Last updated: April 25, 2023
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guide(s) for a pre-trip meeting in Fairbanks at 4 pm at the Arctic Wild World Headquarters. We will check PASSPORTS and vaccination paperwork to make sure there are no problems with the border crossing.
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 clear Canadian customs and immigration. From there, we board a smaller plane and carry on through the Brooks Range to a river bar on a tributary of the Firth right near the Alaska/ Yukon Border. Tonight, take a hike, and settle into your surroundings. The sun won’t set!
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.
“Where is this river?” The side creek where we landed is small and shallow. Once we join the actual Firth River it gets a little deeper but then promptly splits into multiple channels 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 - 10
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. We will paddle, hike, fish, and explore our way through the mountains. 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.
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 and 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.
The Arctic Coast is like no other place we know. Barrier islands stretch for 20 miles littered with driftwood from the Mackenzie River and whale bones. It makes a great camp and a huge bonfire cuts the chill.
We await the arrival of our plane and then make our way back across the mountains, through customs and immigration and then to Fairbanks.
Time for a shower!