This moderately difficult backpacking trip covers about 20 miles of some of the most spectacular mountain country in arctic Alaska. Starting in the austere Okpilak Valley, the route threads its way below the highest peaks in the Brooks Range, staying high in the alpine tundra, exploring broad river valleys, and penetrating the quiet side canyons. Glacier carved peaks over 9,000 feet tall dominate the views to the south and beckon the hearty day hikers. To the north the land falls away across the vast Coastal Plain toward the frozen Arctic Ocean. At this latitude the sun never sets in June. The vastness of the landscape and the unending daylight create a euphoric sense of possibility.
This is a dramatic and beautiful Alaska backpacking route. Starting in the Okpilak Valley we will search for the hot springs and with luck enjoy their warm waters and unique flora. From the Okpilak we head west, climbing onto the flank of of Mt. Hubley and Mt Waw. From this vantage we can look directly west at Mt. Michelson or north across the expansive Coastal Plain. From our campsite numerous glaciers and peaks are within striking distance. We have ample time to cover the distance and the focus will be on exploring the area unencumbered by our packs. Eventually our route heads into McCall Creek and to the Jago River but we intend to make several day hikes towards the dramatics peaks and glaciers looming to the south.
Wildlife is of course unpredictable, but the area is home to the 200,000 strong, Porcupine Caribou Herd and many years they throng through the foothills and cross the Okpilak just after Solstice. This Alaska backpacking trip will have its challenges, but there is ample time for day hikes and leisure. 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.
This Alaska backpacking adventure offers a good mix of valley walking, ridge climbing, exceptional scenery and wildlife. This is one of the shortest routes we offer and there should be several days when heavy backpacks are not worn. There promises to be some steep terrain and some difficult hiking but this route is a good opportunity to experience the joys of Brooks Range backpacking without embarking on a 30 or 40 mile trek.
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. 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 around 50 pounds.
See video taken on the trip at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yp6eqcyWtqc
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 p.m. in Fairbanks at Arctic Wild headquarters.
Fly 350 miles north from Fairbanks, across the Yukon River and the Arctic Circle to the Gwich’in Athabascan 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 Okpilak River valley. After hiking to a suitable campsite, we will make camp and search out the hot springs.
Each day will bring its own surprises. We have less than 20 miles to cover and plenty of time. The backpacking will be strenuous but the mileage covered short so there will be ample time for exploring the Okpilak, climbing high ridges and gawking at the glaciers. The hiking will be varied from soft tundra to long gravel bars and rocky slopes. The camping is excellent and the scenery unbeatable.
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. A shower is in order.
Transportation beyond Fairbanks, food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils, water filter, safety & repair gear and professional guide service.
Lodging, non-camp meals, personal clothing and gear, backpack, tent, fishing gear, and fishing license. Gratuity for guide(s). An equipment list is provided upon registration. Rental equipment is available through Arctic Wild.
Weather this time of year is typically dry and this is the warmest part of the year, 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 down in the river valleys but should be nearly absent up high among the rocks and glaciers. DEET and a headnet are essential.