Aichilik Rafting – Schwakes

Aichilik Rafting – Schwakes

DATES

June 23, 2024 - June 30, 2024

REGION

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

TRIP COST

$$$

calendar

DATES

June 23, 2024 - June 30, 2024
region

REGION

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
price

TRIP COST

$$$

The Aichilik River is a beautiful clear river traversing the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The trip starts in the foothills of the Brooks Range and ends at the frozen Arctic Ocean, allowing visitors to experience a great diversity of wildlife and habitats. The trip is timed to experience early summer in the arctic in all its abundance, with multitudes of birds nesting on the tundra, 24 hour daylight, and the river still running high from snowmelt.

TRIP DETAILS

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a wilderness unparalleled. The diversity of landscapes, seasonal abundance of wildlife with global importance, significance to indigenous communities, and inspiring solitude has garnered the area international attention.

Silence, sweeping vistas, pure water, and solitude make this an exceptional wilderness journey. The hiking in the foothills is excellent and we can expect wildlife encounters each and every day. Some years, the Porcupine Caribou Herd numbering more than 200,000 migrates across the Aichilik near the solstice. With luck we may be in the right place at the right time to witness great throngs of caribou swimming the river. Even if we don’t see them, their presence is etched in the tundra of this inspiring wilderness.

We start our 45-mile rafting adventure in a region of rolling, but rugged mountains.   After an initial two days spent hiking along the mountain front of the Brooks Range, we head for the coast, always on the lookout for caribou, wolves, grizzly bears, musk oxen, arctic foxes, and birds of many feather.   As we paddle across the Coastal Plain the vistas grow and we have expansive views of the Brooks Range stretching away to the east and west. Towards the end of the week we enter the Aichilik River Delta, which teems with bird life.

Once at the coast we will paddle several miles of this protected coastline, marveling at the abundant bird life, looking for dens of arctic foxes and musing over the Inupiat and whaling artifacts along the beach. We may even be able to venture out onto the sea ice to watch ringed seals basking in the spring sun depending on conditions.

The Aichilik River is swift and shallow as it traverses the Coastal Plain and slows only once it reaches the delta where it splits into multiple channels and mixes with the Beaufort Sea. This is a leisurely-paced trip with lots of time for hiking, birding, photography or whatever please you most. No experience is necessary to paddle-raft, as instruction is provided. Everyone joins in the fun of paddling under the guidance of an experienced raft captain. Though not a technical river, wilderness travel does have its challenges. We may need to get out and walk the rafts in shallow places. The coast is often breezy if not windy, meaning we may have to paddle steadily for several hours as we near the arctic coast.

On these trips you should expect to encounter a wide variety of weather from cold rain to warm sun and everything in between. We live in the elements and work together to paddle through the Refuge. That being said, you do not need to be an adventure athlete to participate. Many people well into their 70s have participated in trips like this. Your guides are skilled at setting expectations and ensuring everyone has a grand adventure.

Last updated: February 10, 2024

Itinerary

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

June 22

Meet with your guides for a pre-trip meeting at 4 pm at Arctic Wild headquarters in Fairbanks.

June 23

Fly 200 miles north from Fairbanks, across the Yukon River and the Arctic Circle to the Gwich’in Athabascan settlement of Arctic Village. From there, we board an even smaller plane and carry on through the Brooks Range to a river bar alongside the Aichilik River. Once the plane goes, we are on our own in the immense and quiet landscape.

June 24 - 29

At any time during the week, we could see caribou, a grizzly bear or two, a wolf, or other arctic wildlife. On the three anticipated paddling days, we will be “on the go” for 6 to 8 hours. We won’t be in the rafts that whole time and will pull ashore several times each day for brief forays or to watch wildlife. At day’s end, we’ll choose a nice, dry, scenic camp. There will be free time for group and personal pursuits. Guides will lead informal natural history hikes, but you are also welcome to go off on your own.

We will plan two or three “layover days” and 3 full paddling days. Our first day hikes will be in the Brooks Range foothills. This area affords us great opportunities for gaining elevation, admiring wildflowers covering the slopes, and hopefully watching wildlife.

Our final layover will be on the arctic coast. Hiking along the beaches is excellent and a pretty good workout. Depending on sea ice conditions, we may be able to climb an icy “pressure ridge” formed by the frozen Arctic Ocean.

June 30

Await the arrival of our bush pilot, who will land on the beach. We will fly south across the breadth of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge back to Arctic Village where we will switch to a larger plane. Weather permitting we arrive back in Fairbanks for a late dinner.

I had a great time. This trip was amazing in every single way. Definitely one I will never forget. ….an amazing guide. As good as you can ask for: knowledgeable, cool, great cook, always positive… Kind of guy who can turn the worst scenario into the best. Definitely the best guide I’ve ever had, hands down!

- Mario, SD, Dominican Republic

DETAILS

WHAT'S INCLUDED

Transportation from Fairbanks

Food while in the wilderness

Stoves, cooking & eating utensils

Boats, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear

Select camping equipment

Professional guide service

WHAT'S NOT INCLUDED

Lodging

Non-camp meals

Personal clothing and gear per our equipment list

Fishing gear, and fishing license

Gratuity for guide(s)

WEATHER & BUGS

Temperatures vary dramatically in the Arctic. Temperatures range from the 20s to 80s even in a single day. Cold rains and snow are possible, but we get lots of warm sunny weather this time of the year. As we get closer to the Arctic Ocean temperatures will drop as will the insects. Right on the coast we will probably encounter strong winds and cold temperatures. Traveling with insect repellent (DEET) is always prudent in the arctic but we don’t expect bad bugs during these dates.

RECOMMENDED READING

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska Geographic

Being Caribou, Karsten Heuer

Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez

Caribou & the Barren-Lands, George Calef

Fifty Years Below Zero, Charles Brown

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