Paul is up at first light every morning to make the coffee. “The good news is that the weather cannot get any worse” he announces cheerfully one morning; the next “The bad news is it can only get worse—5000ft ceiling and 20 mile visibility!” And, what occurs to me…… Bettles and the pass each have their own conditions, so what it looks like here is pretty irrelevant. This is my internal mechanism to avoid further disappointment, as we had a few days back. I just want to hear the roar of the Otter’s engine and see it breaking through the skyline into my view.
Buzz, one of the camp “worker bees”, decides to break out his fishing gear and before we even know what he’s up to he lands an 18 inch Lake Trout! The word rings out through the camp and Scott joins him. Within a couple hours they are deciding “enough”, and, throw back the sixth equally large fish. They shift gears to wood gathering, both for warmth and the fish fry. The fish tacos fill our bellies and provide a much needed lift of spirits. Apparently, we won’t starve out here, even if our lake freezes and the float planes cannot get back in to lift us out.
By this time we are thinking about possible emergency rescue measures…… jet helicopters dispatched from Prudoe Bay….. money being no object….. National Park choppers for search and rescue, but the sad truth is that those things never happen up here…. unless, someone is actually dying. In truth, we are nowhere near the implementation of such extreme measures, much to the dismay of those who might pay whatever the cost.
As you know, we made it out….. on the fifth day. The bad weather finally broke. We found out from our pilot that Brooks Range Aviation had 40 people stranded out in the bush, some of whom had not only been out longer than us, but had no SAT phone; some who were at a lake that actually did freeze requiring them to hike to a deeper one still accessible to a float plane; others who had food but no fuel or firewood to cook it; and some who watched their food (caribou) disappear to a hungry Grizz …… so, all things considered we actually had it pretty easy.
We all missed our flights back home and were prepared to spend one more night in the Bettles hangar, but much to our surprise, the folks at Brooks Aviation had a plane waiting (from Wright Air, handling the small commercial flights) to scoot us on back to Fairbanks. Seems they had had enough of us from the lower 48, who just didn’t seem to fully understand being at the mercy of the elements the same way as those born and raised part of the food chain did.