07-Apr-2011 -- On April 2, 2011 our party of four departed Prudhoe Bay, Alaska on a 12-day, 700-mile spring trip across Alaska’s remote North Slope by snowmobile. Our destination was the community of Kotzebue on Alaska’s western edge. For the first half of the trip, the frozen Colville River provided us with a passable route westward. In our trip planning we noted that the Colville makes several crossings and close encounters with the 69°N parallel which presented some enticing confluence possibilities. While we had to adhere to a fairly fixed program of westward progress and fuel conservation to make our destination, we hoped to take advantage of opportunities to visit confluences where conditions permitted.
On April 6 we were traveling up the Colville in clear weather, brilliant sun and minus 35°F temperatures. Our route passed within a half mile of 69°N/156°W but we eventually determined that this confluence point was atop a shear cliff in a location that would be unreachable for us (vicinity photo attached).
On April 7 our group pushed westward from camp 6 in flat light, and blowing snow. By late morning we approached the confluence of 69°N/158°W. Despite deteriorating weather conditions and some nagging concerns about fuel reserves, it was a group decision to leave our river route on a short hunt for the confluence. We dropped our sleds and headed off in near white-out conditions over rolling hills just to the North of the Colville’s main channel. After about an hour we had pin-pointed the confluence location—an unremarkable patch of tundra and scrub willows near a small unnamed creek. Two of our group’s four cameras had succumbed to the cold temperatures, but after several attempts we managed to coax two of our cameras back to life just long enough to take the requisite confluence site photos and scurry back to our sleds on the Colville to continue west. As luck would have it we pitched camp that night precisely on the 69th parallel we had generally followed all day. A sparse journal entry on 4/7/11 cited the day’s highlights:
Camp 7. 69°.00’N 159°.44’W. Woke to -29°F and Overcast. Managed 76 miles of tough going in flat light and poor visibility. Stuck mostly to the Colville channel, its banks identified in the white-out only by a faint band of dark willows. Wildlife today included fox, ptarmigan and a gyrfalcon. Completed a confluence visit in late AM -- 69°N/158°W and we salute that accomplishment tonight in warm tents with our only ration of limoncello. Evening WX: -11F E wind building to 20 knots.
No other opportunities for confluence visits presented themselves along our route. From the Colville headwaters we crossed through the western Brooks Range and followed the Wulik River to the coastal community of Kivalina. From there a well-traveled coastal trail took us south to Kotzebue, arriving there on April 13, 2011.
Dave Andersen, Fairbanks, Alaska
Matt Cooper, Fairbanks, Alaska
Richard Hattan, Fairbanks, Alaska
Roger Siglin, Alpine, Texas