Trip Number: 13014A
Staff: Frederick Paillet
- Hike scenic tundra ridges with panoramic views of the Chukchi Sea
- Experience the explosion of wildflowers and birds at the start of the
- Visit locations known to be inhabited by musk oxen at a time when young
calves are likely present
- Round-trip charter flights from Kotzebue over the Noatak River delta
and Krusenstern Lagoon
- Hearty base camp meals and snacks, group cooking gear, cook shelter
- Day hikes led by an experienced naturalist intimately familiar with
Photo: Fred Paillet
On this trip we will have the opportunity to visit a wild and untrammeled part
of Alaska at the point where the Brooks Range foothills meet the coast on the
Chukchi Sea. We fly into an area within Cape Krusenstern National Monument established
to preserve scenic arctic coastlands and lagoons along with the adjacent limestone
ridges. The trip is timed to allow us to witness the tundra when a drab brown
landscape is exploding with new life. The Cape is known to have a good population
of resident musk oxen, and we will spend days hiking on the firm lichen surface
of ridges as we glass the countryside looking for them and other wildlife. The
Cape is also famous as the location where the pioneering archaeologist Louis
Giddings worked out the sequence of local Inuit culture. He was able to do this
by tracking changes in artifacts along a profile across sequentially deposited
coastal dunes in the days before radiocarbon dating was known. The Cape has
a series of more than 100 beach ridges that span a human settlement history
of over 5,000 years!
The trip includes a bush charter flight from Kotzebue to the Cape, with panoramic
views of the vast Noatak River delta, the rising crest of the Brooks Range to
the east, and the great series of coastal dunes studied by Giddings. You will
fly over the farthest northwest limit of trees in all of North America to see
the intricate inter-fingering of spruce galleries, alder scrub, willow thickets,
and then open tundra. In the trip leader's scouting of this area several years
ago, he had the additional excitement of an abruptly aborted landing when a
small herd of musk oxen suddenly rushed out onto the landing strip beneath the
aircraft. This is unlikely to happen again, of course, but serves as an example
of the unexpected adventures the arctic has to offer. Other wildlife we may
possibly see includes moose, caribou, grizzly bears, wolves, and arctic or red
foxes. Another attraction is the presence of many ground-nesting birds such
as plovers, jaegers, and longspurs. Birders should be on the lookout for Asian
species such as the white wagtail that irregularly show up on the wrong continent.
Our trip will take us well north of the Arctic Circle so that you will experience
the midnight sun. We may have some cloud cover, but nothing even like twilight
will occur during our stay. Our day hikes will be mostly on the firm footing
of ridges and promontories with the Chukchi Sea almost always in view. In addition
to our constant lookout for musk ox bands, we will learn to read the arctic
landscape with patterned ground and solufluction lobes on hillsides as the hallmarks
of permanently frozen soil beneath the shallow turf. Along the way we will celebrate
the restoration of the musk ox to Alaska as one of the great ecological recovery
achievements in American wildlife history.
Photo: Fred Paillet
The trip will begin and end in Kotzebue, Alaska. Our bush pilot will meet us
there and shuttle us to a landing strip on a ridge crest overlooking the coast.
We will set up our base camp above a small drainage serving as our water supply.
Then we will plan day hikes over the cluster of ridges around camp to find the
location of musk ox herds and plan a closer investigation -- usually allowing
approaches to within about 100 feet. One day’s hike will include an excursion
down to the beaches below and a visit to nesting bird colonies (terns and gulls)
located around lagoons behind the barrier beach berms. The other days we will
follow ridge crests and higher drainages north, south, and toward the east while
we search for wildlife and discus the many unique features of the arctic environment.
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 12, then flying to Kotzebue on the early morning of June 13,
and finally departing from Kotzebue on or after late afternoon on June 19. 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 Cape backcountry are included in the trip fee.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Fred Paillet
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. There are many good places to stay and lots of things to do
around Anchorage. Most current flights from Anchorage to Kotzebue also stop
in Nome. There is an extensive road network around Nome to be explored by rental
vehicle, although none are connected to the outside world. For those staying
over in Anchorage, the Palmer musk ox farm is a great day excursion about an
hour northeast of town. The leader will help organize optional excursions to
the farm, which can be combined with a visit to the Matanuska Glacier, Hatcher
Pass, and other local sights of interest.
The trip will be rated light (L), but due to the highly variable nature of
arctic weather and cross-country travel, some days may be moderately strenuous.
Although this is a base camp trip, a short backpack will be required to transport
equipment and supplies from the landing strip to a suitable camp. Musk oxen
may be located in drainages among the willows, which requires walking on lower
slopes in rough sedge tussock terrain in order to approach them. In this vast
wilderness area, there are no trails except those made by wildlife. Therefore
you should be in reasonably good physical condition and have some hiking experience.
Day hikes may vary from 4 to 10 miles, depending on the location of wildlife
and the abilities of participants.
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: Fred Paillet
Early summer in the Brooks Range is generally moderate in temperature, although
cold, stormy periods can occur. Be prepared to be out and active in the rain.
Temperatures can range from the 20s to the 70s, 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 so that we can meet weight limits for the bush
flight. Participants must provide their own backpack (needed to carry gear from
the strip to base camp), sleeping bag, tent, raingear, and other camping necessities.
A complete packing list will be sent to registered participants.
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.
- Gray, David R., The musk oxen of Polar Bear Pass. The single most
detailed reference on musk ox ecology and behavior.
- "The Kotzebue Basin," in Alaska Geographic, Vol. 8, No. 3.
- J. Louis Giddings and Douglas Anderson, Beach Ridge Archaeology at Cape
Krusenstern, NPS Publications in Archeology, No. 20 (1986)
- Brower, Charles E., Forty Years Below Zero. Memories of an earlier
trapper witnessing the adaptation of native Inuit to western culture.
- The entire area around our base camp can be seen on the U. S. Geological Survey
1:250,000 scale Noatak sheet. The most detailed maps are the B-3 and B-4 1:63,360
scale Noatak quadrangles (roughly equivalent to 15 minute quads for the lower
48). All can be ordered from the U.S.G.S. website.
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.
Of particular concern to us is the effect of a major mining operation to the
east of the Monument on adjacent National Park Service wilderness lands. The
55-mile haul road for ore concentrate from the Red Dog Mine passes through the
Monument and is currently a real concern for both native communities and the
Park Service. The haul road now forms the nucleus for further development of
additional metal mines and even coal, and ore dust from the current concentrate
hauling has been leaving a heavy metal residue on the adjacent tundra. We will
see the extensive port facilities for ore handling along the coast in the far
distance from our vantage on the highest ridges surrounding our base camp.
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