Trip Number: 13012A
Staff: Frederick Paillet
- Day hike in some of the most scenic areas of the Brooks Range
- Experience tundra wildflowers, nesting arctic birds, and Alaskan wildlife
- Enjoy panoramic wilderness views from a small aircraft flying over awesome
- Round-trip charter flights from Kotzebue
- Hearty base camp meals and snacks with group cooking gear and cooking
- Share knowledge of flora, fauna, and geology with an experienced naturalist
Photo: Fred Paillet
This trip is expressly designed as a “wilderness light” experience
for those who want to enjoy all the wonders of arctic Alaska in the Brooks Range
without the rigors of a strenuous backpacking expedition. Our bush flight charter
will take us to a remote location in the headwaters of the Squirrel River where
we will become immersed in wilderness solitude. The bush flight itself is a
major part of the experience, where you get to fly over the northwestern limit
of the spruce forest and into a vast panorama of tundra and mountain wilderness.
Although we get to see the local tundra up close and personal, the bush flight
is one of the best ways to mentally grasp the full scale of the wilderness and
will be an important part of your Alaska adventure.
Early June has statistically the best weather of the year in terms of temperature
and sunshine. We will arrive while the arctic world is drab and brown, and the
landscape will literally come alive while we are there. Wildflowers will be
springing forth in abundance and birds will be arriving to nest on the ground.
Pelagic predators like the jaeger come ashore to build their nests and feed
on the ptarmigan still conspicuously white in their winter plumage. Other birds
such as plovers and turnstones make for great photographic opportunities as
the adult birds try to lure you away from their nests. The bane of Alaska adventures,
the mosquito, will hardly have begun to appear while we are there since they
only arrive in force sometime around the 20th of the month. We even benefit
from the annual mosquito cycle since the appearance of the pest further south
acts to drive the western Alaska caribou herd northwards ahead of their savage
Photo: Fred Paillet
The trip is specifically designed to introduce the participant to the Brooks
Range ecosystem. The leader is a research geoscientist with an expert knowledge
of the terrain and climate, as well as an experienced illustrator. Our daily
excursions will feature study of the shrub birch tundra, permafrost, and such
characteristic landscape features of the arctic desert as patterned ground,
solufluction and braided stream deposits. Participants will be furnished with
a detailed reading list for those interested in taking full advantage of this
opportunity to understand the geological history of the Brooks Range and the
role of Beringia as a conduit for Asian species (including us!) migrating from
the Eurasian steppes.
The trip will begin and end in Kotzebue, Alaska. Our bush pilot will meet us
there and shuttle us to a landing strip on the North Fork of the Squirrel River.
We will make a base camp near the landing strip and plan to spend the next five
days on leisurely day hikes to explore adjacent drainages and scan for wildlife
from nearby high points. Each hike will be planned to investigate a different
habitat: wet tundra meadows, dry lichen-encrusted ridges, braided river channels,
and spruce and shrub birch woodland. This trip is about wilderness and wilderness
appreciation. We will take special care to discuss and share journal entries
and artwork as a way to enhance our encounter with one of the last truly wild
places in North America.
Photo: Fred Paillet
Trip members are responsible for arranging their own transportation to and
from the trip's starting point in Kotzebue. Please plan on arriving in Anchorage
on or before June 4, then flying to Kotzebue on June 5, and finally departing
from Kotzebue on or after the evening of June 11. There is a good, modern hotel
in Kotzebue, and an older (lots of character) lodge with a good restaurant for
those who want to stay over. The leader will provide details on flight options
to registered participants. Arctic air travel, commercial or charter, is not
always on schedule and luggage is occasionally delayed. It is strongly advised
that you allow leeway for delayed luggage due to weather conditions at both
the beginning and end of the trip. Round-trip charter flights between Kotzebue
and the Baird Mountains backcountry are included in the trip fee.
Accommodations and Food
The Sierra Club furnishes stoves, pots, fuel, and a first-aid kit. As usual
on Sierra Club outings, all members will help with cooking and clean-up. Food
while in the field is included in the trip fee. Trip members should notify the
leader of any special dietary requirements.
Lodging on the night before and the night after the trip is not included in
the trip price. More details on these arrangements will follow.
The trip will be light (L), but due to the highly variable nature of arctic
weather and cross-country travel, some hiking days may be moderately strenuous.
In this vast wilderness area, there are no trails except those made by wildlife,
and permafrost terrain can be wet at any time of year. Day hikes will range
from a few to as many as six miles. Elevation changes will vary and may include
several hundred feet to elevations needed for wildlife scanning.
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: Fred Paillet
Early summer in the Brooks Range is generally moderate in temperature, although
cold, stormy periods can occur. We will be close enough to the summer solstice
that the sun will always be above the horizon. Be prepared to be out and active
in the rain. Temperatures can range from the 30s to the 70, although wind chill
can make it feel colder. Proper equipment, thoroughly field-tested before the
trip, is critical. Personal gear must not weigh more than 35 pounds, including
cameras and other hand-carried items. Participants must provide their own backpack
(for the short trip from landing strip to camp site), sleeping bag, tent, raingear,
and other camping necessities. A complete packing list will be sent to registered
Some of these titles are out-of-print, but may be available at major libraries.
The Title Wave Book Shop, in Anchorage, usually has used copies. Contact the
leaders for an additional list of Alaska books related to specific topics
of interest such as geology, climate, history, and wildlife.
- Pielou, E.C., Field Guide to the Arctic. Probably the best and
most readable textbook on the Arctic.
- Brower, Kenneth, Earth and the Great Weather. A rich resource on
the Brooks Range.
- Murie, Adolph, A Naturalist in Alaska. The best and single introduction
to Alaskan wildlife.
- Kauffmann, John, Alaska's Brooks Range.
- Marshall, Bob, Alaskan Wilderness.
- "The Kotzebue Basin," in Alaska Geographic, Vol. 8, No.
The area around our base camp can be seen on the U. S. Geological Survey
1:250,000 scale Baird Mountains sheet. A more detailed map is the B-5 1:63,360
scale Baird Mountains quadrangle (roughly equivalent to 15 minute quads for
the lower 48). Both can be ordered from the U.S.G.S. Web site.
Photo: Fred Paillet
Alaska is a major conservation battleground. Throughout the state, issues of
national significance involving wilderness protection, oil and mineral development,
and forest and wildlife management receive high priority from the Sierra Club
and other environmental organizations. And well they should -- Alaska's public
lands belong to all Americans. One of our objectives is to inform participants
of these issues so they'll become advocates for this very special land.
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.
Dr. Fred Paillet recently retired as a research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey. A former professor of
geology, Fred has spent more than two decades collecting field data in many
national parks and foreign countries. He has been visiting Alaska since
1988 and has experienced arctic environments in Canada, Sweden, Switzerland,
and Central Asia, as well as numerous locations in the United States. He has been a staff
member on several Sierra Club Alaska outings and is an accomplished artist
and naturalist. Fred loves to capture the emotion and detail of the Arctic landscape in pen and ink drawings produced on the spot -- complete with flattened mosquito carcasses for authenticity.
Hartmut Koelsch is an avid hiker, backpacker, cross-country skier, and mountaineer, and a practicing physician. He has backpacked or dog-mushed or kayaked -- and occasionally all three -- somewhere in Alaska almost every year since 1990. The few years he's missed were only to do similar adventures in Arctic Canada. Hart's unbounded enthusiasm for outdoor adventure is legendary among Sierra Club Outing leaders.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips