Every fall, the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, the largest in the state at over 200,000 animals, moves south from their summer range in the arctic through the western Brooks Range and toward the Seward Peninsula. They move in small bands of a few to a few hundred animals as they cross the many passes and river valleys of the DeLong Mountains. This trip aims to put you in their path.
Late August and the first week of September is the optimal time to catch the fall caribou migration. The caribou are growing their rich winter coats and bulls with pale manes and full racks of antlers are a dramatic sight. Fall is also a spectacular time of year to be in the Brooks Range. The tundra should be a carpet of red, orange, and yellow. If the skies are clear, the nights will be dark enough to give us a chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis. Whether we catch the herds or not, the photography opportunities should be outstanding.
Not having to move camps each day is one of the pleasures of a base camp trip. With multiple days to do what we please, we’ll have the rare opportunity to intimately know a small piece of this vast arctic wilderness. Each day of the trip we will explore away from camp to hike in the mountains, wander up creeks, or follow caribou trails. We’ll search for ancient campsites, fish in the local lakes and rivers, and keep our eyes peeled for wildlife. While in camp we will have the luxury of a heated kitchen tent where we can relax and take our meals in comfort.
For centuries, Native Alaskans have depended on caribou to provide meat, skins, and materials for tools. The same places that appeal to us now lured Inupiaq and Nunamiut hunters. Depending on our destination, we may encounter ancient tent rings, hearths, or shards from the making of stone points and tools. Humans aren’t the only creatures to depend on caribou. Grizzly bears, wolves, and Golden Eagles all are known to follow migrating animals and, with luck, we’ll encounter some of these species as well.
On this trip we’ll position ourselves in a comfortable camp near a caribou highway. Since the movements of the caribou vary from year to year, we’ll wait until we know more about the herd’s migration before deciding on a final destination. It’s safe to say we’ll be in the road-less Noatak National Preserve (one of the largest protected areas in the country) and positioned near the Continental Divide. We’ll be surrounded by dramatic and rugged mountains, and expansive wilderness.
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guide in Kotzebue for a pre-trip meeting where we’ll look over the maps and double-check our gear. At the meeting, we’ll schedule a rendezvous time for the next morning’s flight.
Weather permitting we’ll fly from Kotzebue in the morning to our camp in the DeLong Mountains. We’ll set up our tents in a good location to spot wildlife and to explore the surrounding mountains. In the afternoon we should have time to head out for a hike, or if you prefer, simply kick back and watch the light change over the Brooks Range. Back at camp, there will be a hot and nourishing dinner and likely an early night after a long day.
We have three full days to watch wildlife, hike, search for ancient campsites, and photograph the scenery. Each day will bring something different, and our activities will be dictated by the weather, our energy, and interests.
Assuming good weather, we’ll say goodbye to our camp in the mountains and make a few final photographs before a bush plane arrives to ferry us back to Kotzebue.
Transportation beyond Kotzebue, food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils, safety & repair gear and professional guide service.
Lodging, non-camp meals, personal clothing and gear, waterproof river bag, fishing gear, and fishing license. Gratuity for guide(s).
Temperatures vary from the 60’s to below freezing. Snow is possible; rain is likely. As summer turns to fall we can expect a wide variety of weather. With the warm weather behind us we don’t expect many bugs ut bring a small bottle of DEET just in case.