Trip Number: 12422B
Staff: Gary Aguiar
- Mush your own sled team of Huskies
- See the northern lights and hear the dogs howl with wolves in the distance
- Enjoy camaraderie with fellow trip members
- Round-trip bush flights to Eagle, Alaska
- Expert training on running your dog team, and specialized equipment
- Lodging and meals at a local homestead
Photo: Don Murch
Please note that the trip title has changed from what was originally published. If you
have questions, please
Imagine yourself journeying through the Alaskan wilderness on the runners of
your own dog sled. During the day, you hear the crisp crunch of the snow at
zero degrees. At night, from the comfort of rustic cabins, you can hear the
howling of wolves in the distance. Peeking outside, you see the shimmering northern
Travel with us on a 100-mile journey through the mountains of the vast Yukon
Charley Rivers National Preserve. We will travel, each with our own dogsled,
following the same ancient pathways used by American natives, gold miners, and
trappers, to explore this vast and recently abandoned wilderness. Using the
mighty but frozen Yukon River as our highway, we will loop north to the Tatonduk
River along the Yukon and then follow the footsteps of the goldminers up the
Seventy Mile River to complete a circuit of unparalleled beauty and solitude.
With tales of the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest sled dog race fresh in their minds
and hearts, our hosts, Scarlett and Wayne Hall and their son, Matt, will share
with us their in-depth knowledge of raising and working with sled dogs as we
journey with them through the frozen wilderness. They began mushing as a hobby
more than 16 years ago with their own dog and a few borrowed dogs. Their passion
for mushing ignited quickly and led to a program of breeding and raising their
own sled dogs. The Hall homestead now revolves around their dog yard of 70+
friendly, energetic Alaskan Huskies that are raised as an integral part of their
After witnessing the start of the Yukon Quest race on the frozen Chena River
in downtown Fairbanks, we will take a charter flight to Eagle. There we will
be met by our hosts and travel down the frozen Yukon to their home at Last Chance
Creek. The next morning, we will receive instruction on dog mushing and begin
our circuit of bush cabins as we travel through the immense Yukon Charley Wilderness.
Each day will be filled with the daily chores of living in wild Alaska, including
hauling water, melting snow, and caring for Wayne's beloved dogs that will quickly
become our friends as well.
All this will occur against a backdrop of serene stillness and breathtaking
natural beauty, with opportunities to observe wildlife including moose, Dall
sheep, wolves, lynx, wolverines, goshawks, marten, and possibly even caribou,
which sometimes winter in the area.
This seven-day trip begins with our flight to Eagle. You are advised to arrive
two days prior in Fairbanks so as to be able to recover from missed connections
and give any lost luggage time to catch up with you. The days of rest in Fairbanks
will be important as we prepare for total immersion into the Alaskan dog-mushing
lifestyle the following day. While jet lag and time changes pose their own challenges,
be comforted that the approach of spring has lengthened the daylight to over
Photo: Don Murch
Day 1: Feburary 4th is the start of the Yukon Quest dogsled
race and is being held in Fairbanks this year. The race starts with much fanfare
on the ice, a block from our B+B. After observing the festivities, we will troop
out to the East Ramp at the airport for our 75-minute bush flight from Fairbanks
to Eagle, Alaska. The Hall family will be waiting with their dog teams at the
airstrip. After brief introductions and a snack, we will have our first lessons
in dog sledding before leaving on the 45-minute, seven-mile run by dogsled to
After settling in, we will again venture outdoors where we will continue learning
how to handle the dogs and sleds, starting with the names of the dogs, their
positions, basic commands, and trail-finding skills.
Day 2: Today you will learn to care for and handle your own
sled and team of 4-5 dogs. Harnessing and unharnessing dogs will become second
nature. An initial trip from the homestead along the Yukon river will help us
learn to travel up and down hills and over broad pathways before moving on to
more challenging terrain.
Day 3: We will mush our individual dog teams to a cabin located
approximately 30 miles downstream on the Yukon from the homestead.
Days 4-6: We will travel up to 50 more miles, returning to
the homestead on the evening of day five. On days three through five, routes
and distances will be dependent on weather and snow conditions. We will pass
through extraordinary and varied landscapes that may include sections of tight,
twisting, tree-lined trails, canyons, frozen rivers, summit crossings above
treeline and descents into boreal forests. We will have numerous opportunities
to view the wildlife that live in this harsh climate.
Day 7: On the last morning, we will fly from Eagle back to
Fairbanks. Trip members should allow some time for weather delays and are advised
to not plan their departures from Fairbanks until after 6 p.m. Although the
trip will officially end on arrival at the Fairbanks airport, the trip leader
will be happy to help those trip members who want to spend the night in Fairbanks
make reservations at a guest house or hotel.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Don Murch
On this trip you will experience all aspects of life in a remote area of Alaska
(see http://bushalaskaexpeditions.com). At our hosts' home on the Yukon River
we'll be housed in a rustic cabin, sleeping in sleeping bags on bunks and reading
by propane or Coleman lamps. As our dogsledding journey takes us on the trail
we'll be sheltered in more remote, one-room cabins in the traditional Alaskan
style, heated by wood-burning stoves. Sleep will come easily at the end of a
long day on the trail as we make nests on a sleeping pad on the floor or plank
bunks and climb into our toasty warm Alaskan sleeping bags.
As is fitting on a self-sufficient trip into the Alaskan wilderness, you'll
enjoy the bounty of the land with hearty meals that include berry pancakes,
seven-grain cereal, moose and caribou meat, and wild Alaska salmon. Although
the meals will generally feature wild game, vegetarians can be accommodated
with advance notice. Trip meals begin with breakfast or lunch on day one in
Fairbanks, and end with breakfast on day seven in Eagle.
