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Alaska Wilderness Transportation

Discussion in 'Blogs' started by BTPost, May 1, 2011.

  1. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    It is now spring, and the snow level is rising, back up the mountains, to where it belongs. I have been wondering where to go next, in my Blog, as I have covered a lot of territory, so far. It seems that Transportation, is the next logical subject to talk about. Back in the Day, Sled Dogs were the traditional way to move goods and materials, from the coast, to the interior, of Alaska. Rivers were, and still are, the Main Highways, that facilitate transfer of Goods, from one place to another. They form Ice Roads, in winter, and navigable pathways during the summers. There are NOT many roads, in Alaska, so unless you stay near the larger Cities and Towns, a Car, or Truck, will not get you to where you need to go. If you live in Southeastern Alaska, like I do, Towns are connected by the Alaska Marine Highway System. This is a system of Ferry Vessels that move people, and vehicles, between the Cities and Towns. For personal transportation, a Boat or Plane, is usually required to move around. Alaska has the highest percentage of Private Aircraft ownership in the world, and nearly every Alaskan who lives anywhere near navigable water, owns at least one Boat. Some, more than one. Out here where I live, in the bush, the only way in and out is by Boat or Plane.

    For our local transportation, on what we call our local road system, we use mostly ATVs, a few small trucks, and an occasional bicycle. Road is a bit of a "stretch" when describing what we have, around here. It originally was part of a WWII Military Installation, built to support the Alaska Aleutian Campaign, but was closed and abandoned by the US Army back in 1946. What we have reclaimed after 50 years of NO Maintenance, has taken years, of effort by a few of the locals. It will support small trucks, but the bridge that connects the North and South halves of the system (Over South Creek) was only designed to support 8000 Lbs. This limits travel by heavy vehicles to one side or the other, but we still think that getting it put in, 10 years ago, by the Haines Borough, allowed the locals to build and expand their outfits with significantly more ease. Our freight arrives, via Alaska Marine Line Barge, weekly during the summers, and not at all during the winter months. It is part of the North side Road System. ALL of the locals live on the South side Road System, and before the bridge was installed, we moved Goods and Materials by boat, which was very Tidal dependent, as we have 20Ft tides here. NOW, with the bridge in place, ATVs towing Trailers, small Trucks, can move supplies and materials, anytime, with no consideration of what the Tide is doing, and you only have to handle the goods "Once" on each end, as opposed to 4 or more times when moving them, via boats around South Creek.

    Much of the terrain in alaska is Tundra, or Muskeg, which are just fancy names for a "Bog" with varying surface consistency that ranges from standing water, to pudding, to semisolid ground. The BEST time to move heavy things, off the Road System, to building sites, is during the winters when the ground is FROZEN Solid. This works very well until "Spring Beak-up" when the top foot thaws out, and get soupy again. It is very UNWISE to drive anything off the road that has standard Road Tires, except in winter, as you can bet "Dollars to Doughnuts" that you will get STUCK, and need at minimum a winch to get you out. ATVs have a wider footprint, and much less "Pounds per Sq. Inch" on the ground and can in some cases be used to move materials off-road, IF one is very careful NOT to drive, in the same track, to often. Mostly things a packed from the Road system to the building sites, by hand, OR folks spend a month, or two hauling Beach Gravel, to extend the road by building Driveways. This can get really involved. One Eyed BOB, a retired Heavy Equipment Operator, and local resident, spent 6 months hauling Beach Gravel, 800 Lbs at a time, 6 trips a day, to build his driveway, into his cabin site. We call it "The One Eyed BOB Memorial Super Highway" as compare to the rest of the Road System, it is exactly that. A well Graded and Groomed 8 ft wide, path of gravel that climbs 100 ft in elevation, and about .25 miles, thru a set of switchbacks, up the side of a hill, which his cabin sits on Top of. BOB Has a serious case of OCD, and counts EVERYTHING. He can tell you EXACLY how many loads of gravel, and how many TONs of material, went into his driveway. How many Screws, (No Nails, BOB doesn't believe in Nails) hold EVERY Joint, or connection point in his Cabin, Wood shed, and other Out-buildings. Just ask Him.... and be prepared to listen for the next Few HOURS.

    Winter is SNOW Season in Alaska, and if you live here, you just "Have to like SNOW". Wheeled vehicles can get around pretty good on snow until it get deep enough to 'High Center" the rig. Then it is "SNOW-Go" (snowmobile) time, and if you are planning a trip anywhere off the Road System, you and your Snow-Go are going to be Good Friends. Snow-Go's are, the modern day replacement, for the dogs that pulled the Dog Sled. You will still see MANY dog sleds still in use, being pulled by Snow-Go's, out in the bush. Sleds make great trailers, when towed behind a Snow-Go, for hauling not only Goods, but people as well. The main roads, in winter, become the Frozen Rivers, and they are used to move people and goods from village to village, as long as the ICE stays solid. Many folks drive bigger vehicles up and down the rivers in winter, such a Fuel Trucks, School Busses, and Freight Trucks. The locals will check the Ice thickness, and temps, daily, in both directions, on their part of the river, and forward the information to the DOT in the local MAJOR TOWN. That way folks can find out if it is safe to move a load, using the River Ice. Just like on Ice Road Truckers on Discovery channel.

    Summers when the rivers are water and not Ice, barges are used, with Shallow Draft Pusher Tugs, to move heavy goods on the rivers. the few Barge Pilots that have spent years, on their particular river, are a persons BEST Friend during the summers. They bring in the fuel, and many of the Groceries, that sustain the people that live in the interior of alaska. Just like the riverboats of Old on the Mississippi, and Missouri back in the 1800's.

    Most of the people, move between villages, and towns, via the Alaskan Bush Plane. These are Scheduled Air Carriers that fly the US Mail and lighter, smaller Goods, that can fit thru the Cargo doors of the aircraft. Flying is a lot more expensive that moving on the water, but it is also a FASTER. Your local Bush Pilot is like Santa Claus, at Christmas, every time he lands with a load of Mail and packages for the village, and almost everyone shows up when he is expected. Bush Pilots are a very special breed of Airmen. The last guy you want mad at you is your local Bush Pilot, because if you need to get to town, He is the only one, going to come get you, and haul you away, Dead or ALIVE.

    More to come, SOON...
  2. sarawolf

    sarawolf Monkey++

    You sure are full of a LOT of information :). Good going.
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