Selawik Hotsprings

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to the Selawik hot springs. I was very excited because this was a trip I had wanted to go on since I arrived in the region. As always with a trip during the school year, timing could have been better. The weekend before was prom. I spent Friday and Saturday working on set up and taking pictures and the major part of Sunday driving kids back to our neighbor villages. That left me very little time for sub plans but it all worked out. Who needs sleep?

This weeks photo challenge is Surprise and there were plenty of those on this trip!

We set off promptly at 1:00PM (2:30PM in reality). We packed up food, gear, huge tents, kids, kids bags, survival and emergency equipment, extra gas and oil, chain saws, and more. We also brought some plywood and 2x4s and 2x6s for the repairs to one of the buildings which we planned to do on this trip. All told there were roughly 15 snowmobiles and sleds for 11 students. IMG_2508

The trail on the way up was great. There had been quite a bit of snow in the past month and not much wind. Many of the community drivers commented that it was the most snow they had ever seen on that trail. It was also nice and warm and sunny so all together a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

Selawik River

The trail, which is only accessible during the snowy times of year, was 46 miles by my
odometer situated right at the head waters to the Selawik River. We pulled in roughly 3 hours after we set off leaving plenty of time to look around and set up camp before eating. IMG_2515

The area we were in had three springs of varying temperatures. The coldest was little more than a mud puddle but the other two were well developed into small pools. The medium one was deep and clear enough for a water bottle or jug to be dipped in. It is the local belief that the spring water has healing properties that can help with a cold or soar throat. The green algae that grows jut down the stream is said to help with soars and skin problems. Most of the community members brought bottles and jugs to fill to take some of the water home and everyone had a chance to try it. It did taste a little like pond water but I guess that was to be expected. I thought it would have a very distinct sulfur taste but to my surprise it had very little. On trying the water I realized that the pool and area around was also missing the sulfur smell which I have associated with hot springs in other areas. I put some in my water bottle which quickly cooled and I found that, when cold, it had no sulfur taste and in fact tasted cleaner than our regular tap water. Though that is not saying much.

The biggest and warmest pool had been made into a sort of bath inside of a basic shed like cabin. Inside was a stove complete with rocks which could be wet to add to the steam and heat already present from the spring. The bath itself was the size of a large tub. The bottom was rock and dirt with only a foam pad for cushion. It was maybe as warm as a hot tub and very nice especially on the cool mornings. The locals say that it is important to drink some of the spring water from the middle spring before soaking. I never got a clear answer why but gave it a try.

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The other buildings were two very rustic cabins and a outhouse. One of the cabins was built by and for the inupaiq people (our group) and the other by and for the Athabaskans (further inland and south). The rule is that the cabins are for the groups that built them but if they are not around then they can be used by anyone as long as they are used carefully and respectfully.

Our cabin (some repairs underway)
Athabaskan’s cabin
Keep the bears from being too curious at the windows

We set up the tents and split some wood before dinner. The tents we used weighed a ton.DSC_0122 They were arctic oven tents about 10x10x10. Inside there was a stove, thus the oven name. We had some fun with the piping which came loose a few times and filled a tent or two with smoke and the dampers but we got it going. The Selawik group brought some massive tents maybe 3 times the length of ours. They looked great until the wind picked up and sent one of ours rolling which was easy enough to right, but when theirs took off (with the stove going) it was quite a project to get it righted. We ended up taking it down. Fortunately there was no one inside and, aside from some smoke, the only thing the stove bothered was to melt some of a sleeping bag.

I love the last paragraph on this warning. For “people who utilize common sense.” Seems like that should not be a necessary warning.

In the morning the work started. The girls were working diligently preparing cultural foods, primarily caribou but also muktuq (whale) and a dew other dishes. The boys
worked on shoveling off the leaky roof and pulling up the tin. Underneath the tin most of the roof was rotted and in need of replacement. A large portion of the day was spent in pulling up the old plywood, 2x4s and insulation.

I love the last paragraph on this warning. For “people who utilize common sense.” Seems like that should not be a necessary warning or maybe that it should be on everything.

After the demolition came the construction. There was someone from the Selawik Wildlife Refuge along who had some construction experience and between he, the Selawik shop teacher and our district cultural coordinator the finer points were worked out. We did not quite finish with the top. It still needed plywood, insulation and the tin replaced which the Selawik group handled after we left.

We would have stayed longer but the seniors were flying out Friday afternoon for their senior trip. So we ended up getting in Wednesday evening, staying Thursday and taking off Friday morning.

The way back was quite windy. Crossing the tundra can be dangerous if the winds are too high and for a time it looked like we might be stuck for another day. But we set off and though the going was tough, we made it fine. It was not cold, or snowing but the wind on the tundra would blow snow around and over the trail making it impossible to find for someone who did not know where it was. I was about 30 seconds behind the person in front of me and in a few places their track was already gone by the time I got there.

It did look really cool though. The tundra went on for miles in every direction and apart from the mountains in the distance, the blowing snow obscured all else. It was a little like being on the ocean, especially with the drifts rolling like waves.

The snow would sweep along the ground and swirl like dust or the sand in the pictures of sandy deserts. Generally the bottoms of the sleds and snowgos were obscured but a couple times a good gust would completely hide the rest of the group for a few seconds.

I stopped once or twice to try to take a picture, but the blowing powder would immediately cover my phone with a light layer of mist which prevented it from recognizing that I was pushing the touch screen buttons.

About 10 miles out my sled broke. One of the bolts that held the hitch to the frame either came off or broke. I suspect it broke because the sled was probably over loaded and I was driving fairly quickly to keep up with the group. We tied it up with rope and added a much smaller back up bolt to get it home. Then I limped home at a much slower pace along with one from the Ambler group and one from ours. I was just glad that we were off the major section of tundra and the trail from that point on was easy enough.

It should be an easy fix only I don’t have the parts I need. I need a new bolt of the right length and size and some lock nuts the fit. The store here had nothing close to what I needed so I went to Ambler. They had considerably more and I found a bolt that would work for a while, but I will need to get the correct pieces when I go home in the summer.


Not really relevant but I love this chimney topper!



15 thoughts on “Selawik Hotsprings

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