outside I began to feel that I was starting to doze off so I decided I had better leave and politely excused myself.  Trying to look like I dealt with wind like this every day in Connecticut I calculated my egress without inadvertently causing damage to the door by accidentally breaking part of it as I forced it open against the now forty mile an hour and more wind or by springing its hinges should I either loose my grip on it or find my body being flung out with the door as it is violently flung wide open as I hoped for the best.  With luck I experienced none of the above and I was glad that this simple tent was only barrier between the warm sanctuary and the bitter wind had not been breached. 

Earlier one of the children had had the experience of going for an unexpected ride on the door handle, luckily without injury. 

As I made my way back to the tent, not exactly with the stride of a fashion model, I realized that in the interest of preservation I had better thoroughly tie everything down and doubly secure the tent.  This is one of those moments when you are glad you went to the trouble of bringing a fifty foot polypropylene white water rescue throw line because this item is well worth its weight and size. 

As I came around the corner I noticed that the cottage nearest my tent was now occupied.  I waved hello to the children and while I was tying down my gear they came over and told me that I should come over and visit their house.  Not wanting to pass up another wonderful opportunity to visit and to be sure that these people did not mind my presence near their home, I knocked on their door.  Once again people who had not the slightest idea who I might be or why I might be there invited me in, just as if we had been friends for ages.  Children and grandchildren of all ages were having a wonderful time tea or coffee was served and we sat in the bright kitchen absorbing the heat from the hot wood stove, chatting and watching to see that the little ones were having with each other.  Sheldon asked me if I would like a barricade set up around my tent to ward off the wind and while we were busy talking Sheldon drove his truck next to my tent and put sheets of plywood up to shield my tent from the expected winds of fifty miles an hour.  Although I thought that I should experience this wind unsheltered to access the capability of the tent structure and design I realized that if I wanted to sleep at all that night that Sheldon's barricade was a good idea. 

I never heard wind that just screamed in the wires above.


The Chouinard Mega-Mid tent with orange ripstop liner


I left the warmth and hospitality of Sheldon and Lucy's cottage for a charming evening in my tent, which can only be described as similar to being inside a drum and bombarded with screeching intermittently, absolutely romantic just like New York during a riot combined with garbage collection all night.  Nothing really mattered, I had no schedule to meet but I would have preferred something else. All night it was grey because the sun never set, which was convenient if I wanted to get up and check anything but I was glad I had a twenty four hour watch because it was difficult to know, which part of the day it was since all looked the same.  I like Arctic summer days, which in Barrow were still without sunset on August 6th. 

The next morning I crawled out to meet a somewhat slackened wind and to be confronted by a profusion of ice floes, which had been just visible by binoculars on the horizon but now had made their way on the wind to the west facing beach of Point Barrow.  Grey ice against a grey sky heralded the day. 


cold foggy morning on point barrow


I decided to move my tent to a protected grassy zone behind another cottage after I cooked and ate my usual breakfast and drank a cup of my espresso. 

On the previous day I had obtained two gallons of water from my new friends.  There was no fresh water available on the point because the soil was sand. 

I had no idea how serious it was to be out on this point with no available water all water was brought from town in large containers by each family to their own cottage.

I was advised to take as much as I might need for several days because there was little potable water on tundra.  Was I surprised at this situation and luckily I had brought my waterbags with me among my camping gear.  One should never be without water.




Although the topographic map indicated numerous ponds much of this was poor quality, stagnant, saline or surrounded with mud, which had the characteristics of quicksand.  I began to wonder what other charming natural phenomena might be awaiting me on my tundra vacation.  On my two previous Arctic trips water was the least of my problems.  I was glad that I happened to have brought a water storage bag and some cloth to strain out the swimmers with.  That same piece of cloth, part of a camp towel, was used for every imaginable possible towel application including bailing and washing out the kayak. 

Next order of business was at long last to assemble my kayak.  All the pieces appeared to have survived UPS shipping undamaged, but the true test was to come when they were to be assembled.  Piece by piece all went together without any problem. 

Now, I knew that once again I could be on the water in the Arctic, my favorite water, the open water where the horizons are endless and where I can feel that special feeling, which can only come from the dense, cold water waves as they pass beneath my kayak. 

Klepper deck arrangement in Greenland


Today I would have to wait and hope that tomorrow the wind will have decreased enough for me to start my trip, because today the wind was still blowing in the thirty knot range and I spent the morning relocating camp and assembling the boat. 

I visited my new friends for a few hours and watched the Sabine gulls and a few Ivory gulls soaring over the breaking surf looking for smelt.  Smelt were expected to arrive at these beaches in great schools, which the native people dip and catch in several types of small nets.  Smelt are a type of capelin are tasty when fried but you have to eat many of them to feel full. 

On the inside of the point Sheldon and some others were fishing with shallow gill nets anchored on shore and about one hundred feet off shore.  He was finding that he was catching so many whitefish that he had to empty the net every evening.  These whitefish, which are excellent eating, he was storing frozen for his family to enjoy throughout the year. 

The next morning the wind had lessened to fifteen to twenty knots and the cloud cover was breaking up.  I had breakfast, broke camp and went through the ritual of hauling the boat and all my gear to the water's edge on the east side of Point Barrow directly across from Brant Point at about 135 degrees true east.  I was somewhat concerned about what the weather might do in the future fearing that possibly another severe low pressure system might be behind the one we had just experienced, which would once again bring powerful winds from the west.  I knew that once I left the sanctuary of the cottages on Point Barrow that it was unlikely that there would be any physical protection available from the wind on the flat tundra and that it is possible to have even stronger winds than those we had just experienced in this area.  Should anything happen to my tent it would be likely that I would have no refuge from the wind other than my kayak. 

As I was packing my kayak and donning my vinyl dry suit the wind began to increase slightly.  I realized that I must find my routine winter paddling windproof hat, scarf and the mittens I wasn't sure if I had packed.  With greatest relief I found these now critically necessary items, which I realized that I could not paddle in the conditions of this area without.  During breakfast I had the impression that the temperature might be close to freezing until this impression was definitely confirmed as I noticed that ice crystals were in my breakfast cooking water.  Thoughts came to mind about how easy it can be to make a fatal mistake in this area, where not only is it cold but the wind blows strongly as well. 


Gail Ferris in Rukka vinyl drysuit in Arctic Bay Canada


My new friend, Mae, watched me as I struggled to quickly load my kayak before both she and I became too cold.  Mae sat aboard her all terrain three-wheeler and I felt sorry for her because she wanted to see me off but the wind was making us more and more miserable.  Finally, I jammed in the last few pieces and lashed down the solar panel for recharging my Cam-Corder batteries onto the deck and at long last stuffed myself into the cockpit.  With the wind now threatening to blow me broadside off shore I eagerly waved good-bye to Mae and she headed for the warmth of her cottage while I summoned my paddling muscles and skills to force the kayak back closer to shore.  I decided that I would cruise along the shore heading south and cut across to the opposite bank when I felt that I had seen enough of the easterly shore of Point Barrow.  As I was heading for the mouth of an inlet just north of Imipuk lake I recalled that there was a helicopter airport on the shore of that inlet.  I decided that since my best means to get there would be to paddle rather than walk that now was the time to visit this airfield where I could very likely obtain the best weather information.  Although I had brought my FM NOAA weather radio, NOAA does not broadcast on those FM frequencies in the Barrow area; instead they provide up to date weather information on local AM radio. 

Paddling was very shallow in the estuary, but I knew that the Arctic Ocean had tides of six inches.  Really it is hard to believe what life on the water might be like with 6 inches of tide.

Even though I did not know the weather forecast, I decided that it was more important to take a chance than not to know what the weather was expected to be doing for the next several days. 

Next thing I knew my concern began to rise as I noticed that I was paddling into increasingly stronger gusts of wind and that snow was beginning to fly. 

My face began to feel colder and colder as the clumps of snow plastered themselves onto my skin.  I hunkered down, tightened my scarf around my hat and pressed forward with all my might finding that there were moments when it was all I could do to make any forward progress at all despite my summoning not only my arms, shoulders and back but my legs as well using the paddling technique called lifted knee. 

All too well I know that when the wind speed is in the range of twenty five knots that I become barely able to make much forward progress with a kayak, however there is some advantage to paddling a fully loaded kayak in that you have some momentum to assist once you get the kayak moving.  This is one of those moments when I am glad that I have good stout paddles.  There is no compromise good equipment unless you need an excuse to stay home. 

I just hunkered down to make myself as small a target for the wind as possible.  Then I began to really use my staunchest stroke which comes from my lower back.  I push on the top as I pivot from side to side hardly bending my arms at all.  I lean my body weight on my paddle.

At long last I arrived at the airfield but the relentless wind and snow was beginning to make me feel cold.  I moored the kayak and trudged up the bank searching for the most likely place where I would find someone such as a pilot who could answer my questions about the weather.  After some walking I found a helicopter, which was being outfitted.  The personnel were of as much assistance as they felt necessary and without wasting time I headed for an actively occupied building searching out the office area.  Once within the building I doffed my hat and scarf and stepped into the offices.  Questioning another pilot brought similar results such that I bristled and passed a remark that suggested better information must be available than what I had just been given.  Another fellow, sensing that perhaps he could offer assistance, dialed the weather bureau in Barrow and allowed me to talk directly with Bill Spencer the NOAA forecaster.  Discussing the expected pattern of lows and highs with Bill he told me that from his information there was unlikely for the next several days to be another low pressure system passing through.  At present he told me that we were still experiencing and could expect to experience decreasing westerly winds from the low, which was just passing through and that the temperatures could be expected to remain in the thirties to low forties.  With this information I now knew that I could reasonably expect to go on my paddling adventure and most likely be able to make it back for my flight home. 

Now greatly relieved I thanked the fellow who had so kindly permitted me to talk on his telephone and walked back to my kayak self assured that once again I could experience the Arctic, only this time I would be completely alone for a number of days, not just one or two. 

Gingerly tucking myself back into the cockpit I launched while the westerly wind blew me madly along almost ramming and miring me in the shallows of the easterly shore.  The combination of a good following wind and an elevated center of gravity made the Klepper feel much less stable than when heading into the wind.  I my hurry to leave I had carelessly packed too many items into the cockpit area making my seat feel somewhat like a rather jiggly throne.  I slightly imagined myself as Queen So and So and wondered what it would be like to rule the world from my red kayak.  Such ridiculous thoughts were banished as I found that I was perilously close to grounding out in the shallows again.  I realized that I had better pay strict attention to where I was going or the mobility of my throne would be most deleteriously affected. 

I was headed out northward and around the perimeter of the inlet then onward out to Brant Point to the east of Point Barrow where I had begun my trip.  Because I was alone and it appeared on the topographic map that I could disembark anywhere along this coast I knew that the need for covering great mileage was not important. 

I decided that this was my long awaited opportunity to study in detail this area because animals during previous short solitary moments in the Arctic approached me much more closely than I had expected.  I wanted to capture on video and film plants and animals because I find them fascinating.  On previous attempts I lost opportunities to capture the exquisitely beautiful form and flight of a Jaeger because the Jaeger flies by so quickly that in an instant the Jaeger is out of camera range.  Although the Jaeger has evolved this extraordinary flight speed, capability and control to prey upon other birds I find watching a Jaeger fly inspiring. 

Long Tailed Jaeger



I was looking forward to the possibility that I might see and capture on film the delightful and hilariously curious Arctic fox.  I knew that despite the likelihood that the appearance of a fox would be unexpected, this would be not be a problem.  With slow movements I could very likely get out my camera equipment from where ever it might be and take pictures and video shots without scaring the fox away. 

