GUIDED ALASKA Backpacking

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VIEW AVAILABLE TRIPS Alaska backpacking tours are an opportunity to travel lightly through the Arctic wilderness. These guided trips offer a chance to appreciate the landscape step by step, and to experience the Arctic at your own pace. With spectacular destinations like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Gates of the Arctic National Park you will be as delighted by the Brooks Range scenery as you are by our professional guides. Summer in the Brooks Range is serene with daylight as our constant and companion. The complete lack of darkness frees us of a time-oriented schedule and so we eat when hungry, walk when inspired, and sleep when the sun circles lazily along the northern horizon. Backpacking in the Brooks Range is an adventure. What to Expect from Alaska Backpacking Backpacking in Alaska is always an adventure. We frequently use streams as highways, as do the migrating wildlife. There are vast gravel bars where we can take long strides and take in the magnificent views of the mountains. There are dry ridges where we will feel as if we are walking amongst the clouds. Backpacking in Alaska, and especially in the Brooks Range, is an off-trail experience, so a 6-mile day leaves us happily tired but with some energy left over for exploring near camp. We will typically travel around 35 miles over 8 days with one or two days devoted to hiking without our packs, watching wildlife, or just enjoying the beauty of the Brooks Range from camp. Alaska Backpacking Preparation While Alaska backpacking is appropriate for both experienced backpackers and newcomers in good shape, it is a very good idea to have some experience with overnight backpacking prior to the trip. Each hiker will get 15-20 pounds of food and community gear to carry, expect to start the trip with a pack weighing close to 50 pounds. Conditioning is highly recommended for everyone. We recommend walking as often as possible with 25-30 pounds in your backpack. Use the boots you will be hiking in. A couple weeks before your trip, add weight until your pack weighs 40-45 pounds. You can alternate this with the Stairmaster or bike riding. The better condition you are in, the more you will enjoy your backpacking trip.

Solstice Packraft

Start with a couple days backpacking in the most spectacular mountain country in arctic Alaska. Then paddle your own pack raft to the Arctic Coast and stand on the sea ice! Join us this summer solstice for this unique Mountains-to-the-Sea packrafting adventure.

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DATES

June 15, 2020 - June 22, 2020
region

REGION

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)
price

TRIP COST

$4,900

TRIP DETAILS

At this latitude the sun never sets in June. The vastness of the landscape and unending daylight create a euphoric sense of possibility.

Starting in the stunning Jago River Valley, we take a few days to explore below the highest peaks in the Brooks Range. Climb a ridge for views of 9,000 ft peaks, or watch Dall sheep perched on the cliffs above the river. To the north the land falls away across the vast Coastal Plain toward the frozen Arctic Ocean.

After a day of exploring the rugged Jago Valley, we shoulder packs and make our way over a low pass. From here it is all downhill, and we will hike down the headwaters creek for a day or two until it becomes a small river. When it appears large enough for us to paddle, we let the river carry us to the sea.  As we head towards the coast, both the river and the sky grow larger. Eventually we leave the mountains behind and paddle across the an ocean of tundra, the famed Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Near the trip’s end we reach the Beaufort Sea and can paddle out to the sea ice.

Light and nimble packrafts allow us to paddle this small river and tread where few others go. Packrafts are lightweight one-person rafts propelled with a kayak paddle. Weighing in at around six pounds, they offer unparalleled freedom for wilderness explorers.  This Alaska packrafting trip will have its challenges, but there is ample time for day hikes and leisure.

Wildlife is of course unpredictable, but the area is home to the 200,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd and on many years they filter through the foothills and cross the Jago. Wolves and bears are common sights. Dall sheep will be a common sight on the ridges–rams with heavy horns resting on the cliffs and big bands of ewes and lambs grazing on the high tundra. Golden Eagles, Horned Larks, and an Asian bird called a Northern Wheatear thrive even in the starkest of alpine areas. As you approach the coast, the wildlife and scenery changes and animals like arctic fox and muskoxen become more common.  The birding along the Arctic Coast is legendary.

 Physical fitness is more important than boating experience for your enjoyment of this trip. Familiarity with river travel is a bonus but packrafting experience is not required. We will backpack about 15 miles over 2 days with substantial packs and then paddle around 50 miles of the Aichilik River. There is no white water on the route, but the Aichilik does require that you pay attention.

Packrafting was invented in Alaska and is a great way to enjoy the remote wilderness of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Packrafts are light, strong, and easy to learn. Ask about discounts for bringing your own packraft.

ITINERARY

What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.

June 14:

Meet your guide for a pre-trip meeting at 4 p.m. at the Arctic Wild headquarters in Fairbanks.

June 15:

Fly 350 miles north from Fairbanks, across the Yukon River and the Arctic Circle to the Gwich’in Athabaskan village of Arctic Village. In Arctic Village we will meet our pilot for the beautiful flight over the Continental Divide past countless peaks and glaciers into the Jago River valley. After hiking to a suitable campsite, we will make camp and eat dinner and then take a hike under the midnight sun.

June 16:

Dwarfed by 9,000 ft peaks, we hike from the Jago to the Aichilik. Packs will be heavy, but the footing is good and the scenery unbeatable.

 

June 17:

We hike down the creek until it gains enough water to be navigable. Before launching into the river, your guide will train you in the art of packrafting and river safety. Once you are feeling confident and packs are secured to the deck of the packrafts, you begin your descent towards the ocean. The river is small and rocky and you may need to get out occasionally to nudge your boat between rocks or over shallows. The scenery alone is worth the effort and there will be time to lean back in your raft and watch the tundra go by.

June 18 - 20:

As the river exits the mountains the sky broadens and the river braids into multiple channels. Once you get the knack of following your guide through the deepest water, you will make good time and can scan the banks for bear, wolf, and caribou. Traveling towards the coast the wildlife changes along with the scenery. Waterfowl collect on the gravel bars and arctic fox can be found denning on the sandy banks. To the south, the Brooks Range dominates the skyline.

June 21:

Happy Solstice! Approaching the coast the current slows and you enter one of the most wildlife rich portions of the Arctic Refuge. The Aichilik Delta is a birder’s paradise. After negotiating the delta, we paddle across the coastal lagoon to a barrier island in the Arctic Ocean. Most years there is sea ice still attached to the shore and we have an endless evening to explore this austere land of sky and ice.

June 22:

Pack-up early and begin listening for our airplane. When it arrives (weather permitting) we reluctantly load our gear and ourselves for the flight back through Arctic Village and on to Fairbanks, arriving in time for a late dinner. A shower is in order.

WHAT'S INCLUDED

Round-trip airfare from Fairbanks

Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils, water filter

Packraft, life jacket and paddle, safety & repair gear

Professional guide service.

 

WHAT'S NOT INCLUDED

Non-camp lodging

Non-camp meals

Personal clothing and gear

Backpack, tent, waterproof bags, wading pants, and clothing

Gratuity for guide(s)

Rental equipment is available through Arctic Wild. See full equipment list.

WEATHER & BUGS

Weather this time of year is typically dry and sunny, though we can get some powerful storms that can either rain or snow on us.  Precipitation is generally light, and it’s fairly easy to keep comfortably dry. You can expect temperatures to range from the 30s to the 70s.  Mosquitoes could be bothersome towards the end of the trip. DEET and a head net are essential.

RECOMMENDED READING

Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska Geographic; Midnight Wilderness, Debbie Miller; Being Caribou, Karsten Heuer; Information on Brooks Range Glaciers by Dr. Matt Nolan; Packrafting!, Roman Dial. More Alaska reading is available from our Bookstore.