DEW Line Passage Year II:

Barrow and Peard Bay (Tatchim Isua) ~ August 18 - September 10

We had a relatively short trip planned for this year to see the rest of the Alaskan DEW Line sites. It is only about 200 miles from Barrow to Point Lay and we can usually travel about 25 miles a day. As I write from Wainwright, however, I can say that the next 100 miles to Point Lay is sounding like a long way!
Here's our canoe in its two halves, loaded with most of our gear (around 500 lbs) and ready to be shipped from Fairbanks back to Barrow on August 18. A very late date to be starting an arctic canoe trip, to be sure, but at least we had a full and fantastic Fairbanks summer before we headed north.
When we arrived in Barrow a strong west wind had been pounding the coast for a couple days and the road out to the Point (Nuvuk) had washed out. This is the same road that goes by Pignik, where the cabin we stay in is located, but fortunately you could drive around the wash out.
Beachcombing after the big waves is pretty hot, and we also came upon this very old and very tired walrus.
Our friend got a natchiq (ringed seal) and Flossie prepared it by braiding its intestines around some of its blubber before making a big pot of yummy soup.
We investigated the very first drill rig that was used in back in the 1940s in PET4, the Naval Petroleum Reserve.
On August 27th we set sail from Pignik and sailed the 7 miles to Barrow for a couple more town errands before continuing down the coast.

We made it about 25 miles to Nulagvik, a beautiful spot which immediately inspired Ryan to build a monstrous windbreak.

We found all kinds of old industrial equipment and learned that this area, known as Skull Cliff, was the location of LORAN (Long Range Aide to Navigation) transmitter site Beetle A (1947-1950). Beetle A was a "slave" site for "master" transmitter site, Yellow Beetle, near Tuktoyaktuk in the NorthWest Territories.

This is a Google Earth image of Peard Bay, site of the LIZ-C Intermediate DEW Line Site. We sailed and paddled the 20 miles from Nulagvik to the base of the spit and could see people who have camps there on the shore but we could not land because of the surf. We tried to make it around the spit for about 3 hours (this image does no justice to the spit, it is at least 5 miles long).


Finally, after paddling increasingly into a head wind and being blown towards the shore with no way to be sure where the end of the spit was, we saw a good spot and landed, hauled gear and canoe across the spit, and had a leisurely sail back down to the end of the lagoon. This is the view of the lagoon and Peard Bay from the old DEW Line site. You can see where the people leave their boats in the inner lagoon.


The I site was closed in 1963 and Barrow people who have camps there report that there have been three stages of clean up. Dumps were buried, the buildings removed, and - to the great dismay of the people who use the area - the 300-foot doppler tower (like this one from another I site) was toppled in the late 1990s after it was determined to be a flight hazard.

For over 40 years, this doppler tower played an enormous role in life at Peard Bay. It was a world class landmark and lookout. People could find their way back to camp and safety from many miles inland or out to sea. From only half way up a person could see the runway lights of Atqusuk, the village located some 30 miles away inland. VHF radio contact, which depends on line-of-sight, could be made by climbing the tower. Caribou and whales could be scouted from the site.

Brave individuals climbed up the entire 300 feet and even out to the radar dishes, where they signed their names. Some would eschew the inside ladder and climb up the outer framework. One man fell from about half way, broke his arm trying to catch himself on the way down, and bounced 6 feet in the air when he hit the ground. He lived but was a couple inches shorter after the incident.

Jimmy Jones Olemaun, standing on the site of the former tower, remembers how cool it was to wrap this kind of cable around the tower as you climbed, and then leap off and swing out and around.
Clean up had left the large cement pad that was under a main warehouse at LIZ-C and one of the families that have traditionally camped at Peard Bay was building a large house on the pad while we were there.
The cement pad was over 50 years old but was extremely thick and still has functioning drains.
Here's the house on the old DEW Line site from the old DEW Line airstrip.
Jimmy Jones and Tauktuknaitchuaq scouting for caribou from the roof of the new house.
The camp of the wonderful family we stayed with at Tatchim Isua for two weeks.
Remants of the old DEW Line fuel pipeline.
The cabin we slept in at Peard Bay with our rollable solar panel charging the battery.
Netting Dolly Varden, chum, coho and one chinook salmon out of the Peard Bay lagoon.
Cleaning the fish.
Butchering caribou.
Caribou hanging, ready to take back to Barrow to be shared with the elders. The other family who have camp at Tatchim Isua got a large moose a few days before we arrived - the people think that moose show up once in a while when there are forest fires and lots of smoke in the interior.
Enjoying some patik (marrow) from the caribou.
A true delicacy: dried ugruk (bearded seal) meat in misurak: rendered bearded seal oil. We carry a jar of misuraq with us now that is full of dried beluga meat - sometimes it has dried caribou as well.
An elder stands watch at his duck blind, keeping an eye out for birds, beluga whales, walrus, and the rising tide.
Working on an ice cellar to keep food frozen. This is incredibly hard work and requires upkeep every season.
Ryan took turns pounding out the ice in the cellar.

We took a two day trip up to the Olemaun family's inland cabin to fish in the river and hunt caribou.

Nate Olemaun Senior had sledded the materials to build this cabin in from the Peard Bay DEW Line site in the early 1960s.

Setting nets across the river at the inland cabin.
Jimmy Jones scavenges a weight for the fish net from this old Bombadier snowmachine that his grandpa had brought in back in the 60s.

Jimmy Jones checks out an antique radio that his grandpa brought from the DEW Line in the 60s.

The Search and Rescue base insulated this cabin so that it can be used as a remote rescue cabin - people who have gotten lost or stranded by storms have taken refuge there over the years.

Butchering caribou at the inland cabin. We feasted on fresh caribou brisket soup and fish fried in caribou fat.
A very old ice cellar near the inland cabin.
Returning to Tatchim Isua from the inland cabin.

A Search and Rescue helicopter flew in and used one of the buried DEW Line dumps as a landing site. The people report that the dump was full of batteries.

(The weather was too rough for boating and a mildly ill infant at the adjacent camp was taken to Barrow.)

Weenie and marshmallow roast on the beach.
Sunset at Tatchim Isua.
On September 9 we took off from Tatchim Isua but made it to the end of the spit and pulled over. The winds were stronger than predicted and even though we were going to stay inside the bay, we decided to wait for calmer weather. The next day was so calm we ended up paddling the 20 miles to the other end of the bay and camping at Atanik.
This is a Google Earth image of the west side of Peard Bay, near a large old settlement called Atanik. We camped at the end of this lagoon and on September 11th hauled our gear and canoe over to the ocean. We had good winds and sailed the 25 miles down to Wainwright in 5 1/2 hours.

Next: Wainwright (Ulgunik) and DEW Line Site LIZ-3

Back: Barrow

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