The fifteen knot wind to my stern was pushing me along at a speed, which allowed me to observe the banks for anything interesting.  Although there were no rocks in this Quaternary Gubik Formation there were soil horizons, which had been produced during different geological epochs by different conditions perfectly preserved by the cold of this area such that there were included ice lenses.  These ice lenses, which I could see were between one and two feet thick. 

What really caught my eye aside from the ice lens which was hard to believe was this unbelievable deep brown humus laden soil.  The soil was deposited during a much warmer time.

They in some areas near Barrow have been found to contain wooly mammoth remains.  At this time they are in the process of melting causing the one-foot thick layer of peaty turf, which is the upper most soil horizon to slump over the exposed bank along the water's edge.  I wondered to myself what might be still trapped in those ice lenses and at the time I did not think to take a sample and melt it for observation and possibly see how it might taste.  These ice lenses had no particular color other than dull white.  Below this was a horizon of clay, which most likely was a marine deposit made when the land mass was either lower or the sea level was a few feet higher. 

I was just fascinated to think that such a deposit of soil that remains from an entirely different climate.  I thought about my experiences in Greenland going from place to place with all the microclimates.  Now I could see that soil deposits such as this which is out of context for this arctic climate affect which plants grow where.

Gubik Formation melting ice lens trapped in tundra



I noticed that I was beginning to feel chilled by the following wind and my lack of need to expend energy for paddling, so I decided that since I had very likely covered enough distance I might as well put into shore.  My first priority for a landing area was one, which had a ravine, because the ravine would be very convenient to bring the kayak up into, rather than have to pull it up the steep bank.  I wanted to avoid any possible risk of damaging or worse yet, loosing my Klepper. 

These ravines were the result of where an ice wedge had formed and now had melted leaving a slumped frost scar.  Frost creates the minor relief features in this flat coastal zone.  The ravine was a narrow, three to four foot deep depression without any specialized plants, which would eventually become established in its protection because it had slumped quite recently and its soil had not yet changed because there was no run-off of nutrient rich silt accumulation in it. 

As I unloaded my kayak and heisted it up into the ravine.  As the usual forget about rocks, there were no rocks to tie off to so I improvised with some wood pieces I found.

I had been hoping that I might find some water in it.  After the closest inspection, which means I very nearly stood on my head, I found in this ravine that not only was there no water but that were no plants, which occur on the edges of wet areas.  I was looking for specimens of liverworts and specialized mosses to collect just out of curiosity.

Ho hum, I thought as I went about the mundane activity of erecting the tent.  This only took a couple minutes.  This area had good ground for tent pegs and plenty of soft tundra grasses.  Once the pegs were in the ground solidly, the single pole in the center went into place, in just moments.  I tossed in all the necessary gear and crawled in.  Once I was within my double walled tent immediately I felt much warmer from just the effect of being out of the wind within the sanctuary of my tent.  This once again brought to my mind how great the importance of suitable equipment is and how careful one has to be in the Arctic. 


tent showing space blanket, Thermarest pad snow border and ripstop nylon liner



I busied myself with laying out the ground cloth, which was an aluminized "survival blanket," and inflated the "Thermarest" pad.  My sleeping bag was a combination of items, which were meant to serve more than one purpose just in case something unexpected happened.  The outer layer of the sleeping bag was a "Gore-Tex" non-rigid bivouac bag designed to expel condensation and repel liquid water.  The next layer was a very light weight soft feeling "Thermolite" filled sleeping bag for bicyclists, which only weighed thirty six ounces.  My next layer was quilted "Thinsulate" underwear to, which I had added a polyester shell, storm flaps and a onto the jacket two-way zipper for increased wind protection and ventilation.  On my head I wore a "Gore-Tex" trooper hat lined with down and sheepskin over, which I wore a "polar fleece" balaclava hood because I knew that the head is the area, which loses the most body heat.  I never took that trooper hat off during my entire trip and it has served me well many a time for the last twenty-five years, however if I had to replace it I would buy one with insulation that functioned even when wet. 

You may wonder why I choose this particular combination.  The reason was that I wanted something, which I could not only walk around in, which could also be combined with something to sleep in.  I wanted to be comfortable when I was sitting up cooking that would not leak cold air. 

The inner layers of underwear, which I wore beneath my drysuit, were two layers of light weight polyethylene "Thermax" and a rag wool sweater.  My socks were also "Thermax" in layers. 

I slipped out of my drysuit and into my quilted layer topped off with my hooded "Gore-Tex" parka and pants. 

I went out to go for a walk and quietly explore the tundra, just to look, not to disturb.  I wanted to know what plants grew there and what animals were there. 

My most immediate note was that these plants were not those, which I had seen on my other Arctic trips.  The dominant species were different types of grasses and sedges, which grew in luxuriously, and oppositely the lack of Vaccinium and other acid soil shrubs.  The soil may have been more calcareous but I did see some acid bog plants in wet peaty areas. 

everything is 6 – 8 inches tall



The color of the grasses, which were only four to six inches high tussocks was yellow but within each tussock were the green grass spears of this year's growth. The retention of this old growth from year to year by these grasses is a mechanism for protection against the harsh winds of this area. However the grasses do loose their leaves when the cyclic lemming population has become so numerous that in order to survive they become forced eat these yellowed leaves during that particular year.  When the lemmings have eaten the yellowed grasses the tundra becomes green. 

Now that I was ready to go out exploring to see more of what plants grew there and to look for water.  Before I left the campsite I started recharging another of my video camera batteries because the batteries only need four to five hours of sunlight exposure to become recharged by my solar panel.  In these cold conditions I bring four batteries because they cannot operate the video camera very long but at least they can be recharged by the solar panel anywhere in the world provided that sun light is available. 

The question of water was rather vague, but I wanted to augment as much as possible my supply.  As I made my way inland I found some shallow ponds surrounded with matted aquatic mosses anchored in the layer peat, which I decided would be not threatening but most likely be safe to walk on where not only could I fill my buckets but my shoes as well, and quite nicely at that.  I had given up caring about such trivia as dry feet long ago. The air temperatures were not low enough to cause me discomfort. 

