Alaska’s arctic is a land of extreme beauty, and the Romanzof Mountains in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are the steepest and most dramatic part of the whole Brooks Range. Abundant wildlife, free flowing rivers, and unnamed mountains delight and inspire backpackers. We will backpack in the Romanzof Mountains for a week this summer, wandering by bubbling creeks, marveling at brilliant wildflowers, and ascending ridges headed for the sky.
This Alaska backpacking adventure offers a good mix of valley walking, ridge climbing, exceptional scenery, and wildlife. Whether this is your first backpacking adventure in the arctic or your tenth, this mountainous route will delight and inspire.
This is a stunningly beautiful Alaska backpacking route. The hike will have its challenges, but there will be ample time for day hikes and leisure. With constant daylight, we are free to explore side canyons during a lunch break, climb a rocky peak above our camp before heading to bed, or sit on a ridge and watch wildlife in the early morning light. We will hike a total of about 30 miles with our packs over varied terrain. Like the caribou and wolves, when practical, we will stick to the river bars where the footing is solid and the views unobstructed. As we climb, green tundra gives way to rocky alpine conditions. After a rewarding and challenging day crossing the pass it is “all downhill”.
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 habitats.
Some years, large bands of bull caribou migrate through the area in early June. One year we saw caribou all day every day on this route.
Weather this time of year is typically dry and though this is the sunniest part of the year, we can get some powerful storms that bring rain or snow. Precipitation is generally light, however, and it is fairly easy to keep comfortably dry. You can expect temperatures to range from the 30s to the 70s. Mosquitoes could be bothersome down in the river valleys but should be nearly absent up high among the rocks and glaciers. With luck, the entire hike will precede the insect hatch and there will be no bugs at all.
Hiking in the arctic is an “off-trail” experience, so a six-mile day can take as long and be as taxing as ten miles in other parts of the world. This is a good trip for both experienced backpackers and newcomers in good shape who are willing to push themselves. Experience with overnight backpacking prior to the trip is highly recommended. Each hiker will get 15-20 pounds of food and community gear to carry. Due to the small party size and the trip’s duration, expect to start the trip with a pack weighing no less than 50 pounds.
Last updated: February 13, 2020
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guide for a pre-trip meeting at 4pm in Fairbanks at Arctic Wild headquarters.
Fly 250 miles north from Fairbanks, across the Yukon River and the Arctic Circle to the Gwich’in Athabascan village of Arctic Village. Then we will meet our pilot for the beautiful flight up the Ch’idriinjik (Chandalar) river to the heart of the Brooks Range. After hiking upstream for an hour or two we will make camp and enjoy a hearty dinner.
Each day will bring its own surprises. We have about 35 miles to cover and plenty of time. If all goes according to plan, there will be a layover day near the pass and we can explore the high country with a light day pack. The day we go over the pass will be long and strenuous, but other days will have time left for side trips and relaxation. The hiking will be varied from soft tundra to long gravel bars and rocky slopes. The camping is excellent and the scenery unbeatable.
From our camp by the Hulahula River we pack up early and begin listening for our airplane. When it arrives we reluctantly load our gear and ourselves for the flight back through Arctic Village and on to Fairbanks, arriving late in the afternoon.
Such a joy to spend days where time was meaningless. A wonderful adventure and I would like to return next year for a longer, more challenging trip.
You mentioned to me in an email that you have terrific guides – you do indeed. Dave is a superb guide. He is personable, knowledgeable about the Arctic, and has excellent group management skills. I appreciated the time he spent teaching me to read the map, which is not easy without trails. He allowed Adrian and me to hike at our own pace and he encouraged all of us to explore the area surrounding our campsites. I know the others would concur in my praise.
Round-trip airfare from Fairbanks
Food while in the wilderness
Stoves, cooking & eating utensils, water filter, safety & repair gear
Professional guide service
Temperatures vary dramatically in the Arctic and can range from the 20-70 degrees F. Temperatures could be hot in the river valleys under the 24 hour sun but as we get into the high country it will be cooler or maybe even cold and snowy. Snow is more likely than mosquitoes but be prepared for both!