Can’t decide between a backpacking trip into the Arrigetch or a paddling trip in Gates of the Arctic? Do both!
Light and nimble packrafts allow us to start in the headwaters of the Alatna and paddle the spunky clear river down to the Arrigetch Peaks. Once the granite towers are in sight, we’ll shoulder our packs and backpack into Gates of the Arctic’s most iconic area.
Limitless wilderness and adventure await on a trip that explores the very heart of Gates of the Arctic National Park.
Starting high on the Arctic Divide, the Alatna River’s clear water flows through the dramatic peaks of the central Brooks Range. Tundra peaks beckon in all directions and we will have plenty of time to explore them.
After hiking to where the river is deep enough to paddle, we will lash our gear into the packrafts and paddle down this spunky and fun clearwater river. Packrafting is an adventure. You will pilot your own single person raft down a true wilderness river. In places, the river is shallow and we’ll get out of the boats and nudge them through. Much of the time the current is swift but obstacles are few enough that we can take-in the scenery and relish in our relatively speedy progress through the mountains. In places we’ll weave between submerged rocks and small waves.
As we head downriver we will be rewarded with tantalizing glimpses of the sheer granite spires of the Arrigetch Peaks emerging from the boreal forest. Dall sheep, wolves, moose and caribou are commonly seen in the area and we are likely to encounter them. Arctic grayling swim below the pristine water and, with luck, can be caught along the route.
After a week of paddling and day hiking in the upper river, we near the Arrigetch and after a quick resupply from our pilot we will load packs onto our backs and climb towards the peaks.
As we work our way up and out of the forested valley the views get better by the minute. At our high camp in the meadows below razor-sharp ridges we’ll have time to hike towards the sheer granite walls shooting 2,000 – 3,000 feet high. Spires pierce glaciers on their way to the sky. All this is amid a landscape of gentle meadows, rushing streams and alpine tarns.
Our backpack follows the shortest route to the peaks. At times we are on a small animal trail, but mostly the route is cross-country over tussocks, boulders, and streams. We will backpack about 20 to 25 miles in total, immersing ourselves in the most dramatic scenery in the Brooks Range.
This is a strenuous trip with some long days walking and heavy packs to start. Extensive backpacking experience and good fitness are suggested for this trip. Your guide will provide instruction on packrafting and river safety and the Alatna is a good place to develop paddling skills. No previous packrafting experience is required, but river boating experience is important. The first day of paddling on the Alatna is fast and technical.
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 4 pm in Fairbanks at Arctic Wild headquarters.
Fly north from Fairbanks across the Yukon River to the town of Bettles (population 15). Here we board a smaller plane and continue on into the Gates of the Arctic National Park. Our skilled pilot lands us at the very headwaters of the Alatna River, right on the Arctic Divide….and then the plane leaves and we are alone in the grandeur of the wilderness.
The Alatna River is too shallow to paddle as it leaves the headwater lakes. We spend our first full day of the trip shouldering our packs and walking down river. Packs will be heavy and we will be glad when side creeks join the Alatna and make it navigable.
The first day on the river is challenging. The Alatna is small and steep here in the mountains and you’ll be busy avoiding rocks and shallows. We don’t need to cover a lot of miles but you’ll be tired and a little wet by day’s end.
Paddle and day hike in turn. The upper valley offers outstanding hiking and we will have time each day to explore. We have four full days to cover a little more than 50 river miles, which leaves some time for climbing mountains, watching wildlife or simply relaxing by the river.
Rendezvous with our pilot and exchange fresh provisions for our much beloved packrafts, then shoulder packs and head for the high country. The Arrigetch Peaks are calling! The hiking starts out rough but as we gain elevation we’ll start to make better time.
It takes about 1-1/2 days to hike from the Alatna into the most spectacular part of the Arrigetch. Depending on the timing of the resupply and our collective pace we may have a portion of the 18th and the bulk of the 19th to explore unburdened by packs. If the weather is good we can climb on the flanks of the peaks for views beyond compare.
Buoyed and exhilarated by our time in the mountains we should make good time descending Arrigetch Creek. (Light packs help too.) Even with a bounce in our step it will be a long day and we’ll be glad to get down to the river and unload our packs.
Await the arrival of our bush plane near the Alatna River. The busy world awaits. Weather permitting we fly to Bettles and then back to Fairbanks in time for a late dinner and a long hot shower.
The trip met all my expectations which were very high. Of course the star is the Brooks Range – but your guides are excellent. So knowledgeable about so many things and adding that warm touch (while also being a fine guides).
Round-trip airfare from Fairbanks
Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils
Packrafts, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear
Professional guide service
A variety of weather should be expected including rainy periods and bright sunny conditions. Temperatures can range from in the upper 60’s down into the 30’s. Snow is possible, rain likely but mid-August is often mild and nice. Bug season should be over, but there may still be mosquitoes and gnats around. You should carry a head-net and one bottle of insect repellent just in case.