Ranuncula Buttercup



With two buckets of black, murky water I returned to camp.  Compelled by my fear of running out of water, which I had decided would be the most absurd reason to cut short my adventure.

I was prepared to filter the swimmers out, which looked most likely to be daphnia, aquatic plants, and mud, which made the water nearly black with their dissolved tannins, etc. with my truly all purpose piece of non-woven rayon called "camp towel", which had served me most well during my previous weeks of travel as a wash cloth, a towel, and had been planned to be used as a boat sponge for bailing on this trip.  So now it was to serve another purpose because I really don't think it is quite exactly inspiring to cook with complicated water.  After using my light blue towel for filtering this water it became just about as black as coal and it was very difficult to scrub it even slightly back to its original light blue.  I never knew just exactly how it tasted because I cooked with it and with my espresso coffee I doubted that I would ever notice even the slightest difference between vile and more vile. 

On my return to the tent I glanced over the bank to see if any water birds were about.  Just in front of me only feet away were a group of northern phalaropes just as busy as could be seeming to be skidding around in little circles going one way and then another dabbing in the water with their long little black beaks for some sort of aquatic delectables such as little shrimp all the while completely ignoring my presence.  They always stayed just a foot from the water line where the depth must have been the best for capturing their little prey, which were for some reason in these shallows perhaps because they too were preying on some organism in this zone. 

Very carefully, so as to not loose this precious moment, I retrieved my cameras and with greatest care not to frighten away these busy creatures, the phalaropes, I prepared my cameras for taking pictures and approached the shore.  I positioned myself comfortably so that I could just wait motionlessly for their return.  I was hardly breathing as I waited to see how close they might come to me. 

I sat down on a rock when low and behold there was no problem as far as they were concerned.  I discovered that they were just about walking over my feet.  Next thing I knew they were actually too close for focusing.  I couldn’t believe it, talk about friendly little birds these phalaropes are the ultimate.

And you can see in the photo the phalarope spins around in shallow water just fast enough to bring up zooplankton for them to gobble up from the sediments spiraling upward in the column this bird has created. 





I found it quite true that the best way to obtain pictures of animals is to wait until they come to you. 

Now the classic exception when you are on the water is if you happen to be next to a tern or gull nest.  Next thing you find is you are getting bombarded and it is not a pleasant experience to say the least. 

Mixed in with the phalaropes but at a distance of six to ten feet were dunlins and a Baird's sandpiper.  The dunlin had a very striking black patch on its stomach and the Baird's sandpiper looked as usual like a slightly squashed, spotted sandpiper.  Its uninterrupted moments like these, which make a trip worth it. 

In among all this activity I spotted some Beroe, which are a type of small two inch diameter comb jelly or ctenophore that feeds upon small zooplankton such as tiny shrimp in the water.  The water was unfortunately too turbid for me to take a picture of these transparent, iridescent, reddish pink speckled, almond shaped comb jellies, which spread their mantle like a net to capture prey. 





I watched a pair of King eider ducks come by but they immediately flew as soon as they recognized my presence.  They are elegant ducks and the male is particularly colorful.  After the phalaropes had gone elsewhere I climbed back up the bank to look at other things. 

When it comes to looking at plants in this area one must not only get down on their knees but even lie down to be at eye level or resort to standing on one's head to see what types of plants are growing there.  Plants are so tiny that often the leaves are just barely a quarter of an inch long and the entire plant one inch high.  The flower stalks can be higher such as three or four inches high but then again the flowers although brilliantly colored are most often very tiny.  The largest plants that are easy to notice are cotton grasses or Eriophorum species, which on each plant there was a large nodding white plume about an inch in size and another plant with large dark green shiny rounded spade shaped leaves two inches crowned with a very thick flower stalk five to six inches high with several fluffy white flowers called a petasites.  The petasites looked very much different than all the other plants of this area. 

Among the other plants were in greatest variety six little tiny types of drabia, a member of the mustard family, which are not particularly interesting to look at until I stopped and thought about the many well known cultivated and weed varieties, which grow in my garden at home.  Some of these plants, which are first to grow in the early spring are either the same species as what I was seeing here or very close relatives.  It is hard to imagine an ordinary mustard plant with its intricate leaves can be related to these stubby, simple looking, tiny plants, but this is what makes looking at plants in various parts of the world most interesting. 

The most ethereal plant with the thinnest imaginable stems was a member of that tenacious weed, the chickweed or stellaria family.  This stellaria was hidden among the grasses having stems which appeared to be about as thick as hair with whitish grey green very delicate lance shaped leaves topped by tiny white flowers. 

On my way toward the pond in marshy ground I found some pedicularis with lovely pink flowers.  These plants seem to often grow in marshy areas and although the small leaves are finely divided resembling ferns, the flower on top of the stalk is always very spectacular and beautiful with each bud slightly resembling the flowers of the pea family.

I saw other plants in the antennaria, anemone and saxifragia families, which all had the odd looking, much simplified, rubbery, thick, tiny leaves that only from the closest viewing could be identified.  Sometimes inverted binoculars have to be resorted to for seeing details.  This was the lilliputian world of botany where one picks a bouquet of flowers with tweezers at best and it is hard to imagine that these plants, which have specially adapted to desiccating wind, long periods of darkness and cold have much larger relatives elsewhere to the south.

Just as I reluctantly was about to duck into my tent a pomarine Jaeger came flying by.  I had enough time, this time, to capture its image with my video camera as it preformed its typical low level gliding, flying and soaring all the while closely scrutinizing the tundra for prey.  The Jaeger paused its flight momentarily to more closely observe the shallow ravine next to me, which had some small sunken holes in it.  This was during the late afternoon, which in other areas of the Arctic was often the time I had seen Jaegers out hunting.  To capture as much of this fleeting moment, I turned on the camera before I put it to my eye and focused it on the Jaeger.  In some previous hurried circumstances I found that I could turn on the video camera and aim it before the recording mechanism would engage.  You just have to be fast, as I found that because a Jaeger can have passed by and the recording of the moment lost if I delayed turning on the camera and it is worth the risk of accidentally making a few useless shots.

