DEW Line Passage Chapter 11:

Point Lonely/POW-1 and Cape Simpson /POW-A

As we approached Point Lonely we passed this barge laden with CONEXes*. It turned out that the barge was collecting hazardous material from the clean up that is going on at Lonely and Barter Island this summer.

Lonely was a DEW Auxilliary site (deactivated 1990) and North Warning System Short Range Radar that was closed in 2007. It's a large site - the federal government (Department of the Interior) granted 2,830 acres of "public" land to the the Air Force for the site in 1957. Ownership passed to the BLM, which leased 1,801 acres to the Air Force. Husky Oil had previously done exploratory work in the Naval Petroleum Reserve from the area.

*CONEX is an acronym for the military shipping container: Container Express

The barge was experiencing engine trouble and pulled over just east of the site.
Large bags of contaminated soil are staged for transport at the site.

Contamination issues at Lonely are particularly sensitive because Lonely is located within the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area of the National Petroleum Reserve. Conservation groups would like the area to be restored to its original state. The Air Force characterizes use of the site as industrial and the BLM has and will most likely continue to lease the site for future oil industry activity.

Air Force 2007 public notice regarding its plan for 12 ERP sites at Lonely

The Air Force first reported that the dump was eroding in 1986.
Dump clean up and dirt testing.

The fumes from the excavated dump dirt were terrible. Not a lovely camp site.


Bags of PCB contaminated soil with Inupiaq graves in background.



Module train after asbestos abatement.


Duct tape graffiti left by...?


Under the radome.

We left Lonely and were sailing along with a fairly brisk wind - just the main sail with one reef in it. We headed closer to shore to try and get pictures of some truly stunning erosion.


This polar bear was up on the bluff, then came down and ran along the shore beside us for quite a ways. The mud that melts out of the permafrost is unbelievably slippery and we could see him powering his way through the patches of it on the beach. Apparently he was trying to get ahead of us so that he could cut us off, because shortly after this he got in the water and started swimming at us. Ryan informed me that polar bears can swim 6 miles per hour, which is much faster than we can paddle the canoe. Luckily we were already going 5-6 mph and we hastily put the fore sail up and pushed our speed up past 7 mph. He seemed discouraged by this and retreated to the bluff. (Yes, we carry a shotgun).



This happened just as we were coming up on the point where we were going to camp since otherwise it meant a 15-mile crossing of Smith Bay, and it was a little late for that. The wind was strong and the bear was close, however, so we went for the crossing. It picked up a bit during the 3 hours it took us to cross and, with the dimming light and impossible to discern coastline, we saw a little cabin on the shore and headed for it, figuring there had to be a tiny safe zone. Wrong. The surf wasn't terrible but as we were landing we got turned sidewise, dumped the boat, re-broke the outrigger arm, and had a heck of a time getting the boat on shore once it filled with water from the waves. Our dry bags kept most of our gear dry but lots of stuff was wet so we figured the bush tradition of using empty cabins was appropriate. The wind kept up and we spent nearly 4 days at Cape Simpson in some Barrow folks' old cabin, which was wonderful. Quyana!



We dried everything out and repaired the boat...


...and enjoyed some superb literature while we were there. We were now only 40 miles from Barrow!


We've heard since arriving in Barrow that Cape Simpson has eroded over 100 feet in the past year.
Just a few miles away from the point of Cape Simpson is Cape Simpson/POW-A, the old DEW Line Intermediate site. We knew that it was currently used as an oil industry facility and we were going to pull over and check it out, but just as we were arriving we saw another polar bear in the water swimming towards us, so we satisfied ourselves with some pictures from the canoe.
Here's how POW-A looked from the air in 1956...
...and here's a photo of the oilfield service camp that is located there now. The camp is owned and operated by the Ugpeagvik Inupiat Corporation's (UIC) oilfield services division. UIC is the village corporation of Barrow, Alaska that was incorporated in 1973 under provisions of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Photo courtesy of the Ugpeagvik Inupiat Corporation website

Shortly after passing POW-A we sailed through a tiny entrance between barrier islands into the protected lagoon that extends all the way to Barrow. Actually that's not quite true, we discovered, as we ran completely out of water after 5 miles and ended up dragging the boat through mud and shallow water, backtracking a bit to where we could pull her up on a barrier island and make camp.


Our last campsite before sailing the final 40 miles to Barrow.


We hauled the canoe and gear to the ocean side of the barrier reef and shoved off. We were able to reenter the lagoon with plenty of water just a few miles further west.

Next: Top of the World - Barrow, Alaska

Back: Oliktok Point and Kogru

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