15th October 2015

6 years ago  •  By  •  4 Comments

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.

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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!

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Mail team leaving Circle City for Ft. Gibson, Alaska, c.1900

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

Comments 4

  1. Helen BC
    Hi, Mr. Oakley. Good to meet you last night. Which member of your team is trained to be responsible for medical care? And if you get frost bite or other serious problems, are small planes able to land in quite a few areas to pick you up? And would the team manage to go on with one member absent?
    • Tim Oakley
      Hi Helen Sorry for the late reply. In answer to your questions, all the team members are trained in basic First Aid. In the event of more serious problems we have a 24 hour hot line to a doctor in the UK who will be able to assess and assist us via a Satellite phone. In the event of a major problem we have an extraction plan in place. An expedition of this sort, with the inherent risks attached, has to prepare a Risk Assessment. We believe our Risk Assessment has adequately considered the risks that we are likely to experience and the necessary responses. The assessment includes for the extraction of a team member by plane, the circumstances and conditions at the time will determine the exact approach we take. The remaining team members could in theory continue with the expedition if one of the team members was no longer able to take part but we would make a decision at the time. Tim
  2. Eden
    That is one cool ? website.
    • Tim Oakley
      Hi Eden I am pleased you like the website -your very clever Daddy made it for me!