The sun had to be ignored, as here it does not set in early August, but the time had come to come to prepare dinner.  It was a choice of some sort of dehydrated soup, dehydrated and freeze dried meat, poultry and vegetable mixture with noodles or rice for carbohydrates and some powdered fruit juice such as tang or spiced cider.  I think that next time I will label my food more completely.  I found that not knowing what I was preparing to eat before hand was not particularly pleasing.




For dinner preparation the first order of business was to bring to a boil that previously mentioned filtered, "complicated" water, then the ingredients are added and cooking is continued as necessary.  I cook within the tent with my "Svea 123" out of the intensely cold wind carefully adjusting the flame for safe and optimal heat production.  I adjust the openings at edges of the bottom in my floorless tent for ventilation as needed.  Out of necessity I had learned how to cook within a tent, just as one has to do when cooking in a boat, and the worst imaginable thing to happen is a fire. 

Cooking is always a progressive affair where lots of little pots of water are heated up and things are cooked.  China and crystal are left at home along with the silverware and candelabra.  Now really, do you want to carry all that stuff, not me, and I'm not going to hire a porter either.  How can I be alone if I bring a porter along and besides it would mean another boat and still more things.  I don't think a properly attired porter is really that necessary on this sort of trip.  And from there it would go to my having to have a chef and a waiter.  It is just too complicated and when I go to a place where I don't even need flashlights because the sun doesn't go down I feel that I can probable survive without a few other amenities as well. 

I ate and cleaned up then I rearranged my sleeping bag for warmth and comfort and settled in for the night, but I was not sure what I would be greeted by in the morning as far as precipitation was concerned because some snow flurries had been blowing about shortly before I retired to my tent earlier.  Being that I was alone and had suitable clothing, plenty of water and food available I was not too concerned about snow.  I had no deadlines and my time was my own but I certainly hoped that all the plants would not become covered up by the snow. 





Today was the ninth of August and there had been some light snow during the night.  In this area precipitation often occurred during the earlier hours of the morning and the weather would improve as the day progressed.  The changing angle of the sun in the late afternoon would create visual phenomena and usher in weather changes.  The Inupiak word "impac" was for the commonly seen mirages in this area, which are caused by air temperature and solar angle, which makes things too distant to be normally visible show on the horizon.  These mirages sort of build up, shimmer and die back in a short time such as thirty minutes.  As a boater I was cautiously aware that I might be looking at something that may be a mirage of this sort and that often the angle of the sun effects one's depth and distance perspective.  As a precaution when I got on the water I stayed quite close to shore and cautiously double checked the distances involved as compared to my position on the chart so that I was sure of where I was and how wide each bay crossing was.  There have been some rather amazing stories of ditches looking like huge holes to people and I myself have seen rocks in the distance on other trips, which looked like large boulders only to come upon them and find that they were ten inches in diameter.  I wanted to avoid making a mid crossing discovery where I would be saying to myself "this crossing is taking too long" because my eyes had been tricked by the magnifying effects of refractory atmospheric conditions.




So there I was squinting at my 1:250,000 topographic map at the tiniest lines representing peninsulas and dots for islands making my way down the coast heading east with some helpful wind at my back.  The waves were very slight.  Each estuary had one major factor, which didn't at the time impress me, which was that they are very shallow.  The six inches of high tide filled them during high tide but at low tide there is endless shallows often just skimmed with water and as might be expected good old mud, not the kind you walk on, but instead the kind, which walks on you. 

I tiptoed, so to speak, past Ikpik Slough looking for the suggested peninsula that the chart showed thinking to myself how much fun it must be to make a chart, which has to show these details when the only difference between a sand bar and a peninsula is a couple inches of elevation and maybe some clumps of low growing grass.  Places such as where I live in Connecticut where there are solid rocks and six foot tidal range and the accompanying seaweeds make the coast line is very definite and even when I have been way up in the salt marshes on a spring tide the saltwater line is well defined.  This ambiguous coast inside the estuaries was a very amusing experience. 

I proceeded on for Tekegakrok Point and stopped near East Twin Lake.  This lake had been reported as a salt lake because of its outlet to Mayeak River estuary, but I thought that since there was West Twin Lake in the area, water must be available. 

Just as I put ashore and climbed up the bank a small light brown and mostly white hawk probably an immature Northern Goshawk, which took to the air the moment I came into its view.  I was delighted to be able to have had this experience and later I was once again visited by two Jaegers and one of them was a Pomarine Jaeger in the light phase typical of Arctic bird species, which had a distinctive trailing tail feathers, which looked slightly like two spoons.  The extended trailing tails of Jaegers are one of the most distinguishing characteristics, which immediately draws your eye to this precocious flier.

I went through my usual campsite routine and once again thanked those such as Chuck Sutherland and Jon Cons who had introduced me to the concept of bringing along a light weight stainless steel thermos for storage of hot liquids especially Knorr dehydrated soups for those cold hungry moments.  I ate my previously prepared lunch, which had been stored hot in my thermos several hours ago when I cooked breakfast.  The thermos I stow easily accessible with bungie cords attaching it to the stringers or in my side bags in my Klepper cockpit for what might be a critical moment. 

The exploration for water was more demanding than today's paddling had been because it was located a long distance from the campsite.  I became quite concerned about the possibility of not relocating my tent as I watched it shrink lower and lower until I could no longer see it as I strode across the seemingly flat tundra toward the edge of a pond I could just see further inland ahead of me.  Fearing disorientation I retreated to retrace my way in what I thought was exactly the direction I had just come and as I apprehensively scanned the horizon found that it took several more seemingly long moments of walking and vigorous scanning before I finally saw my little tent.  To further add to my ill ease the tent was not where I had expected to see it.  I realized that what I had just done could have been a potential disaster.  In the Arctic I would not want to become separated from my tent and kayak.  I marked my trail as I once again made my way toward the pond checking to see that it was plainly visible as I continued.  At last I filled my "dry" bags with precious water and followed my trail back to the tent. 

