Staging the I-Minus

With warm weather predicted for the North Slope, our snow pack and frozen lakes and rivers won’t last much longer.  In anticipation of PIT tagging Arctic grayling and collecting grayling eggs for our experiment investigating local genetic adaptation, we spent yesterday evening combing over checklists, gathering equipment and weighing our gear in preparation for slinging it via helicopter to I-Minus Lake.  Each sling load weighed close to the 750 lb. max that our little R44 could carry, but with careful planning we managed only two sling loads for all our scientific equipment and camping gear.  With nets, traps, rebar, car batteries and solar panels, aquatic ecologists don’t travel light.  With our I-Minus camp staged and ready for the annual Arctic grayling spawning run, we invited helicopter coordinator Dana Truffer-Moudra on a road trip to check on our other two rivers:  The Kuparuk and the Oksrukuyik.  Pools of melt water lining the Haul Road (a.k.a. the Dalton Highway) provided nesting habitat for geese and ducks, including snow geese, white fronted geese, Canada geese and even a sandhill crane, that took flight, probably at the sight of my outrageously pink down sweater.  “Sorry guys.  It was on sale!”  Along the way we spot grazing caribou feeding upon newly exposed tundra and a herd of musk ox shepherding three exuberant young calves.  What a wonderful ending to a hectic, yet productive day in the Arctic.

2862FirstOfTwoSlingLoads

Preparing sling loads for transport to our remote I-Minus Lake camp site.

2866OurGearWithBearFense

Bear fence in place, our gear safely awaits our return.

2893GeeseFlyingAway

Melt water along the Dalton Highway provides early, safe habitat for broody ducks and geese, as predators tend to shy away from the road.

2902CaribouBySlopeMnt

A caribou grazes newly exposed tundra near Slope Mountain.

2952MuskOxAndBaby

Adult musk ox herd three rambunctious calves near the Sagavanirktok River.

2976LowerOksNearSag

The lower Oksrukuyik Creek still looks frozen, but warm weather predicted for the North Slope should soon change that.

2983RoadGraterOnDalton

In need of constant maintenance, a road grater reshapes the dirt and gravel surface of the Haul Road.

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