Monday, May 10, 2010

Dash to Dall Hot Springs

Dan inspects one of the pools of hot water at Dall Hot Springs

I just stood there perplexed, frustrated, and on the verge of despair as I stared out at the foreboding landscape. As I spun around looking for relief, my 360 degree view was overwhelmed with jumbled, multiple layers of criss-crossed, endless slash piles of blackened spruce trees that littered the hillsides. We had been climbing around, up, through and over a twisted maze of forest destroyed by a past fire for more than 10 hours since breaking camp. The incessant minefield of jagged spears had ripped or shredded much of our clothing, gashed our flesh, and thrown us on the ground as an unseen root or branch would lash on to any loose thread. We were determined to make it to our destination though - a small flag marked on my GPS that indicated the approximate location of Dall Hot Springs.

We spent the weekend traveling overland nearly 30 miles from the Dalton Highway to reach Dall Hot Springs. About 10 miles of our path crossed decent alpine tundra and open stands of burnt spruce - BUT - during much of the remaining 20 miles we clambered across the torched landscape. We only had a short time once we finally made it to the springs because we had to begin the arduous 18 hour trek back to the truck.

A small portion of our route coincided with the Hickel Highway, which is quite a prestigious title for an abandoned winter ice road. This mostly forgotten and overgrown swath of history was cut across the boreal forest, mountains, and arctic tundra en route to explore the potential reserves of petroleum deep under Alaska's Arctic coastal plain. Governor Walter Hickel ordered the winter supply road to be bulldozed north in November 1968. The "highway" was soon ditched due the poor engineering techniques which stripped away the insulating vegetation that protected the underlying permafrost. The highway turned into an impassable mud bog as the permafrost thawed. A new environmentally sound route, the Dalton Hwy, was constructed a few years later. Although Hickel's Hwy failed, it paved the way and served as a catalyst for the exploration and development of the oil and gas fields in Alaska's Arctic.

We found an assortment of relics along the Hickel Hwy, including oil cans and numerous unidentifiable fragments of old machinery and equipment. Some random photographs during the highways construction can be found HERE. Unbeknown to us, Hickel had passed away at the ripe age of 90 the day we skimmed his defunct highway on the way to Dall Hot Springs.

Dall Hot Springs is a small oasis of warm water and lush grass tucked up against the hillside. A handful of sulfurous springs percolate to the surface and flow away into the boreal forest.

There were remnants of human activity at the springs. This pool was contained by a decaying wood frame and had a complimentary deck and collapsed supports poles for some type of primitive cover. There was also some sort of control gate to adjust the flow of water entering the tub.

Beat-up and tired, but exhilarated from an arduous trek and time out in the wilderness, we made it back to the road and quickly headed south to our materialistic comforts back in Fairbanks.

Here is the video version from our 60-mile, 48 hour push to Dall Hot Springs....