Ivishak Packraft

GUIDED ALASKA Packraft

DATES

July 22, 2023 - July 29, 2023

REGION

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)

TRIP COST

$6,400

calendar

DATES

July 22, 2023 - July 29, 2023
region

REGION

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)
price

TRIP COST

$6,400

Start with a four day backpacking trip in the most spectacular mountain country in Arctic Alaska. After reaching the river, your backpack trip turns into a river trip as you paddle your own packraft down the beautiful Ivishak River. It is like two trips rolled into one.

TRIP DETAILS

Near the western edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a region of limestone peaks and canyons with verdant green grottos, waterfalls and long ridges piercing the clear sky. Some claim it is the prettiest part of the Brooks Range; few have ever seen it.

This trip starts with a moderately challenging backpacking trip beneath 6,000 ft peaks. Starting in the upper reaches of the Marsh Fork of the Canning River we will hike about 18 miles across several low passes, camping each night near a bubbling creek.  The mountains here are made from ancient coral reefs and marine fossils crunch underfoot as we climb the pastel ridges or navigate up the gravels of the creek beds. There are dozens of valleys connecting the Canning and the Ivishak and we will follow caribou trails as we find the most efficient route through the mountains, eventually emerging from the labyrinth into the broad Ivishak River Valley.

On our last day of backpacking we follow the Ivishak and have to cross it several times on foot. t is not a big river where we first meet it but the cliffs above the river bed and the arc of complaining raptors overhead make the miles fly by. When we get far enough down river the trip changes from a backpacking trip to a river trip. Time for new challenges and an opportunity to see more country.

After discussing river safety and practicing with our packrafts we set out on the Ivishak. There are numerous shallows and some tight corners on the first day and the paddling is busy and challenging. As we negotiate riffles and paddle through the pools, the river gains speed and size. It is swift on the corners one minute and at the next it spreads into half a dozen channels and meanders through a vast gravel plain. There are several sections of Class II rapids at normal water levels and plenty of spunky, fun, fast paddling.

There are also stretches where the paddling is relaxed and we lean back and marvel at the twisted sedimentary rocks forming spires and cliffs above the river. From each camp there is excellent hiking deep into canyons or onto high ridges. The Ivishak is profoundly beautiful.

Below the Ivishak Hotspring (don’t get too excited “hot” is a relative term and you are in the Arctic) the river gains size as does the view of the sky as the Ivishak braids through broad gravel plains.

Wildlife is of course unpredictable, but the area is home to both the 200,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd and the 30,000 member Central Arctic herd. Bears are common sights and we occasionally see wolves in the area too. Dall sheep frequent 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. As we leave the mountains the wildlife and scenery changes and animals like muskoxen become more common.

Light and nimble packrafts allow us to paddle this small river and tread where few others go. Packrafts are lightweight one-person rafts propelled with a kayak paddle. Weighing in at around six pounds, they offer unparalleled freedom for wilderness explorers.  This packrafting trip will have its challenges, but there is ample time for day hikes, fishing and leisure.

Boating experience is important for your enjoyment of this trip and for your safety. Packrafting experience is not strictly required but river experience is. We will backpack about 20 miles over 3 days with substantial packs and then paddle around 50 miles of the Ivishak River. At normal water levels there is little white water on the route, but the Ivishak does require that you pay attention. This is not an easy trip but is very rewarding.

Last updated: August 4, 2022

Itinerary

What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.

July 21

Meet your guide for a pre-trip meeting at 4 p.m. at the Arctic Wild headquarters in Fairbanks.

July 22

Fly 350 miles north from Fairbanks, across the Yukon River and the Arctic Circle to the headwaters of the Marsh Fork of the Canning River. After hiking to a suitable campsite, we will make camp, eat dinner and then take a hike to survey the endless wilderness.

July 23

We work our way up the Canning and over the first low pass, skirting Annette Peak and camping west of Porcupine Lake. Packs will be heavy, but the footing is good and the scenery unbeatable.

July 24 - 25

We hike through the maze of valleys and canyons which eventually form the Ivishak, enjoying the solitude and magnificent wilderness. Once we hit the Ivishak proper we will need to walk downriver to where we judge the river is big enough to carry us. We will try and camp early enough in the day to have an opportunity to explore without packs deeper into the mountains each evening.

July 26

The river trip starts! Before launching, your guide(s) will train you in the art of packrafting and river safety. Once you are feeling confident and packs are secured to the deck of the packrafts, you begin your descent towards the ocean. The river is small and rocky and you may need to get out occasionally to nudge your boat between rocks or over shallows. The scenery alone is worth the effort and there will be time to lean back in your raft and watch the tundra go by later in the trip.

July 27 - 28

Once you get the knack of following your guide through the deepest water, you will make good time and can scan the banks for bear, wolf, and caribou. Traveling downriver, wildlife changes along with the scenery.

There are big sections of shallow braids and some fun Class II sections to splash through. On traveling days expect to spend 5 or 6 hours on the water, which leaves plenty of time for hiking, fishing and relaxing in this sublime landscape.

July 29

The horizon yawns in the north as we approach the northern edge of the Brooks Range. Sadly the trip is over. Pack-up and begin listening for our airplane. When it arrives (weather permitting) we reluctantly load our gear and shuttle back to Fairbanks, arriving in time for a late dinner. A shower is in order.

The guides were uncommonly knowledgeable, competent, hardworking, and they consistently took care of the group before taking care of their own stuff. They kept our safety in mind while staying open to suggestions, and allowing folks a lot of freedom for personal wanderings.

- Jim, Alaska, USA

DETAILS

WHAT'S INCLUDED

Round-trip airfare from Fairbanks

Food while in the wilderness, stoves, cooking & eating utensils, water filter

Packraft, life jacket and paddle, safety & repair gear

Professional guide service

Select camping equipment

WHAT'S NOT INCLUDED

Non-camp lodging

Non-camp meals

Personal clothing and gear

Backpack, tent, waterproof bags, wading pants, and clothing

Gratuity for guide(s)

WEATHER & BUGS

July is high-summer in the Arctic. It could be warm and sunny. But it could also snow! That said you can expect milder temperatures on this trip than on other north-slope trips we offer both because of the time of year and because we won’t be on the Arctic Coast. Mosquitos may be an issue on the trip, especially in the green valleys between the Canning and the Ivishak, but the Ivishak is very open and fairly dry so we don’t expect bad bugs there. Bring DEET and a head-net.

RECOMMENDED READING

Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska Geographic

Midnight Wilderness by Debbie Miller

Being Caribou by Karsten Heuer

The Packraft Handbook by Luc Mehl

More Alaska reading is available from our Bookstore

"The wilderness was spectacular, the leadership perfect."
"I am just finishing my tenth trip with you guys. As always, the trip was more than I expected and I had a great time. See you next year!"
"Of all outfitters with whom we have worked (and that is quite a number), you were by far the most organized and responsive."
"That feeling of wide open wonder, the possibilities for nearly limitless wandering, and the image of those proud caribou...that will stay with me a long time"
"Our guide was an encyclopedia on legs. He was always willing and ready to teach, to talk, to listen, to do another hike, or to lie low in camp if we were beat. He truly gave us the trip we wanted!"
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Eileen - Canning River