In this area things like broken sticks and trampled grass to indicate foot passage are not available.  The grass had already been completely trampled by this year's seasonal passage of caribou.  The North Brooks caribou herd comes to the grasslands on coast in this area to avoid the heavy insect infestations of the southern inland grasslands on their annual calving migration.

The trees here are as prostrate as possible with tiny branches no larger than the smallest branches on a white birch.  These "lilliputian" trees, which were willows, had leaves and catkins, which were between half and one inch in size.  I imagine that the caribou must feed on some of them when they are in the area


Salix herbacea



Before I retired I examined the sky for weather and clouds of particular note.  To my surprise I saw something I had never seen before in the sky.  Some altocumulus clouds were showing a mid air hail event, which is called virga. This virga looked like splayed rays of silver and grey, which extended into a weakly defined nimbocumulus layer of clouds.  I captured these clouds on film.  Another unusual event occurred previously as I was flying at about 30,000 feet into Barrow.  This was called a glory.  A glory is the shadow of the plane surrounded by a halo being reflected back to me by the spherical water droplets in the cloud layer.  I saw two of these side by side at the same time. 

The winds, this evening were disconcertingly calm for the first time, which heralded the end of the low pressure weather system.  At midnight there was a feast of brilliant color ranging from scarlet to gold as the sun skimmed the top of the horizon to the west and oppositely to the east the sky was blue.  When the sun was to dip below the horizon was not to occur until later in August.

At 23:30 I was awakened by the strange barking of a most curious Arctic fox.  This fox just had to inspect me from his chosen safe distance and tell everyone far and wide that he was out and about.  He continued his insistent barking, which sounded like a mixture of a duck quacking and a small dog barking. 

I quickly extricated myself from my sleeping bag and tent for this long awaited wonderful moment with video and camera in hand.  To my dismay the recharged video batteries were on the stern of my kayak in the ravine. Knowing that the Arctic fox is so curious that it would be unlikely that it would run away, I carefully retrieved those necessary batteries.  The background for the fox was so dark that I questioned whether the film in the camera would capture this picture, but I took the picture anyway.  Luckily the video batteries worked and I was able to record the sound and sight of this little fox as he barked at me on the beach below.  Then in an instant he ran off, bounding across the tundra barking all the way.  He was gone, just as surely as he had come. 




The next morning I stirred from my tent to examine the little empire of hoar frost, which had festooned itself everywhere even on the narrowest blades of grass. 


The world of the tundra was now a fairy tale of crystalline thorns of ice revealing the preceding evening's movement of air and pattern of humidity solidification such that each plant had a layer of frost deposited in the same direction.  The pictures I took of this display were fascinating. 




As I moved toward the beach my attention became riveted on a few phalaropes, which were standing just at the water's edge each with its head at rest on its wing but with its eyes open all the while being asleep.  Then at the moment the bird from within its subconscious detected my presence awoke the phalarope, positioned its head in an attentive posture and proceeded to take sanctuary by going into the water and swimming further up the beach.  This was an interesting experience for me because it was the first time I had witnessed this survival mechanism in actual use. 

The hoar frost melted and the wind arose from the fair weather direction, the east.  I packed my kayak and was off with the wind blowing in my face at about ten to fifteen knots.  I took advantage of the shelter of the lee shore of Tekegakrok Point by paddling within the protection of its six foot high banks.  As a paddler I feel that there are enough times when I will have to push against a head wind without unnecessarily doing that sort of drudgery. 

Then there was that inescapable moment when I knew I must round the point and face the music.  Rounding points on a chart always looks like simple straight forward short work, but in reality is often not the case as sooner or later my mind would be starting to tell me that this passage seems to be taking a long time.  Periodically I evaluate my sea position and the conditions because frequently rips develop during tidal changes off of points where there are hidden reefs, which are part of the point and how much current might I be bucking.  Rounding points can test the skills and judgment of a kayaker but are also be an intellectually stimulating experience. 

I remembered the experience I had in Pond Inlet when my progress ground to nearly a halt and it seemed ages before I finally was able to round a point because the tide and wind had turned to oppose me. 

Here at Tekegakrok Point the current and wind were opposing me. Then my eye caught sight of something just around the point on the windward side in the insidious shallows.  There was a wooden wreck with some ribs with large sharp spikes projecting up through the surf.  I thought about how my tender kayak was, how soft the muddy bottom was and how cold the water was.  The critical evaluation of my capacity to paddle safely in these conditions requires a degree of pragmatism, which can only come for experience and candor. 

Looking at the seas, which were one to two feet I knew that they were a product of fifteen knot winds.  I felt comfortable with myself and my trusty kayak this morning in these conditions.  I knew that I had a stretch of about two nautical miles of this sort of exposed paddling and that the wind conditions were stable.  I kept a close eye on maintaining enough sea room and used the rudder to maintain a positive bow angle.  Rudders are very practical for maintaining quartering angle as the wind side slips the kayak while I apply my strength in paddling forward with the wind pressure against the forward quarter of the bow.  I was heading 155 degrees true and the wind was blowing from about 120 to 100 degrees true. 

As I was making my way down the point I decided that I wanted to capture the character of the waves on video because this brings a touch of the reality of what being on this type of sea condition is like to the audience.  It feels more secure to take pictures when headed into the breaking waves than in following seas so I felt confident that I could safely and quickly enough get out my video camera from its waterproof bag, which was stowed in the roomy Klepper cockpit between my legs, not drop it in the sea and put it safely away again before the wind pushed my kayak broadside up onto the beach.  I had just enough time although there was a moment when I had to paddle the kayak out from shore with the camera dangling from my neck, because camera operation took longer than expected and I was closing in on shore. 

