Allure of the Arctic
Roger Siglin and company couldn't resist one more epic expedition
This article originally appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner, April 20, 2011
Allure of the Arctic: Roger Siglin and company couldn't resist one more epic expedition
By TIM MOWRY, Staff Writer
FAIRBANKS — When Roger Siglin finished a 2,500-mile snowmachine trip from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, to
Resolute Bay, Nunavut, back in 2006 at age 70, he said it was his last Arctic expedition. After covering approximately
20,000 miles across Arctic Alaska and Canada during the course of 15 years, Siglin had enough.
“When we got done with that one he said the only ice he wanted to see after that was in his gin and tonic,” friend and
traveling partner Dave Andersen said with a laugh.
So what in the world was Siglin, 75, thinking about a few weeks ago when he and three other traveling companions,
including Andersen, hopped on Yamaha Bravos for a two-week 700-mile trip across the North Slope from Prudhoe Bay
Evidently you can take the man out of the Arctic but you can’t take the Arctic out of the man.
Leaving a legacy
Siglin, who moved from Fairbanks to southwest Texas seven years ago, came back to Alaska to do what he has spent
a good part of the last 20 years doing — driving a snowmachine across the frozen Arctic of northern Alaska or Canada.
Siglin is the former superintendent of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, but he is better known as the
inventor of the “Siglin Sled,” a tough, plastic sled that has become a household term among snowmachiners in Alaska.
Though Siglin sold his sled-making business several years ago to another Fairbanks sled maker, Dave Doudna, his
name lives on. Doudna kept Siglin’s name attached to the sled because it was so well known.
“My time as superintendent of Gates of the Arctic fades into insignificance compared to the Siglin Sled,” Siglin said with
a laugh over the phone from Texas. “People forget about bureaucrats the day after they retire.”
It was about the time he retired that Siglin and a few friends began making epic expeditions across the Arctic. His first
trip, in 1991, was an 800-miler from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay via the Tanana and Koyukuk rivers. That was followed
the next year by a 1,000-mile trip from Prudhoe Bay to Kotzebue.
The trips got longer and more elaborate each year. In 1995, they ventured into Canada, going from Fort Yukon to
Resolute Bay via the Northwest Passage. In 1999, they went from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, to Baffin Island, a
3,500-mile trip that took five weeks.
After the 2006 trip to Resolute Bay, Siglin and his traveling companions sold everything — snowmachines, tents, sleds,
Action Packers, fuel cans, etc.
“We all thought that was it,” said 62-year-old Dick Hattan, Siglin’s long-time Fairbanks friend who has accompanied him
on each of his trips. “We sold most everything up there. We figured we were out of the business. That was our swan
At least until Siglin started making a bucket list a few years ago. There were three things on the list: 1) Do another long
hike in the Brooks Range; 2) Take another long, spring snowmachine trip somewhere in the Arctic; and 3) Climb
another 22,000-foot mountain somewhere.
Last summer, Siglin checked the first thing off his list by spending eight days hiking in the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge, a trip Hattan accompanied him on.
This spring, he returned to check the second thing off his bucket list.
Compared to some of their previous expeditions, this trip was relatively minor, both in terms of mileage and logistics.
The original route they planned was 900 miles but they ended up shortening it to 700 by turning down the Wulik River
instead of the Ipewik River because of bad weather and time constraints. They were able to drive all their supplies up
the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay instead of mailing them out. They hauled all the fuel they would need.
They traveled the same way they always have, using small snowmachines to pull Siglin Sleds — they bought four new
ones from Doudna — loaded with Action Packers full of gear and gas cans behind them. They slept in Arctic Oven
tents equipped with small wood stoves and chimneys every night for 13 days. They boiled water at night to heat pre-
cooked and packaged meals before dumping the water in liter-sized water bottles they slipped into their sleeping bags
for warmth. They heated pre-made sandwiches in aluminum boxes attached to their snowmachine mufflers for
breakfast and lunch.
“They’ve got a whole system,” said Matt Cooper, a 35-year-old Fairbanks lawyer who was the new “recruit” on this year’
A former Eagle Scout, Cooper grew up across the street from Hattan and Siglin. He was a teenager when they first
started making their trips. He remembers watching them pack and plan for their expeditions, wondering what it would
When the chance to join them on their latest adventure presented itself, Cooper couldn’t resist, even though he had
only driven a snowmachine for about 150 miles previously and hadn’t done any winter camping since his Boy Scout
“One of the reasons I wanted to go was to draw from their experience and knowledge,” Cooper said. “They have
almost 60,000 miles of accumulated knowledge about traveling in the Arctic.
“I was fortunate to see how they deal with overflow, open water, glare ice, flat light, how they set up camp, how they
collect wood, what happens in a big blow,” he said.
Cooper learned little things, like not stopping a snowmachine on glare ice while pulling a heavy sled because it’s
impossible to get going again.
“Halfway through the trip I finally got the system down so I could be a help getting the tent up,” Cooper said.
Despite its short length, Andersen said this trip was as remote as any other he has taken with Hattan and Siglin. They
didn’t see another person, or sign of one, from Umiat to Kivalina, a stretch of more than 500 miles.
“I don’t think you can get more remote than the upper Colville River,” Andersen said.
It’s that remoteness — and the challenge of getting there — that keeps calling Andersen, Hattan, Siglin, and now
maybe Cooper, back.
“I guess one of the big factors is just the stunning beauty of the Arctic in the wintertime,” Siglin said of why he does
what he does. “It takes your breath away almost.”
There’s also the challenge and danger factors, he said, “but the beauty of the country is the most significant part of it.”
One of the highlights for Hattan were the incredible parhelia they were treated to this trip.
“We had day after day of these incredible shows of sun dogs, sun rings, arcs,” he said.
Two days after the trip, someone asked Cooper to describe the trip in one word. At that point, he used the word
“challenging” to sum up the expedition. Now, a week later, Cooper uses the word “awesome” to describe the trip.
“It grows on you,” Cooper said of traveling through the Arctic. “It takes a little bit to adjust to be in that kind of
environment but pretty soon you see the beauty of it.”
After finishing the trip in Kotzeube, the four men made arrangements to store their snowmachines, sleds, fuel cans and
other gear there until next spring. The plan, and Siglin says he’s up for it, is to go back to Kotzebue next spring and
drive the machines back to the road system, stopping to check out the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race along the way.
Their original plan was to connect with the Iditarod Trail in Koyuk on the Bering Sea coast, but on Monday, Andersen
said they heard about a trail that would take them up the Kobuk River and over to the Koyukuk River, which they could
follow down to the Yukon River and hook into the Iditarod Trail below Galena. From there, they would take the Yukon
and Tanana rivers back to Fairbanks. If all went well, they could end the trip in Andersen’s backyard on Chena Ridge.
“We’re not pressing Roger too hard,” Andersen said. “He said he has an aversion to trees and next year’s route will be
heavily treed coming down the Koyukuk.”
But Siglin, speaking by phone from Texas, said he’s game.
“If I can I probably will,” is how he put it.
Hattan won’t be surprised to see Siglin back in Alaska next spring.
“I’m amazed he has the physical abilities to do this but most of all that he has the desire to go out and sit in a tent for
two weeks,” Hattan said. “Very few 75-year-old people have the desire to do this.”
As for the one item left on Siglin’s bucket list, to climb one more 22,000-foot mountain, Siglin isn’t so sure he wants to
do that now.
“This trip made me question whether or not I want to be that miserable again,” he said with a laugh.
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