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Last day on the North Slope

Alaska, Sunday 6 August: Rained all night and into the morning. Flew the chopper to Marsh Creek. Walked six miles of the old seismic line with Wayne, reading the magnetometer while he recorded. !e magnetic storm on the sun ended two days ago and we are finally getting good readings. The sun is shining with a good breeze blowing… maybe it’ll keep the mosquitoes down. We decided not to go with mosquito net headgear and shirts. Without wind we have to rely 100 percent on DEET, a (quasi-toxic?) chemical oil (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) you spread on your skin. This causes what looks like windburn, and melts synthetic fabrics — but it sure keeps the mosquitoes and black flies off. Saw ptarmigan and marmot. Found the tundra uneven for walking: it’s best if you can stay up on the tufts of grass rather than the wet spots in between. The tundra is made for folks with one long leg and the other short: one for the grassy tufts, the other for the bog in between. The clouds of mosquitoes — of which there are more than 30 species in Alaska — were on the lee side of hills, mainly around willows. By the time we finish we’re in a driving rain with 20-knot winds out of the northwest, temperature 36°F [2°C].

At lunch we went fishing in a rain-swollen, silty river. Fished from gravel bars in the river. Saw a grizzly sow and cub, and I caught five grayling and one char — in Alaska even I can catch a fish. Ed caught eight. We were using spinners with pink spots. It rained the whole time.

Ed and Joe mapped the K–T boundary (about 65 million years old), sampled the Paleocene for source rock, and collected oil from a seep at Manning Point. Today is the first day I really got cold — got wet from inside out, outside in, and bottom up (water over the tops of my mid-calf Sorel boots). Once back in camp I completely changed clothes, took a hot shower, and collapsed for an hour before cocktails were served in Ed’s tent at 6 pm. Dinner tonight (always at 7 pm sharp) is turkey and pork chops.

Two weeks ago we flew into Prudhoe Bay (actually, the town is Dead Horse). Alaska Air lost the bag with my boots; eventually they got it to me and we flew to our camp at the Kavik River on the west edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Though we’re not allowed to develop, or even explore here, the government is allowing oil companies to do some surveys for a regional study as long as we don’t disturb the wildlife. We worked out of the Kavik camp, flying each day in a helicopter into roadless wilderness where we set down to con#rm strikes and dips of bedding mapped on aerial photos, identify rock units, collect samples, and run ground magnetics and gravity surveys.

We heard that a grizzly was killed in the camp as it was being set up in late May: as it wandered near the outhouse someone yelled, ‘Bear in camp!’ and a shot was fired to scare it off. It didn’t scare, sniffed the air as if hungry, and headed straight for a tent where a guy with a bad back was laid up. The camp staff shot the bear just as it got to the tent.

Camp is beginning to thin out. Originally we had ARCO, Conoco, Texaco, Elf, and Placid, plus consultants: about 40 people in all. Now there are only about 15 left, including three camp staff. The sun is out again and is still high in the sky and the camp generators are making their usual racket. Went for a walk after dinner with Ed and Joe along the gravel road that extends 8–10 miles south along the Kavik River.

Finished packing. The little commuter plane picked us up at the gravel strip at 10 pm. We have about 50-mile visibility with low clouds and drizzle. Got to Dead Horse on time and changed planes. The commercial jet left Dead Horse on time. Began reading Alaskan Bear Tales, a book I picked up at the airport. A guy sitting near me is wearing a hat that says, ‘If you don’t think Hell freezes over, you’ve never been to Prudhoe Bay.’

Draw carefully

Don't quote me on this