Trip Number: 13013A
Staff: Bertram Koelsch
- Search for possible sightings of wolves, grizzlies, musk ox, and caribou
- Explore some of the most spectacular mountains in the Arctic Refuge
- Ride along on the scenic drive through the interior of Alaska to the
- Transportation from Fairbanks to the start of our backpacking trip and
- All meals, starting with lunch on the first day and ending with lunch
on the last day
Photo: Eric Rorer
Our challenging 12-day backpacking trip takes us into some of the most spectacular
mountains in the Arctic Refuge. Grizzlies, wolves, dall sheep, musk ox, and
caribou roam this jagged landscape, which we'll enter from the Dalton Highway.
Without the prohibitive cost of bush flights, this is a chance to see America's
last great wilderness at an affordable price. Utilizing the 24 hours of daylight,
we will observe and learn about the Refuge's many plants and animals, plus discuss
current environmental threats.
The group will meet the day prior to the start of the trip in Fairbanks, where
we will have dinner, distribute group gear, and go over logistics.
Day 1: We begin our trip in Fairbanks. In the early morning
hours, we board a large van that will take us to the start of our wilderness
adventure. The Dalton Highway extends between Fairbanks and Prudoe Bay and closely
parallels the Alaska Oil Pipeline. During our long drive north toward the Brooks
Range on the infamous "haul road" we will experience the surrealistic
beauty of the Alaska interior. Making our way past the last trees that we will
see until our return, we climb up over the Brooks Range and onto the North Slope.
In the late afternoon, we begin our backpack trip by hiking under the Alaska
Oil Pipeline and immediately entering the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. After
a short hike, we arrive at our first camp in total wilderness, completely out
of sight of the road or any other human activity.
Photo: Eric Rorer
Days 2-11: Our exact backpacking route will depend on the
conditions we find, especially whether or not the Sagavanirktok River can be
crossed. In any event, we will complete a loop through the mountains surrounding
the Sagavanirktok River, traversing spectacular arctic valleys and dramatic
mountain passes, eventually returning to the location of our first camp.
On a typical day the group will hike for about six to eight hours at a moderate
pace, stopping to observe the wonders of the Arctic as we see them. We will
have almost 24-hour daylight, so we can start and end our hike at any time of
the day. Hiking will be difficult sometimes -- when we push through tussocks
or willows, for example. If we find we have made the wrong choice for a route,
we may even be forced to backtrack at times. Remember, this is part of the joy
Day 12: After a short hike back to the Dalton Highway, the
same commercial van service will pick us up for the long drive back to Fairbanks.
Our trip ends upon our arrival in Fairbanks, typically very late in the evening.
Participants should schedule their flights out of Fairbanks for the day after
the trip officially ends. Weather delays are not uncommon in the Arctic.
Trip members are responsible for arranging their own transportation to and
from Fairbanks. Starting the trip out of Fairbanks, one of few relatively affordable
flight destinations in Alaska, helps reduce final participant cost. We strongly
advise that you arrive in Fairbanks two days ahead of schedule to allow for
delayed luggage. Arctic air travel, commercial or charter, is not always on
schedule due to weather conditions. You should also allow for at least one flexible
day at the end of the trip in case we encounter unexpected weather delays.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Eric Rorer
All food, starting with lunch on the first day through lunch on the last, will
be provided. We take pride in providing meals that are tasty and filling, and
make a concerted effort not to rely too much on freeze-dried foods. Vegetarians
can easily be accommodated. As on most Sierra Club trips, all members help with
cooking and clean-up chores. Trip participants and leaders will all share in
carrying food and equipment.
This Strenuous-rated (S) trip is for the big-hearted backpacker. We will hike
a cross-country route the whole way, entirely dependent on our skills, common
sense, and equipment. Stream crossings can become difficult (and cold!) as multiple
channels may run high with glacial melt. Be prepared for wet boots. Weather
in the Arctic can always be a challenge; while we hope for sunny and dry days,
we must be prepared for any condition, including extended periods of rain.
This trip is demanding, and you will need to be in very good shape. While there
is no technical climbing, you should feel comfortable climbing over boulders
and using your hands to get over passes while carrying a full pack. Trip participants
should also be prepared for a bit of exposed hiking in the mountains. We will
go slowly when necessary and no one will be rushed through difficult sections
of the hike. Elevations are low, so altitude shouldn't be a factor.
Pack weight can be demanding and a slowing factor for hikers of any experience
level. Equipment and food will be more substantial than what is required on
most trips, with pack weights in the 50-60 pound range. We'll be carrying up
to 30 pounds of commissary and group equipment per person, in addition to our
personal gear, when we start out.
Photo: Eric Rorer
Please be frank and completely honest when completing your trip application.
The trip leader will talk to you at length by phone to make sure that this is
a trip appropriately suited for you, but the Sierra Club reserves the right
to turn participants away at the start of the trip if it is clear they have
not been truthful in the application process.
Equipment and Clothing
The leaders will send out a detailed equipment list to approved participants
prior to the trip, and are happy to discuss any questions you may have.
The leaders will conduct a gear inspection of each participant before the start
of the trip in Fairbanks. Anyone who has brought inappropriate gear, such as
a tent that is not waterproof, raingear that is not waterproof, or a pack that
is too small will be asked to purchase new gear in Fairbanks.
- Pielou, E.C., A Naturalist's Guide to the Arctic.
- Lopez, Barry, Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern
- Bruemmer, Fred, The Arctic.
- Houston, James, White Dawn: An Eskimo Saga.
- Berton, Pierre, The Arctic Grail.
- Sage, Byron, The Arctic and its Wildlife.
- Dyson, John, The Hot Arctic.
Photo: Eric Rorer
The Arctic Refuge is one of the last intact ecological systems in the world
and is under considerable political pressure for development. To date, efforts
to designate the Refuge as wilderness have been rejected outright and there
is an ongoing effort to open the Refuge to energy development. Protecting this
unique ecosystem is among the highest priorities of nearly every major environmental
organization. Trip participants will not only learn about current developments,
but they'll also learn how to keep informed of future developments and to become
advocates for protection of this important area. In addition, Leave No Trace
ethics will be used and emphasized on our trip. Our goal will be to alter the
wilderness as little as possible, preserving it for the next group.
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.
Bertram Koelsch celebrated his second birthday on the Arctic Circle. This family trip, where diaper changes included quick rinses in chilling alaskan streams, first introduced Bertram to the raw splendor of the wilderness. Since these days, Bertram has spent his vacations outdoors on trips ranging from ski tours in northern Sweden and the Swiss Alps to backpacking trips in the Andes and the mountains of western China. Bertram's Alaska adventures have been primarily focused in the northern Brooks Range. Here, he has enjoyed numerous backpacking trips under the midnight sun and a dogsled trip beneath the northern lights. It's the enchantment of the arctic that seduces Bertram to always return to Alaska. Currently, Bertram lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and spends his weekends in search of beautiful spots for hiking, climbing and backcountry skiing.
Lina Nilsson grew up hiking and skiing in a family firmly adhering to the Swedish proverb "there is no poor weather, only poor clothing." Today, she has a rustic mountain cabin in the north of Sweden, where she can experience the vastness of the glacier-shaped landscape. Lina recently moved back to the U.S. after living for three years in Switzerland, where she enjoyed abundant opportunities to hike and ski mountaineer in the Alps. She has backpacked and hiked on four continents. One of her more recent outings was a solo backpacking trip by Eyjafjallajokull, the now infamous volcano in Iceland. Currently, Lina works in research as a biomedical engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area and is busy exploring the Sierra Nevada.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips