Trip Number: 13011A
Staff: Gary Keir
- Visit the migration route of the Western Arctic Caribou herd
- Hike the scenic western Brooks Range
- Experience the midnight sun
- Bush flights from Kotzebue
- Delicious camp meals
- Permits and fees
Some of us dream of experiencing a place that is so pristine that there are
no signs of civilization as far as the eye can see. The area that we will visit
in the western Brooks Range is one of those places. It does not get the media
attention that other parts of Alaska receive and hopefully it will remain out
of controversy. This area is home to the Western Arctic Caribou herd, a herd
nearly twice the size of the more famous Porcupine Caribou herd in eastern Alaska.
We plan on starting our trip right in the traditional migration route of this
magnificent herd. With luck we hope to see cows with their calves and, then
a short time later, the bulls arrive in small and large groups. The caribou
are only one chapter in this story. Year-round residents also include barren
ground grizzlies, wolves, and arctic fox. Muskoxen, large mammals unique to
the arctic have been seen in the area. Birds that have flown from several continents
to mate and raise their young will nest at our feet. During our trip the tundra
will turn from winter's brown to summer's green, punctuated by a surprising
variety of colorful wildflowers. The sun will not set on our trip, but it will
skim along the northern horizon at "night." This richness of light
provides opportunities for wonderful evening strolls.
Starting the trip in a very scenic mountainous region we will then cross the
border of the Noatak Preserve into the National Petroleum Reserve and the fringes
of the coastal plain. The route loops around and returns to the landing spot.
The trip plan allows for several layover days. These layover days will allow
us to explore the area without our heavy packs and or lounge around and soak
in the landscape. The pace will be one that will keep us moving, but allow us
to stop and smell the bog rosemary.
Photo: Gary Keir
Day 1: We begin the trip in Kotzebue, an old trading town
on the coast of the Chukchi Sea. On the morning of June 3 we will take a bush
flight over the Noatak wilderness to a landing spot in a rugged but beautiful
mountainous region. You may want to have your camera ready for these spectacular
flights. From our landing spot we will spend a day or so discovering what these
calving grounds have to offer.
Days 2-11: We will take the first couple days to observe the
activity at the calving grounds. Day hikes with light packs will be the order
of the day. On Wednesday or Thursday we will begin our backpack into the National
Petroleum Reserve and the coastal plain. Even though we will have 24 hours of
daylight, we will keep to a relaxed routine for breakfast, breaking camp and
getting on our way. Lunch will typically be on the "trail." As we
traverse the tundra and notice any interesting geological or biological points
of interest, we will stop for photographs and/or read the short passage about
it in the "Naturalist Guide to the Arctic." By mid to late afternoon
we will search for a camping spot. This should give enough time to set up tents
and air out socks before dinner. The evenings will be free to explore the countryside
or relax back at camp. Once on the plain, we will then turn and follow the base
of the ridges to a drainage that will lead us back to our landing spot in the
Noatak Preserve. A layover day is planned here to investigate this change in
Day 12: We will be ferried again in bush flights back over
this incredible landscape to Kotzebue and enjoy the marvels and comforts of
Our trip officially begins in the town of Kotzebue, in western Alaska, on
June 3rd. To allow for weather or baggage delays -- which, in the Arctic, is
unlikely but possible -- trip members are advised to arrive in Kotzebue by the
evening of June 1st. Similarly, don't make flight reservations to leave Kotzebue
before June 15th.
Accommodations and Food
All meals and snacks, from lunch on day 1 to lunch on day 12 are included in
the trip price. Our vegetarian friendly meals will be lightweight backpacking
food. As usual on Sierra Club trips, all members help with cooking and cleanup
chores, each person assisting for two or three days.
Photo: Gary Keir
This trip is rated moderately strenuous, with a trip rating of 4. Group gear
and food may weigh 20 pounds each beyond the personal gear you will carry. With
no trails and often uncertain footing, the difficulty of the hiking should not
be underestimated. Good physical condition will allow participants to enjoy
the trip with more comfort. Because the weather in the Arctic is unpredictable,
previous backpacking experience with field-tested gear is essential. Temperatures
in June can range from well below freezing to T-shirt weather. Rain is likely
for some portion of the trip. If you are prepared and can greet adverse weather
as part of the adventure -- not as an ordeal -- you will enjoy this trip.
Equipment and Clothing
Trip participants are expected to furnish their own personal gear. The leaders
will mail out a detailed equipment list. The Sierra Club provides group equipment
including pots, cooking utensils, stoves, fuel, cooking tarp, satellite phone,
bear repellant spray, repair kit, and first-aid kit.
The southwest corner of the National Petroleum Reserve is critical habitat
for the Western Arctic Caribou herd. Spring calving as well as late summer forage
takes place in this area. Mineral extraction poses the biggest threat to the
delicate balance of this arctic ecosystem. Bird species from several continents
come to this land to breed and nurture the next generation. What happens to
this ecosystem affects ecosystems in other parts of the world. We will explore
and discuss the issues involved in the land, the wildlife, and the people of
this special area.
Travel in Alaska and the Arctic
Sierra Club outings in Alaska and Arctic Canada 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. Many of our Alaska and Arctic Canada trips now carry satellite phones, but even with this technology, communication with the outside world can be difficult and emergency assistance can be days away. Weather in Alaska and Arctic Canada is unpredictable, and inclement weather can be severe. Among other hazards are cold river and stream crossings, tidal activity, calving glaciers, the psychological effects of remoteness, and the presence of large wild animals. You're in good hands, though, so don't worry: Your trip leaders have vast experience in the Last Frontier, and they'll provide all the guidance you need.
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 Keir has led backpacking trips in Arctic Alaska for the Sierra Club since 1997. For fun, he enjoys rock climbing, playing the guitar, ballroom dancing, flying to Paris for the weekend, and making souffles. As much as he enjoys the solitude and serenity of the landscape, he also enjoys the camaraderie of the group during these trips. Gary is a computer whiz in New York City.
Nick Pilch has been hiking and exploring the outdoors ever since he can remember. He's a veteran of Alaska Arctic trips. Nick's particular interests include conservation and sustainability issues, glaciers, peak climbing and natural science. He's also active in local politics.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips