This arctic canoe trip will explore the rich and interesting arctic coast for a week. This stretch of the coast is protected by barrier islands and the sea ice, making the paddling safe and relatively easy. With ample time and endless daylight we can roam the tundra and coast watching the abundant wildlife, gaze for hours at the view in changing light, and learn about life on this rugged coast. This is an ideal trip for birders, photographers or anyone wanting to see this enchanting coast.
We will start our trip near the Canadian border with Alaska and will work our way westward with the prevailing wind at our backs. We follow a series of protected lagoons paralleling the coast. We will spend the first two days near Demarcation Bay where the Brooks Range comes nearly to the coast. As we head west we follow icy reef’s long arc and encounter the delta’s of several rivers pouring into the sea from the mountains to the south. The Kongakut is gravely with an enormous aufeis field, the Egaksrak is broad with great walking and lots of shorebirds. The Aichilik has a wonderful complex of ponds and wetlands harboring waterfowl of many feathers.
Mostly we camp on the mainland, where freshwater is easy to find and there is a slight blunting of the cold north wind. When we do camp on the barrier islands we will take extra precautions for polar bears, who’s tracks we sometimes see in the sand.
In a typical year there is still sea ice held fast to the shore and we can look for seals basking on the ice. Archaeological sites are abundant on the islands and mainland and we can visit old Eskimo fish camps, turn of the century cabins, and graveyards. If the winds are with us we can cover 15 miles in a day. After a day of paddling there will still be time to bird watch, photograph or hike.
Numerous lakes and ponds host nesting loons, swans and other waterfowl. The coastal tundra is thick with shorebirds and other nesting birds from the world over. The 9,000 foot peaks of the Brooks Range dominate the southern horizon, and the pack ice stretches off forever to the north.
Many years, the Porcupine and Central Arctic caribou herds move through this area by the thousands or tens of thousands in early July. If luck is with us, we may get to sit in camp while throngs of caribou drift across the tundra. Even if we don’t see great masses of animals, there likely will be foxes denning, bears wandering, or even, as happened one year, a wolverine hunting voles on the tundra.
When we aren’t paddling the coast, your time will be yours to do as you please; whether that be photographing, birding, hiking or devouring a good book. We will provide a knowledgeable guide, good, wholesome food, and as much freedom or guidance as you would like (safety permitting). The small party size allows everyone to focus on the magnificent landscape and its wild inhabitants. Hiking is good on the barrier islands, the beach, and inland along the tundra.
With 24 hours of daylight time takes on a new dimension. “Nights” often have the best light, calm winds, and the most wildlife. Day-hikes at 2 am are common on a trip like this. Sunscreen at midnight is recommended. The timeless nature of the Arctic Coast is one of the things that defines the trip and can be the most memorable aspect.
We’ll be paddling in protected coastal lagoons and there is almost no current, but the wind can still create waves and you’ll want to be in control of your canoe. We will provide canoe instruction during the trip but taking a class before the trip will help you feel more comfortable on the water. The ACA and other organizations offer canoe classes in most areas of the country and we encourage you to improve your skills prior to the trip. You need not be an expert paddler to join, but some canoe experience is highly recommended.