Winter in the arctic is long and cold. Not until April do temperatures moderate with the nearly constant sunshine. Over the years we have tried to convey the excitement of this time of year to our clients on summer trips. But unless you see caribou plowing through the snow, flocks of white ptarmigan against a blindingly blue sky, or smoke from a tent- stove curling above the spruces in the Brooks Range, can you really understand why Alaskans think of this as the perfect time to be in the wilderness?
After spending the depths of winter feeding on lichen in the dense forests south of the Brooks Range, caribou begin heading north towards the treeless arctic. Each year they follow a different path but they cross the arctic divide en masse in April. The procession is led by pregnant cows eager to get to the calving grounds, bulls and non-breeders take up the rear. From a cozy wood stove-heated camp, we plan to watch them travel and feed. Bears will be waking from months of slumber and they, too, will be placed along the caribou routes hoping for a big spring meal. Winter is loosening its grip and all the wildlife is more active and visible. The first of the summer migrants will be arriving; Golden Eagles and Gyrfalcons are initiating nests. Flocks of Snow Buntings will be winging through. Patches of open ground will appear, and the creeks and river will stir for the first time since October.
We will set up a solid and comfortable camp sheltered from the wind in an area with abundant firewood. We will have a large communal wall tent with a roaring fire and plenty of good food and drink. Sleeping arrangements will be in heated “Arctic Oven” tents designed here in Fairbanks specifically for cold weather camping. Depending on snow conditions, we will spend our days roaming the mountains on snowshoes, skis, or in places, just hiking. Ridge tops will likely be snow-free but there could be deep snow in the willows by the river. If conditions are perfect, the snow may form a solid crust in the cool of night. If the crust is hard enough you can hike right on top without difficulty and it is the easiest hiking the Brooks Range ever offers. When not exploring, photographing, or lounging, there is plenty of diversion in a winter camp. Wood needs to be cut, snow needs to be melted for cooking, and the skills and lore of a wall tent camp are to be learned and savored. Your guide(s) are happy to do the work but most people really enjoy the rhythm and exercise of joining in to make a truly comfortable camp in such a remote environment.
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guides for a pre-trip meeting at 4pm in Fairbanks at Arctic Wild headquarters.
Take a morning “mail-plane” from Fairbanks north across the Yukon River and the Arctic Circle to the tiny village/ truck stop called Coldfoot. In Coldfoot we meet our pilot and load our “bush-plane” for scenic flight over countless peaks to an area where we hope caribou will be heading over the passes en route to the arctic-slope. The plane will land on skis near a grove of spruce which will be our shelter and firewood. Once we unload and say good bye, we will set up a sturdy, comfortable camp which will serve as our base for the week. After several hours of settling in we will be hungry for a big meal. One of the luxuries of winter camping is that frozen foods are no problem. Ice cream anyone?
Each day will bring its own surprises. Lines of caribou walking single file through the snow? A Northern Hawk-Owl perched in camp? Dall sheep on a snow free ridge-top? Arctic Grayling in a spring-fed pool of the river?
Each morning we can plan a new adventure or opt to enjoy the views and comfort of camp. With nearly endless daylight, our schedule is dictated only by weather and whim. Each day we will explore this unparalleled wilderness admiring, experiencing, and photographing its wonders. You will be free to experience the wilderness and the wildlife at your own pace.
After breakfast and packing up our camp we turn our attention to the sky and listen for our airplane. When we hear the plane coming we take one last look at the seemingly endless wilderness and prepare for the long flight back towards Fairbanks. We should arrive in Fairbanks in time to shower by dinner.
Transportation beyond Fairbanks. Outstanding guide service. Wholesome, delicious, and mostly-organic food while in the wilderness. Stoves, cooking & eating utensils. Repair and safety equipment. Wall Tent and stove. Winter camping tools.
Snowshoes or skis, Non-camp lodging. Non-camp meals. Personal clothing, and footwear. Sleeping bag & sleeping pad. Gratuity for guide(s).
Temperatures vary dramatically in the arctic. We could see temperatures from -20 to +40 F. Average temperatures should be around 20 F with warm afternoons and cold nights. Multiple layers will ensure comfort despite the dramatic temperature swings common in April. Please consult with us about what clothes to bring so that you are comfortable. Bugs? We might see some snow fleas but you can leave the DEET at home.