Top of the World

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OK, we’re bipolar. But after the South Pole, there isn’t a better place to unwind…. We get the call to save the frozen north from tooth decay so it’s off to Barrow Alaska. Barrow is located as far north as you can go without getting your feet wet (or frozen). This time of year, it’s dark except for a couple of hours at noontime and usually somewhere between -20F to -80F below zero–no problem for a couple of experienced explorers like us!

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Here’s downtown Barrow–this is one of the older buildings in town and one built closer to the ground. Most buildings are on high insulated stilts as the entire north slope is permafrost. We’re at latitude 71.4 degrees North with Seattle almost 2000 miles south.

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Here stands Martina at high noon at Point Barrow with the lights of the town of Barrow six miles in the distance. A small spit of land extends another 6 miles into the Arctic Ocean splitting the Chuckchi Sea (west) from the Beaufort Sea (east). At the end of the spit whalebones are discarded from the fall bowhead whalehunt which attract polar bears. The local Inupiaq people still hunt polar bears (and also other endangered species) for subsistance but with modern snow machines, high powered rifles and speed boats which is a controversy in itself. I attended the bowhead whale hunt in October 2001 and was impressed how 100% of the whale was utilized. The whales are still hand-harpooned from a Umiaq (walrus hide boat) but then dispatched with modern rifles. Approximately 58 a year are “harvested.”

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Speaking of polar bears, here is our only sighting at high noon near Browerville across the lagoon from Barrow. These critters are very hard to spot–just a yellow smudge and black nose against the snow–this photo was enhanced a great deal. There are probably less than 2000 of these animals left on the planet but you still see them stuffed in airports throughout Alaska–many of them shot by doctors who really don’t need to eat these to survive.

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We spend a week in Barrow for training and preparing for our clinic in Kaktovik which is located above ANWR about 300 miles east of Barrow. Since there are only candy stores in Kaktovik, we must provision for two weeks at Barrow prices. Here is the dairy section where milk is $8 per gallon! And this is considered a bargain. We buy three gallons at half price since it’s near the expiration date and freeze two for the road. You won’t find Coke expiring on the shelf! Here’s a photo of the “candy store” in Kaktovik, run by the students at the school. No wonder dentists are in high demand here.

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Kaktovik is a town of about 350 people located on Barter Island in the Beaufort Sea. We were surprised to find a modern hospital, fire station (the old one burned down) and many other refinements. The Kaktovians receive lots of monies from the oil industry which pay for this infrastructure. Next stop is Petersburg for two weeks and then on to Prince of Wales Island….stay tuned….

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