Firth River Rafting

Firth River Rafting

DATES

July 1, 2024 - July 15, 2024

REGION

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Arctic Canada

TRIP COST

$10,900

calendar

DATES

July 1, 2024 - July 15, 2024
region

REGION

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Arctic Canada
price

TRIP COST

SOLD OUT

The Firth River plunges from the Brooks Range to the Arctic Coast in Canada’s Yukon Territory in a frothy torrent. Though just miles from Alaska’s Kongakut River in Alaska, the Firth features unique geology, outstanding hiking, significant whitewater, and the most northerly spruce forests in North America. A truly epic river trip!

TRIP DETAILS

Starting at the Alaska border and ending on the arctic coast of Canada’s Yukon Territory in Ivvavik National Park, this trip explores the great diversity of arctic wilderness. It would be hard to design a trip with more variety and more beauty.

From our start on the small, gravely, and braided  headwaters of the Firth; first portion of the river is characterized by big mountains, broad river valleys and river ice shining in the midnight sun. The broad dry valleys of the eastern Brooks Range provide outstanding hiking and from the peaks we can see mountain ridges extending in all directions. More than 100 miles from anything resembling a village, the scale of the wilderness is staggering.

Canada’s Ivvavik National Park (Ivvavik translates roughly into “nursery” or “calving grounds” in reference to the birthplace of the Porcupine River Caribou Herd) is outstandingly beautiful and ruggedly wild. For the first few days we make our way through the broad valleys and ice fields of the upper river. As we descend, the river forms a single channel and enters a long and stunning canyon.

Cliff bands host hawks, falcons and eagle nests and provide safe ground for Dall’s sheep. The river transitions from braids and riffles, to pool and drop. The pools play host to deep bodied and fatty char, the drops demand precise navigation. As the river gets steeper the rapids grow and we will stop often to scout and plan our runs. We will camp several nights in the canyon, our thoughts and dreams dominated by the sound of rushing water and the feel of dark and ancient rock.

There is significant whitewater in this section of the river, up to Class IV. We will work down the river carefully and may even need to portage some of the drops. We will splash through the fun drops and carefully evaluate the larger rapids. It is a breathtaking canyon with mile after mile of cliffs and fast water. At nearly 70 degrees north latitude we will encounter what is possibly the northernmost stand of spruce trees in the world. The trees make an interesting contrast to the vastness of the North Slope.

Once clear of the canyon and the big water we can refocus on scanning the tundra for wildlife as we move downriver and further from the mountains.

As the sky grows broad and we transition onto the coastal plain, we will encounter more signs of ancient human use of the area. The ancestors of the Inupiat, Inuvialut, and Gwich’in hunted caribou by herding them into lakes and canyons where they could be speared. Signs of drive-lines and encampments can be found near the river and we will stop and consider the long connection between caribou and people in the Arctic.

Then we enter the foothills with fast current and broad vistas. Trees give way to brush, and as we travel north the lands grows more and more open, providing even better opportunities for spotting wildlife. Eventually even the foothills melt into flatness and we enter the sprawling delta of the Firth. Multiple sand and gravel channels diverge and then (usually) reconnect creating a maze of water, sand, tundra, ice and driftwood. The sprawl of water and land makes great bird habitat and we will count new species daily. In addition to great birding the tundra supports muskoxen, wolves, and of course caribou.

Most years a significant portion of the Porcupine Caribou Herd spends early July in Ivvavik National Park and they frequently cross the Firth in good numbers. We’ll keep fingers crossed for big herds and will very likely see at least small bands either just above the canyon or north of the canyon and towards the Arctic Coast.

If the wind has been blowing hard from the north, we may hear waves on the coast before we arrive at the coastal lagoon and paddle out to the barrier island, littered with driftwood and seabird nests. There may be sea ice lingering on the Arctic Ocean, perhaps even or ringed seals, belugas or even bowhead whales off the coast. We will camp on the coast and have time to explore, beach-comb and of course take a plunge in the chilly Arctic Ocean under the midnight sun!

Having paddled from the mountains to the Arctic coast of Canada’s Yukon Territory, we can look south from the beach and reminisce about the many surprises and adventures we’ve had while traversing this exceptional wilderness river.

This is a challenging and engaging wilderness trip. We will drag heavy rafts through the shallows, negotiate significant whitewater, paddle against the wind, and be challenged by the weather and the bugs. Backcountry experience, a flexible and adventurous attitude, along with physical fitness will ensure you thrive both because-of and in spite-of the challenges of wilderness travel.

Last updated: June 15, 2024

Itinerary

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

June 30

Meet your guide(s) for a pre-trip meeting in Fairbanks at 4 pm at the Arctic Wild World Headquarters. We will check PASSPORTS to make sure there are no problems with the border crossing the following day in Old Crow YT.

July 1

Fly 200 miles north from Fairbanks, across the Yukon River and the Arctic Circle to the Gwich’in Athabascan village of Old Crow where we check-in with Canadian customs and immigration. Once cleared, we board a smaller plane and carry on through the Brooks Range to a river bar on the Firth River right at the Alaska/ Yukon Border. Tonight, take a hike, and settle into your surroundings.  The sun won’t set!

July 2

We can spend the day exploring the mountains and the river. There are small peaks nearby that we can ascend for views of the seemingly endless Brooks Range stretching in all directions farther than the eye can see. By day’s end we will be ready to load the rafts and head downriver come morning.

July 3

“Where is this river?” The river where we landed is small, braided, and shallow. Some of the channels are just barely big enough to negotiate. There will be some struggle making it downriver but eventually the river sorts itself out and we’ll be paddling down a stunning arctic river.

July 4 and 5

Once through the shallows and upper braided section of the river it is smooth sailing for a couple of days as the river winds its way through the mountains and we admire the deep clear pools.

Limestone peaks beckon during evening hikes and caribou trails corrugate the tundra.

July 6 - 8

We enter the rocky canyon and ledge country of the northern Brooks Range. The river bends are deeply incised and the river plunges through sedimentary layers one after the other in thrilling rapids and splendid canyons. Sheep frequent the river bars secure in the knowledge that cliffs are close at hand.

Here the challenge of the rapids and the thrill of the river take center stage. We spend several days immersed in the canyon and captivated by the rush of Gin clear water.

July 9 - 10

The river and the weather will dictate our schedule and the pace of the trip but we are sure to have several layover days to search out archeological sites, climb into the high country and watch for wildlife.

The hiking along the Firth is excellent and once beyond the canyon we can range across the tundra on long day-hikes or shorter evening walks searching for wildlife, luxuriating in the wildflowers, and taking solace in the grandeur of the Arctic.

July 11 - 13

The mountains end abruptly and the river spills onto the coastal plain with little transition. The river has momentum and the birding is fantastic. Welcome to the coastal plain, birthplace of the Porcupine Caribou Herd.

Caribou calves will be more than a month old and easily keep up with the adults. We can hope to see them with soft tawny coats on the green and flower studded summer tundra.

As we approach the coast the river braids out again and we will negotiate the shallows as we did at the trips start, occasionally walking to lighten the boats.

July 14

The Arctic Coast is like no other place we know. Barrier islands stretch for 20 miles littered with driftwood and whale bones. It makes a great camp and a huge bonfire cuts the chill.

July 15

We await the arrival of our plane and then make our way back across the mountains, back into Alaska and then to Fairbanks.

Time for a shower!

Logistical Notes:

This trip meets in Fairbanks Alaska but the river is in Canada’s Yukon Territory. We cross the international border by plane and you’ll need a valid passport to enter Canada.

Please also note that Old Crow, YT where we clear customs is “Dry” so we may not take any alcohol on this trip.

 

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

Boats, paddles, life jackets, safety & repair gear

Professional guide service

Select Camping Equipment is available through Arctic Wild

WHAT'S NOT INCLUDED

Non-camp lodging

Non-camp meals

Personal clothing and gear per our equipment list

Fishing gear, and fishing license (fishing licenses for Ivvavik National Park are issued by Parks Canada and MUST be obtained by mail. A Yukon Territory license is not valid in the National Park. Contact Ivvavik for details and licenses well in advance of your trip.)

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 encounter strong winds and cold temperatures. There will be bugs on this trip! Traveling with insect repellent (DEET) and a head-net is essential.

RECOMMENDED READING

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by Alaska Geographic

Being Caribou by Karsten Heuer

Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez

Caribou & the Barren-Lands by George Calef

Fifty Years Below Zero by Charles Brown

More Alaska reading is available at 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!"
client client client client client
Eileen - Canning River