Luckily from my experience I had found that the hull of the Klepper is designed to have a special type of heeling synchrony where just as a wave is about to jump into the cockpit the Klepper rolls on its heeling moment away from the cresting wave in seas of this size and type.  These seas had occasional variation such that within a series of waves there would be a few larger ones here and there, which is typical and can be estimated by enumerating how many small waves there are between the larger ones.  In the Atlantic this cadence is often seven.      

As I continued south at about 155 degrees true I came to the estuary of the Mayoeak River.  The entrance was typically restricted by a peninsula of mud colonized to a very limited extent by plants.  Through this typically extremely shallow estuary the channel wandered ambiguously.  I began to notice as this little aspect when I found that my blades were scooping mud randomly sampling the bottom as the wind blew me along.  When I discovered that there was not enough water on the eastern side and paddling across mud was not my style I took advantage of the wind and channel by heading down the west side of the estuary on a course of 130 degrees true.

Now with my trusty, multipurpose instrument, which was now functioning as my mechanical bottom sampler and depth finder otherwise known as a paddle; so named because that is this instrument's most frequent use, I paddled and scooped my way down into the estuary.  The wind was blowing me so nicely that I had to expend little effort to move along except for when I missed the channel and grounded out.  I couldn't see the channel because the black gooey mud and churned up water made it invisible.  I did not consider what the advantage of having high tide and pushing wind might be in the reverse situation as I skimmed along. 

I choose a peninsula with a convenient water depth and sloping shoreline well covered with grasses for sliding the kayak up onto.  Later after I removed the campsite equipment I slide it up into the shelter of a crevasse, well above the water line and moored it to firmly planted stakes. 

This area was different because it had a thinner top layer of peat, which was often absent in places.  There were numerous flat sterile polygonal frost heaved areas of gravel, which because of their constant state of churning upheaval are sparsely colonized by a few adventurous grasses and lichens making these chalky light colored soil polygonal areas were nearly bare.  The type of underlying surface soil could be identified by the types of plants, which grew on it, which gave this area a blotchy appearance. 

The unusually large size and number of Arctic lichens as compared to New England lichens makes them most interesting.  Because they are so easy to collect, I gathered many specimens and pressed them in bibulous paper.  When I arrived home I dried them and worked on identifying them.  The most common lichens were in the Cladonia family, which is also easily found in New England however the most exciting part of having these lichens in hand was to see that there are some spike shaped types as tall as three inches and cup shaped types as wide as 3/4 inch.  There were some Cetraria with the typical prostate curled lobes.  The spectacular Dactylina, which are called dead man's fingers were there but not quite large enough in this area to suggest the name.  The most colorful lichens were brilliant yellow orange growing on soil and these were a type of Xanthoria.  In the Arctic lichens are really the "Red Woods of the north" and they are so exotic that they are often hard to believe.

The flatness of this dry area was punctuated with shallow V depressions resulting from melted ice wedges.  Facing eastward there were a few unusually deep, four foot deep ravines of these melted ice wedges, which had slumping undercut sides, which terminated at the edge of the estuary.  Along the east facing bank there was extensive evidence of melting ice lenses with large sections of slumped soil.  This was due the slightly warmer soil temperatures resulting from the relationship of the topography to sun exposure.  These sheltered banks received the warmest rays of the sun.

Seeing as nobody was around, for miles, I resorted to crawling and laying around looking in these ravines for different plants, especially any bryophytes or, even more interesting to me, any liverworts.  Although I found no liverworts, I noticed that there were some very small mosses, which were vigorously colonizing forming a continuous green coating on the freshly exposed peaty soil.  I noticed that these grew only where they had moisture protection from the wind and very little direct sunlight.  I thought that it was unusual that no other plants grew in association with these nearly microscopic mosses.

Continuing my exploration I noticed that more than one Jaeger was every so often flying over me.  I lay in wait for one to come by again but they sought prey now to the south of me.  I walked in their direction although they were quite far away hoping that there might be something interesting inland and possibly some water.  Then I noticed that a Jaeger was actively hunting reasonably close to me.  The Jaeger was hovering and then diving intermittently.

As I was making my way there I suddenly noticed a dark large bird just sitting on the tundra.  The bird seemed unaffected by my presence.  I prepared my cameras and with my 35mm camera to my eye focused on the bird with greatest stealth approached the bird as closely as possible as the bird then roused itself by yawning and stretching one of its wings.  I realized that I had to wait another moment for the bird to become attentive because the image of a yawning Jaeger seemed highly inappropriate for such an elegant bird.  So just before it became alarmed took its photograph.  As it took to the air I quickly followed it with my video but I would have preferred to have taken a highly detailed picture of the Jaeger at close range in flight.

After a somber evening I awoke to peer out at the estuary and to take stock of things only to discover that there was no water out there only mud, lots of mud, everywhere. 

Somehow in life I have never learned how to walk on water or to paddle in mud.  I suppose that mud paddling might be feasible but I wasn't in the mood for contemplating this paddling technique and kedging across mud in a kayak seemed like it would soon transform the kayak and its paddler into something quite unrecognizable.  I decided that I had best content myself with waiting for the tide.  There was a caribou skeleton just a few feet out in the mud from where I had brought in my kayak, which I did not find reassuring to look at.

After several hours the water returned sufficiently deep, so I thought, for me to launch in.  Unfortunately the water was not quite enough and it was about as deep as it was going to become.  Then came to mind the previous day's assistance I had gotten from the wind.  It had kindly pushed me into this estuary across these shallows making paddling here quite easy however my hull had actually hitting bottom more than I care to remember.  Now I realized that I am confronted with a stiff challenge.  The fair weather wind is blowing against me and my kayak is not floating in this mud.  With greatest effort I am pushing with all my might on my paddle and scooting myself then I am extracting the paddle for another go at it and my progress is just a few feet at a time.  The channel is nowhere to be found and actually it is where the mud is slightly softer than the surrounding mud.  I assume that the channel is further out only to find that I finally cannot move the kayak at all.  Great patience and fond memories of getting stuck in fresh ice just feet from shore caused me to just simply back up.  I knew from ice experience that a paddler has more leverage and strength backing up than going forward.  I backed into the area where I had started from and worked the kayak more carefully through the softer mud having to retry for the channel several times when I lost it. It was taking much longer and was more difficult than I had expected but finally I reached water deep enough.  I realized that most of these estuaries are not deep enough to be explored by kayak except during storm tides. 