Our hostess, Scarlett Hall, has tried-and-true recipes that will warm and nourish
us through our chores and travels. Breakfast will usually be served at 7 a.m.
in preparation for a full day on the trail. Lunches will be packaged for individual
snacking along the trail or for sharing during a break in travel. At the end
of the day, when we have settled our dog teams for the night, dinners will provide
a welcome opportunity to recount stories from the day.
A sauna at the homestead and one of the distant cabins will be available for
a delightful treat. A battery-operated shower at the homestead can also provide
a chance to clean up.
Moderate strength and agility will be assets on this trip with an overall
requirement that trip members be in good to excellent physical condition. Daily
activities will begin early with each participant engaged in instruction about,
and, ultimately, the care and handling of their own dog team. By day two, most
daylight hours will be spent riding the runners of your own sled as you explore
the depth of your relationship with your own team of dogs. Some days will be
spent traveling from camp to camp deep in the Alaskan wilderness at distances
of up to 40 miles, which will take most of the available daylight hours.
The exhilaration of traveling by dog-powered sled through the Alaskan wilderness
can be tempered by the cold weather conditions. The trip leader and the Hall
family will help you prepare for the extremely cold temperatures we might experience.
When it is exceptionally cold, the group will stay close to cabins and do short
day trips. Most people who go on winter trips with the Halls learn very quickly
how to dress to stay warm, how to vent to stay cool, and report that -20 degrees
Fahrenheit is a dry cold and not nearly as frigid as they expected it to be.
However, even with these assurances, trip members must be mentally prepared
for the challenge of being outdoors and active throughout the day at sub-zero
Although showers are not possible every day, the suana will provide an opportunity
to clean up when at the homestead.
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: Don Murch
Winters in the interior of Alaska are extreme. Temperatures in late February
and early March can range from +30°F to -50°F. Layered clothing is essential
to accommodate indoor and outdoor activities and varying levels of exertion.
Thin underlayers of silk, capiline, and/or polypro form the necessary base layer.
Polar fleece or tightly woven wool pants and a shirt can be worn comfortably
over the base layer, followed by windbreaking and heavily insulated outerwear
in the form of ski pants and a hooded jacket.
In this extreme climate, special care must be given to the selection of gloves,
hat, boots, and face mask, as the extremities are most susceptible to the effects
of cold. One thinner layer of gloves is necessary so that you can quickly perform
duties requiring manual dexterity under cold conditions. Our guides will provide
each trip member with outer mitts, face masks, and, if necessary, outerwear
that is appropriate for use in an arctic environment.
Personal toiletries, a small duffle or backpack for extra gear, your one change
of clothes, and a camera (with extra batteries) round out the list of necessary
items. Small digital cameras that can stay tucked inside your parka (to stay
warm) work well in the frozen north. A complete list of clothing and equipment
will be provided prior to the start of the trip. The trip leader will help each
trip member develop their own personal set of clothing and may supplement these
items with clothing from the local guides or the Sierra Club.
Specialized equipment needed for dog sledding will be provided. Trip members
may bring their own sleeping bag (if rated as a four-season bag) or borrow one
from our guides.
Trip members can find all of these books at amazon.com or borrow the copies that
will accompany the trip leader:
- Balzaar, John, Yukon Alone.Wayne Hall, our host, was the guide
for the author.
- McPhee, John, Coming Into the Country. The third section in this
classic book is about living in bush Alaska in the Eagle area. This book can
give you a real feel for the country that you will be traveling in.
- Shore, Evelyn B., Born on Snowshoes. Evelyn was born and raised
near Eagle and has traveled extensively by dog sled.
- O'Neil, Dan, A Land Gone Lonesome. This book describes the history
of the area and current issues, a great read that provides insight for discussions.
Photo: Don Murch
Most of the conservation issues in this region of Alaska concern the balancing
of fish, moose, and caribou populations while still providing for the needs
of people and of predators such as wolves, bears and eagles. Most of the people
in this region live a subsistence lifestyle where they are dependent on wild
game and fish populations and are intimately involved in decisions made by local,
statewide, or national entities that manage these resources. The Hall family
lives off the land, and they are very concerned and politically active in all
conservation issues to ensure that the wilderness remains wild and unspoiled
while providing a way of life that blends with the environment. The Halls will
be happy to discuss all of the conservation issues that affect their subsistence
lifestyle and give us the chance to experience their lifestyle for ourselves
as we travel with them.
Sierra Club outings in Alaska are special experiences in true wilderness, but
they also carry an element of risk. Trip locales are often remote, away from
the amenities of civilization, including sophisticated medical care and immediate
evacuation possibilities. All of our Alaska trips now carry satellite phones,
but even with this technology, communication with the outside world can be difficult
and emergency assistance is at least a day away. Weather in Alaska is unpredictable,
and inclement weather can be severe or serene and beautiful.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Gary Aguiar fell in love with Alaska on a 1983 trip to the Alaska Range, east of Denali. On that trip, it rained 12 out of 14 days, and the group ran out of food a day before the bush pilot returned to pick it up. Needless to say, Gary developed a healthy respect for Alaskan weather on that trip.
Not all Alaska trips are like that, of course. Since then, he has led a number of Sierra Club trips to Alaska, developing trips that include day hiking and a casual travel itinerary so people of varying abilities can experience the Alaskan wilderness. Gary owns and operates a small environmental engineering firm that has been cleaning up contaminated groundwater in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 20 years. In addition to hiking in Alaska, his recreational interests include long-distance running and open-water
swimming in the bay.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips