Yukon River 🛶 🇨🇦 🇺🇸: Across Lake Laberge to Carmacks

🛶 this section: 300km | 🛶 total: 470km

This section on the Yukon river offered spectacular campsites especialy on lake Laberge though we saw a lot less wildlife than on the upper lakes (Yukon River 🛶 🇨🇦 🇺🇸: Battling across the lakes) and no luck witth fishing either. All very enjoyable especially on sections where the river flows faster and does a lot of the work for you (that is, until winds blow in your face interrupting your rest). Skills gained: Bakling Black Bread.

Map showing the Whitehorse-Dawson run

Whitehorse – Lake Laberge – Carmacks

Lake Labarge: Last lake on the tour

We sorted all the things in Whitehorse that were needed, most importantly supplies and transport for Harry´s bike to Dawson. After about 40km of fast flowing river we reached Lake Laberge in the afternoon after leaving Whitehorse with all our newly acquired food & drinks (including free food & drinks from a Swiss couple at the end of their journey). To our suprise, the canoe took the extra load very well and almost didn´t fel different than without its load. It was a sunny and hot day. We enjoyed the fast current of close to 10kmh and covered distance faster than at any point before. It felt good and so we enjoyed a few beers on the way.

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Once on the lake – a treacherous almost 60km part of the journey begins where winds come and go, change direction and can cause 2m high waves in seconds (stay on the right side of the lake, NEVER cross in the middle even on calm days). I later learned that two Dutch paddlers wewre the last to fal victim to the lake. We were lucky and had mostly calm water until the very end where a storm moved in and we set up camp in a heartbeat. Generally, the weather can change very quickly here. Best be prepared to stop. We took two days to cross the lake.

Notable events: We enjoyed an amazing, super-red sunset and baked the first bread. The latter turnerd out black and the yeast didnt work … so flat, very dark bread about 90% baked through was the ultimate outcome. The positive news are twofold – first Hary´s effort with the potatoes was equally bad and secondly we tried the bread again later on and it worked! Not all is lost …

Heading to Carmacks

Once we left the Lake, our pace quickened again and we made it to Carmacks in 2.5 days including two days of 85km. Scenery remained awesome. On the way, we stopped at a First Nation village (Little Salmon), which surprised with an ancient grave yard in poor condition and a (recent) huge poster of the stock market seemling part of a village foundation investment planning meeting.

We also got a taste of the nasty side of the Yukon – thunder and lightning en masse. Initially it was quite scenic, but once the lightnings drew closer we pulled out of the water. Safety first.

We arrived in Carmacks at the same time as another German team that had passed us in the morning. More on that later.

Carmacks: Little Saxony for a night

The camp ground is about 2km upriver from Carmacks village (named after one of the thre guys involved in finding the first Yukon gold in 1896) and offers great campsites and hot showers. What a feeling! After a quick lunch that included a presentation by management to a group of mainly elderly travellers, we headed to town.

As so often in the countryside, hitchhiking is a really good option and Harry managed to flag down the first car that drove past us. The driver was a older man of the First Nations and quizzed us as to where we came from and where we are headed. He dropped us of at the general village store. Thank you very much!

We didn´t need that much. Few vegetables (onion, carrots), fruit (banana, apple), some pasta, meat and snacks. We also resupplied drinks (wine, beer). After dinner in one of the restaurants, we walked home. Ahh … when shopping, dont leave through the basement door with the big label “ALARM will SOUND if you open the door” …. because an ALARM WILL SOUND.

On the way back we werent as lucky and covered most of the distance on foot until the camp owner picked us up. He pointed out that we could have bought beer at his camp site… well, CAD6.25 for a 35ml can wasn’t all that appealing.

Back at the campsite we spent the evening emptying our new supplies with the help of three fellow saxons (well, not originally but they grew up or still live in Leipzig) – a mum with her two sons. They are paddling the Teslin river and then on the Yukon to Dawson. It was her 60th birthday present and adds to a fine record of 14 years paddling all sorts of places including the Elbe several times.

It turned into a long night as each of us shared interesting stories. Be it Michael´s time in Mexico, Jochen´s time in vietnam or her paddling trips. Naturally we shared info on the remaining Yukon paddle, catching fish etc. Everyone was rather eager to share stories. Next morning was slow for all of us (bar mum).

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Jochen is the gazelle like figure in the background

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Yukon River 🛶 🇨🇦 🇺🇸: Battling across the lakes

🛶 this section: 170km |🛶 total: 170km

Lake Bennett to Whitehorse

Checking out Carcross: Hello Harry!

A taxi picked me and my gear up in the morning to take me to the White Pass and Yukon route bus stop near the river. My driver was Victor from Moldova. He emigrated and picked Canada over Russia yet was still not 100% happy – he doesn’t like the money focus and that people here tend to be late. But generally he seemed happy.

The bus to Carcross (500 inhabitants) took about an hour and was rather entertaining as the driver, a 66y old lady from around here, shared a few stories about the white pass and yukon railway, alaska highway and the time of the gold rush. She also pointed out how low the water levels on the Yukon are this year. The bus was full with mainly older folks on vacation.

Carcross used to be called CARibou CROSSing and was populated by taggish first nations (indigenous people in Canada). Apart from the railway station linking it to Skagway via the white pass, it boasts the oldest still operating general store in yukon, a first nation learning center and a nice museum.

Right after lunch the train that would take me to the other end of lake bennet arrived and to my surprise harry was onboard (instead of waiting at Bennett). We left his bike at the train station and off we went to our put-in location at Bennett Station.

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Picturous Lake Bennett & the White Pass train

Lake Bennett is right at the end of the famous Chilkoot pass that gold prospectors had to take before waterways connected them to Whitehorse and ultimately Dawson. It was here that in 1898 about 8,000 boats were launched when the ice melted – the biggest armada of ships in history!

The hour long train ride along the lake was magnificent and offered plenty of time to catch up with Harry.

Once arrived, we assembled the canoe and decided to stay at a hut near the station. Later on a german family joined us. They carried their kayak over the pass and also paddle all the way.

We enjoyed 7 steaks lakeside before hitting the sleeping bags. Tomorrow the journey would begin.

Crossing Lake Bennett: Stormy conditions

The day started well, as the fishing rod we had attached to the stern of the canoe caught a lake trout. Dinner sorted!

Otherwise we faced increasingly harsh conditions as the day passed. At times the waves hit more than one meter – something i had not encountered on the canoe before.

We decided to sleep on the only large island of the lake (be it that it is a fake island with a land bridge) and leave it at 20km for now. Safety first.

Just before reaching the island we spotted a grizzly bear on the railway tracks and later a moose with baby. Amazing! Sadly due to the windy conditiona the fotos are pretty rubbish.

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The island offered immediate protection from the winds, was very warm and offered amazing views across Bennett and its surrounding mountains. We put up camp and prepared a few things – chiefly food (beans & trout). Harry went fishing, but without success. We both slept well that night.

After a good night rest, we got going 10am.a bit late as winds already began to pick up again, but we felt more in control today and reached Carcross after 4.5h. Lake one done!

The German family was there too and also struggled under the conditions, especially since they paddled without spray cover so far (much of their stuff having been stored in Carcross).

We did some shopping, Harry washed clothes and we both used the wifi at the very well run visitor center. On the way out we chatted to the German family again and the tourist office people sent us some cherries and grapes – a valuable gift up here. Thanks!

Another 4km on and 26km all in today we camped on Nares Lake in a little cove pointed out by a lovely local couple. Beans only tonight.

Lake Nares & Taggish Lake

The couple advised us to better start early to avoid strong side winds of ‘Windy Arm’ (get past it by 10am is the rule). By 5:45am we paddled into a calm Yukon morning watching eagles and listening to the sound of our paddles.

It turned out a pretty efficient day as we managed 44km and passed both lakes initially benefitting from low winds and later riding the waves at good speed with the wind in our backs. On our way a swimming moose or elk provided for entertainment.

Once we reached the community of Taggish, more specifically Ten Mile, we enjoyed pizza, burger, beers and a CAD7 shower at the 6 mile river ressort in a heap of afternoon sun.

From there we entered the last big lake before Whitehorse (Marsh lake) and camped in a side stream of the yukon that felt akin to a birds reserve (lots of birds around on that fine evening). To our surprise, we had a 800g pike our fishing rod. Food for tomorrow.

Across Marsh Lake: Fine lunching 🍷 🐠 🥔

Marsh lake was another about 40km of paddling without much support of the current yet stunning views. Highlight of the day was an amazing lunch were we prepared the pike on the bbq and enjoyed it with boiled potatos and wine. Yummy!

After 25km we stayed not far from the end of the lake in a dried up part of the lake. Lots of space! Big fire. Music. Nice.

Into Whitehorse: Longest day yet…

We finally reached the Yukon river after completing the last section of Marsh lake. The current was not strong, but enough to lift speed to 7km/h vs. 4-6 across the lakes.

Just at the end of the lake we saw the nest of a bald eagle (White head) with chicks. Cool.

From here we continued to our lunch break near a bridge and a weir. The German famiky caught up with us (to our surprise we had been faster) and together we passed the manual lock past the weir.

Now rain kicked in and would be with us for a while as we paddled downriver. Music on and go. The scenery was amazing and the mix of wind and rain was very atmospheric. We spotted a lovely swimming beaver and raced him for a while to get a decent foto. Reminded me of the Elbe beavers Laura and I saw last year.

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We did about 30km before reaching todays final obstacle – the Whitehorse dam after passing the 9 mile canyon successfully. Take the boat out on the right side and carry all your gear about 1km downriver. Dont put in too close to the dam – the currents are treacherous. By 11pm and after 55km we had finally made it back to Whitehorse. Tired!

Resupplying and resting in Whitehorse

Before heading on to the next town Carmacks some 5 days away, we went shopping groceries. Lots of them as options down the river will get worse.

We also sorted Harrys bike (arrived from Carcross and sent on to Dawson…) and did a little sightseeing. The SS Klondike, in the 1930’s the most powerful steam ship on the river, tells the story of gold and mining in its own way. A tour with guide is highly recommended.

We stayed at Beez Kneez hostel (where i stayed before) – a place i cannot recommend more highly. Thanks for all the help Sara. Shower and a bed… What a treat 😊

One thing we still struggle with is the permanent daylight. Even at midnight it feels like early morning. Well, lets enjoy the summer while it lasts.

Where we stand: 170km in five days is about 34km on average. About 40km is what i need to make it to Emmonak in time. Things should speed up now after the dam with the exception of Lake Laberge (60km) that can trap you for a while if winds are strong.

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Yukon River 🛶 🇨🇦 🇺🇸: Arrived in Whitehorse, but where is my canoe?

I felt more sad than usual saying goodbye to Alexander. I even cried for a moment. After five weeks together in May and June it will be almost three month without seeing him – an unusually long time. Gonna miss his presence and his positive attitude. What am i gonna do without having to answer all his football questions like whether Messi or Ronaldo is the better player or if Neuer is the best goalkeeper or in fact de Gea. Football dominates his thinking. And why not. My little goalkeeper – just like papa used to be.

We left London with 90min delay due to some mechanical problem. That left me only 1:15min to get through immigration and make my connecting flight to Whitehorse. Will my luggage make the connection?

In that context my worry was not getting delayed by a day or two, it was that Harry would expect to meet me the following day in Bennett and i was in charge of buying the food. Harry would arrive by ferry in Skagway and next day hop on a train to bennett. He would, in fact, have to wait two days given only sporadic transport to the deserted town. Well, maybe i can still text him.

The plane wasn’t busy and the middle seat remained empty in most rows. In the aisle sat Gill. Originally British, she moved to Canada 25y ago following her mum. Still, she visits England and more specifically her sister in Devon every year. Time went past quickly as we chatted about her life and my trip on the Yukon.

The flight to Vancouver is surprisingly short. Just 9h more or less, as the plane crosses into the arctic via Iceland, Greenland and Northern Canada. Given the city is located on the shores of the pacific i expected more. Well, the earth is round i guess.

Flying over ice packed Greenland was an amazing sight. Most certainly a place I should like to visit one day. Even Northern Canada remained snowwhite (and I mean not only the high mountain tops) as we passed over places like Yellowknife, Reliance etc. I wonder if there is ever proper summer here 🤔

I didn’t sleep much and entertained myself with a German movie (“25kmh”, two brothers realising a childhood dream riding through Germany on a moped) and started reading my first Jack London book (“The call of the wild” starring dog Buck).

Arrived. We touched down and things went really smoothly as I rushed through immigration to catch my connection. I must have looked hungry, as Gill overed me a shortbread from Marks & Spencer. Thanks again! Very tasty indeed.

The flight to Whitehorse was only slightly delayed yet overbooked. They offered meal vouchers and CAD400 for the person taking the evening flight instead. It didnt take a minute for a young fellow, seemingly a hiker, to step forward.

Sadly, in Whitehorse i realised that my canoe had not made the journey from Vancouver. I wss promised it will come on the 10pm flight (like 90%). Fingers crossed… If not, same issue with Harry waiting for me and my bus to get me to Bennett leaves 8am. No time to wait for another flight… But lets think positive.

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The check into the Beez Kneez hostel was super smooth and soon i found myself hiking 2.5km to the shopping area. Admittedly, Whitehorse has huge dimensions for a city of just 30,000 people (well, they have cars).

First stop at Canadian Tire for some outdoor gear. You’ll find everything here incuding a huge range of fishing rods and lures. Sadly noone that could tell me which set i should get. I left with a pretty strong rod (6-15kg) and a number of different bait for trout, puke, greyling and salmon. Let’s give it a try!

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Walmart next door was a little disappointing. Their homepage had suggested they sell drones (since Amazon blew the delivery in London), but no. The hostel host (whi in gereral was like superhelpful) offered to get one put aside in another shop. Lets see when i pass through Whitehorse in a few days.

Now quickly food for the coming few days and all done. It was still bright as day outside and so my natural tiredness after almost 24h non stop was supressed. I enjoyed a single pint and informed Harry (also in a pub in Skagway) about the canoe issue. We decided to go ahead as planned and meet in Bennett.

I was already in bed when my host informed that the canoe had ideed arrived. A big sigh of relief! The quest was on and Harry wouldn’t have to starve in Bennett. 😂🤣

Time to sleep… Oh no, who is snorring!!! Who cares. Too tired. Nite, nite…

Yukon River 🛶 🇨🇦 🇺🇸: Expedition gear list

Packing well for an almost three month trip in the middle of nowhere is essential. The plus with a canoe, however, is that you can pack quite a lot – very different to long distance hikers. My Ally 15 DR canoe has 310kg capacity. Net of 170kg for the weight of Harry and myself (the exact composition shall remain our secret 😉), this leaves us with 140kg for gear & food.

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Yukon River 🛶 🇨🇦 🇺🇸: A 3,000km Canoe Adventure from Canada to the Bering Sea

Ideally you don’t use all the 310kg allowance as manoeuvring the canoe becomes harder. Last year on the Elbe I think Laura and myself travelled with about 200-220kg combined. It will be more like 300kg on this trip: ~65kg of my gear (45kg ex canoe, but including water, petrol, etc), Harry’s gear (~25kg ex bike, ~40kg incl.), food (~50kg) and our weight (~170kg). To make sure I emailed the manufacturer (Bergans of Norway), who has reassured me that sufficient margin has been put into the 310kg capacity label.

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My Gear list for the Yukon Trip: Total 65kg including Canoe

