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Alaskan Island Gaining Y2K Attention

November 27, 1999

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ The rocky island of Little Diomede, surrounded by the icy Bering Strait, with no hotel and hardly enough level ground to pitch a tent, is an unlikely destination for tourists in the middle of winter, when daylight lasts only four hours and subzero temperatures are the norm.

But the island’s location _ about a mile east of the international date line _ has attracted attention from those looking for an exotic locale for millennial merrymaking. When the sea ice freezes solid, the trip from today to tomorrow is a relatively short hike. It is time travel in more ways than one.

``It’s probably similar to how they lived hundreds, even thousands, of years ago,″ said Lori Egge, a tour operator planning a trip to the island on Dec. 31. It’s part of an 11-day ``Dance of the Dateline″ tour package. Price tag: $12,000.

Little Diomede covers only two square miles _ a treeless, flat-topped mountain that rises steeply out of the sea. For a visitor standing atop the island on one of its rare clear days, the vastness of the Arctic unfolds to the edges of the horizon.

Most of the island’s 160 residents are Ingalikmiut Eskimos who live on fish, crab, walrus and seal. A couple of miles west stands its sister island of Big Diomede, a Russian military outpost.

Egge, who owns Sky Trekking Alaska, offers a Little Diomede stop as the highlight of an 11-day trip across Alaska in a ski-equipped Cessna 185 with stops in villages along the Iditarod Trail.

She plans to reach Diomede in time to take her clients onto the sea ice on New Year’s Eve. With the help of a global-positioning receiver, they will cross the invisible line that separates one day from the next.

``Technically, you’re not supposed to cross the dateline and go into Russia without a visa,″ Egge said.

But a visa is probably the least of a tourist’s worries on this trip. Among others: polar bears, unpredictable weather and shifting sea ice.

Furthermore, those hoping to celebrate with champagne will be disappointed. Alcohol is banned in the village of Diomede.

``I’d have to fine them for importing alcohol, and I don’t want to do that,″ said Mayor Dorothy Haller.

And whether visitors will be able to walk across the sea ice into the future on New Year’s is questionable.

``The ice usually doesn’t freeze solid until late January or February,″ said Patrick Soolook, who works for the local tribal council.

Although the tribal council has granted Egge’s request to visit, the village isn’t going out of its way to encourage millennium revelers.

``It’s not a big deal to us,″ says the mayor. ``I plan to be sound asleep.″

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