Recce Flight Over the Coleen River and British Mountains
Following on from the last blog, in March 2015 after our stay in Eagle, we chartered a small plane and made a reconnaissance flight over part of the route we will take along the Coleen River and British Mountains. It is really impressive desolate area of the country with high mountains, meandering rivers all blanketed in snow that goes on for ever and ever. From the air the landscape looks monochrome, devoid of colour, with the grey stubble of trees against the snow.
I was concerned when flying over some of the Coleen River that there were open leads (areas of open water) and some evidence of overflow (where the water is forced up onto the surface of the river’s winter ice). Both open leads and overflow are not ideal for sledging; The open leads have thin ice around the edges.
The overflow can be anything from two inches to two feet deep making it unpleasant for the dogs and you risk getting your boots and feet wet in temperatures which can be as low as –40º. There is the ever present risk of frost bite if you don’t get dry quickly so we always carry a spare pair of boot liners just in case. Once you get out of the over flow you often have to stop and knock all the ice off the sledge runners.
On our flight from Eagle we flew to Circle to refuel and line-up a dog food depot to use on the expedition. We landed on the snow air strip, drove into the village and parked the plane outside the village store, where we re-fuelled!
When Circle was built on the banks of the Yukon River it was thought to be on the Arctic Circle, hence its name, in fact it is about 60 miles south of it! Today it has a population of about 100 people. In 2013 when the ice melted on the river in the spring (they call it the break up), Circle got badly flooded. This is a constant risk to any of the villages that are along the Yukon River. We made another stop on the way up to look at the top of the Firth River to meet Hymo & Edna Korth who have lived up on the Coleen River for 35 years, hunting and trapping. Their cabin is about 135 miles from Circle, their nearest neighbour. We got some good advice about the local conditions that we might expect next year.
The day after getting back to Eagle, Graham and I went to the Eagle Community School and gave a talk to the students, who will be participating in the expedition’s educational programme