Cooking & outdoor gear Waterproofing & Storage
Expedition set stove MSR Green rucksack (hand luggage)
Petrol bottle MSR XL red dry bag
SIGG bottles (petrol) Large Green dry bag
Titanium cooking pots Medium Blue dry bags
Extra aluminium pot Ocean pack 10l
Baking tin Small yellow dry bag
Insulated cup Barrel 40l
Cleaning brush & Sponge Duffel XL for gear
Plate green Second rope 4mm
Metal spoon Sort leash
Two plastic spoons Clinkers
Tupperware Rubber rope
2 large Nalgene bottles
Thermo cover Nalgene Sleeping
Water Purifier MSR Ground sheet / TARP 2x3m
Cutting board Tent
Ziplock bags Poles
Salt Mattress
Pepper Sleeping bag liner
Chilli Yak blanket
Salad seasoning Tarp poles
Vitamin tablets Stool
Book with recipes Head torch
HUEL (emergency food)
Bin bags black Hygiene & Meds
Grill (buy at Canadian Tire) Wash-line
Leatherman Towel
Swiss knife Unscented soap
Emergency lighter Unscented toothpaste
Axe Dirty clothes bag
Fishing gear Toilet rolls
Bear spray (buy in CA) First aid kit
Sunblock spray
Electronics Anti biotics
SUUNTO Ambit watch Antiseptic
Solar Panel Medical book
Power bank Midget spray
Speaker UE 2 Boom
Chargers Clothing
Tripod Buff
Camera Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330 & tripod plate Warm gloves
Mobile phone Working gloves
Ortlieb case for mobile Rain trousers
Spare batteries Rain jacket
Kindl RAB hat warm
OR Baseball cap with sun protection
Orientation Long Johns
Offline maps Viewranger (mobile) Cycling gloves
inReach explorer Canoe gloves
Printed maps Shorts
Map case & compass Long trousers
Long sleeve shirts
Canoe Short sleeve shirts
Canoe carry bag & canoe components Bug head-net
Paddles incl. leash Sunglasses
Life vest Underpants
Canoe seat Down jacket
Throwline 30m Fleece
5mm rope Rain poncho
Straps Umbrella
Cable ties Water sandals
Fixing rod holder (incl. tool to fit) Hiking boots
Expedition repair kit Socks Thin
Duct Tape Rubber socks
Water Pump Handwarmer

 

Yukon River 🛶 🇨🇦 🇺🇸: Food supplies, fishing & Alaska’s giant vegetables

In 2011, just after I completed the Crow Pass trail, I had a few drinks in Darwin’s Theory in Anchorage, AK. Completely enthusiastic about my recent experience, I discussed with a park ranger how it would be to get dropped somewhere in the wild (e.g. with a float plane) and then make your own way back to civilisation while living off the land (fishing, hunting, plants). He looked at me and just said: “Son, do whatever you want but promise me one thing – TAKE YOUR FOOD WITH YOU”. He is obviously right and whoever doesn’t believe me I recommend watching this youtube docu of British Ed Wardle.

How much food do you need?

As a hiker, I usually work off ~3,000 calories per day depending how hard I push. For canoeing, it depends a lot on the conditions. During a relaxed paddle you look at 200 calories per hour (so about 2,000 for a 10h day), but headwinds etc can let you sweat a lot more. Here a handy calculator.

Assuming 3,000 calories similar, you’d need 800g of pasta or 500g of almonds to give you sufficient calories. But not all food is that rich in energy and just pasta for three month isn’t that intriguing either (4,5days hiking on pasta in Sikkim were plenty!). So I plan with roughly ~1kg of food per day to maintain weight and not budget my body-fat reserves.

Some high calorie-to-weight food items

1 egg 78cal
100g pasta 380cal
100g almonds 580cal
100g chocolate 535cal
100g snickers 485cal
100g tuna in oil 200cal
100g granola 490cal
100g cheese 400cal
100g kidney beans (dry, = 300g cooked) 380cal
100g lentils (dry, = 270g cooked) 320cal
100g Huel (emergency food) 400cal

What food to buy?

When it comes to food, the key limitation beyond your canoe’s carrying capacity is that you won’t have a fridge on river (even though nights might feel akin to sleeping in a freezer). Resupplying along the route is an option though expensive, patchy (on average only every ~330km on Canadian side, ~110km in Alaska) and with limited selection.

I will opt for food with high calorie to weight ratios, dried and canned food, snacks (lots of time on the canoe) and vegetables that won’t perish quickly (e.g. onion). Meat and other perishable items I will get on the way. In total, I plan to buy ~50kg in Whitehorse.

Shopping list: 50kg of supplies

Basic staples Total (kg) Items to be caught/bought on the way Total (kg)
Pasta 3.00 Fish
Flour (bread) 3.00 Meat
Flour (pizza) 1.50 Fresh vegetables
Lentils 3.00 Eggs
Beans 3.00 Whatever is missing & available
Cooking ingredients Sweets & Snacks
Butter 1.00 Snickers (130g) 3.25
Olive / sunflower oil 1.00 Almonds 2.25
Baking powder 0.45 Beef Jerky 2.00
Pizza yeast 0.12 Muesli bars 2.00
Lemon juice 0.20 Sweets 3.00
Chia seeds 0.50 Cookies 1.00
Dry mango/fruit 0.50
Vegetable
Carrot 0.50 Breakfast
Onions 3.00 Oat bran 2.00
Garlic 0.20 Granola 2.25
Potatoes 2.50 Coffee 0.50
Pickled cucumber 2.00 Tea bags 0.20
Milk powder 0.50
Canned food & Meat
Tuna 2.00 Soups & Sauces
SPAM 1.00 Knorr Soup 2.00
Sweetcorn cans 1.00 Veg stock 0.15
Salami 0.50 Soy Sauce 0.15
Sausages 0.50 Wasabi 0.04

Alaska’s mega vegetables

I have already written about the polar day in Alaska, as the sun never sets around summer solstice. An unexpected side effect of this are ginormous vegetables and fruit that farmers grow in Alaska owing to the extra sun hours. The full records you find here, but just imagine a 16kg broccoli, a 3kg onion or a 668kg pumpkin!!! I will need to find normal sized food or my canoe will sink.

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In May to September it never gets completely dark in Dawsin and the sun is out up to 21h per day. Things are different come winter …

Fishing on the Yukon

Every year the Yukon/Alaska experiences the largest salmon run on the planet and is also home to lots of other fish species. You will need to obtain a fishing license for either side of the border (US145 p.a. for non-residents, $25 in Canada p.a.) and watch king salmon regulations in particular (though the King salmon run is already May/June and hence you will likely miss it).

Below is the advice I received from Alaska Department of Fish and Game (Yukon is turbid; best fish in clear tributaries; don’t just rely on fish) and a fish run table. Looks like chum salmon, dolly varden, rainbow trout, greyling, sheefish and whitefish are on the menu.

Fish species in the Yukon

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Advice Lisa at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Your request for fishing information has come by me.  Sounds like Shane Hertzog has sent information re. your need for a sport fish license while in Alaska.  Since you will be starting your float in Canada, you will need to check with the Department of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences (http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fisheries-peches/recreational-recreative-eng.html) for fishing license and information while you are floating the Yukon River on the Canadian side.

While floating through Alaska, you will also need to have the latest sport fishing regulations with you in addition to your license, which I’ve attached.  The specific regulations for the Yukon River drainage are found on page 21.  The mainstem Yukon River receives quite a bit of glacial input and is fairly turbid.  Most success capturing fish will be in the numerous clear-water tributaries.  Depending on where you are in the drainage, you should be able to target chum salmon.  Chances are good that the sport fishery on the mainstem Yukon River will be closed for Chinook (king) salmon and restricted in the tributaries.  An “Emergency Order” for this and any other sport fishing restrictions will be posted on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Sport Fish website for the Yukon Drainage Management Area (http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=ByAreaInteriorYukonDrainage.main).

In the clearer water tributaries and/or at the confluences with the mainstem Yukon River you should be able to target “non-salmon” species such as Northern pike, Arctic grayling, and Sheefish (called inconnu in Canada).  You can find more information on the seasonal life histories of these species at:http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=animals.main.  When I fish, I like to use a casting rod with spin reel and different sizes of pixie depending on what I am targeting (small for Arctic grayling and large for sheefish and N. pike).  Northern pike especially seem to like the more tannic sloughs you will encounter on your downriver float.  If you like to fly fish, there is lots of information on flies, etc. on the internet and what species you wish to target like to strike.  I would make sure you had enough food and not rely on fish as major meals as depending on river conditions and what time and where the fish are in their yearly migrations, they can be hard to catch.

ARCTIC-YUKON-KUSKOKWIM RUN TIMING

This table indicates when sport fish are present (little fish) or at their peak availability (larger fish) in fresh water in the area of Alaska which encompasses the northwest half of the state. The only highway in this area is the Dalton Highway, running between Prudhoe Bay and Fairbanks. The area includes the communities of Nome, Bethel, Kotzebue, Aniak, Galena, Arctic Village, Barrow and numerous smaller villages.

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