Once I got to the outside I was greeted with the same one to two foot seas and fifteen knot winds continuing from the day before only now because the waves had a little more time to build up.  I made my way back up the point against a quartering sea on my bow and rounded the point leaving ample sea room to avoid the wreck there.  I decided not to continue farther down the coast eastward against the wind.  I felt that I had seen enough curious things to feel quite satisfied.

Heading around the point the following sea seemed not too threatening so I stayed a mile off shore until I had gotten out of its lee, then I discovered that this same sea, which really didn't seem too threatening on the exposed side of the point was now a following sea of disconcerting character.  Every once in a while a cluster of large waves would materialize and threaten to throw the boat over on its beam ends.  A few waves managed to slap me in the face.  I was glad that I had as always stowed and tied down my load not only what little there was on the deck but below decks as well.  I always pack my kayak with this sort of seas in mind so the seaworthiness of the kayak does not become compromised, which means that equipment, which must remain on deck must not hinder the passage of a wave over the decks, be washed off deck and equipment below deck be packaged in water tight bags and tied in so as not to brake loose below deck should water enter the kayak.  





I had to adjust my angle to avoid being blown onto shore in proportion to my speed, which at times required nearly broadside exposure to the waves.  This was one of those moments when I was glad that I had a "barn door" rudder the traditional Klepper rudder on my kayak and stout Wenachee paddles with strong, square, wide blades.  I have had the experience of paddling a kayak with an insufficient rudder and very narrow bladed paddles in heavy wind, which this rudder would have handled.  This was a grim disappointing experience.  The kayak, an Arluk III, refused to do anything but lie broadside until with only the most extreme measures could I point the kayak down wind.  This was one of those moments, which is best described as "having marginal control" I felt not just helpless but very foolish.  I, like any experienced open water boater especially a kayaker, feel that one should know what the capability of their equipment is, work within those limits and not bother having anything but the best. 



I worked hard to keep my kayak headed where I wanted having to compensate for the effects of underwater topography on wave patterns, which to my mind should have been a following sea not a broadside sea, as I followed the coast westward back to Barrow.  It appears that the southerly direction of the breaking waves was caused by hydraulic or fluid mechanics in, which the drag exerted on the edge of the wave by the extensive shallows gradient would pull the rest of the wave enough to change its direction from traveling west to traveling southerly.  In a river this effect would result in upstream eddies along the shores.

After a while I subconsciously synchronized my paddling strokes with the wave pattern so much so that I relaxed and hummed a tune whose timing matched the wave pattern perfectly, however I really didn't want to go swimming in this icy water.

I arrived back at Barrow luckily before of the expected migration from the east of ducks.  I was concerned about arriving at the beach should it be lined with a large number of hunters who would be very intent upon getting their valuable, winter supply of ducks.  I was just able to jump out of the kayak and bring it up on shore before a wave flipped it over or filled it up.

On the beach there were some type of shrimp, possibly krill washing up from great swarms of them trapped in the cove.  There were beautiful small white with grey and black wings Sabine gulls busily scooping them up from the surface of the water.  There were no ducks about.  Some sandpipers and phalaropes were working their way along the edges of the waves gathering shrimp.  The shrimp were even sticking to the hull of my kayak.  The shrimp were very tasty, raw and I could have eaten bowls full of them.


Ice pushed up on Point Barrow while I was on the east side



I hastily unloaded my kayak and brought it up onto dry land.  I began carting in my large nylon shoulder carrying bags my gear to a good tent site in Pigniq near where I had camped before.  Mae Ahgeak's children, Marie and Salomi quickly spotted me and ran over to see me.  I told them how happy I was to see them.

This was such a wonderful moment to be back again.  And sure enough there was Mae again on her three wheeler, offering to help.  She figured out how we could manage to load the kayak and everything else onto her three wheeler and with me balancing the load and her steering and handling the controls take everything up to my tent site in one trip.  We had fun knowing that we must have looked like some type of circus balancing act on our way up the beach and circling around past the cottages.  We landed without loosing anything, especially the 16 feet of kayak

I put up my tent and stretched out my gear everywhere in the bright warm sun to dry because I wanted to be sure that everything was as dry as possible before I packed it for the trip home.

I found an assortment of colorful jelly fish among the ice floes beached on the Chukchi Sea side of Point Barrow.  The jellyfish were an assortment of ctenophores such as sea grapes and sea walnuts and Aurelia or lion's mane.  There were some unexplainable transparent two inch long worms wriggling in isolated clusters, which I have not identified.

The next few days were spent visiting exhibits in Barrow, having a wonderful time talking with visiting scientists and visiting with my friends 


Retrieval kayak at Barrow




One warm sunny afternoon at about 4 pm while visiting friends we happened to see a mirage of land and islands subtly develop just hang over the water shimmering and gradually disappear.  This was another one of the many phenomena of the Arctic. 

When I was waiting to leave Barrow at the airport it was a deeply touching moment to be bid good-bye to by an Inupiat lady who was another in the circum polar family of the Inuit people with just the same person about her as the first lady, Edith Wilson, who helped me out the moment I arrived at Barrow. 

As my jet took off I gazed from my seat out the window down at the mass of ice floes in the Chukchi Sea.  This will be another horizon for me to experience at another time.


Gail E. Ferris gaileferris@hotmail.com www.nkhorizons.com  reedited 3 18 2011