Trip Number: 13028A
Staff: Andrew Ogden
- View abundant wildlife and birdlife
- Enjoy wilderness quiet and solitude
- Experience 24 hours of Arctic spring daylight
- Charter flights to and from the Arctic Refuge
- All meals and snacks, vegetarian-friendly
- All permits and entrance fees
Photo: Janet Cerretani
In June the tundra and mountains north of the Arctic Circle are bathed in 24-hour
daylight as the long winter releases its icy grip on the landscape. During the
brief spring and summer, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a land of wild
rivers rushing with snowmelt, ranging predators, migrating birds, prolific wildflowers,
and the vast Porcupine caribou herd on its annual migration from eastern Canada
to its ancestral calving grounds on the Coastal Plain.
Our trip will visit a particularly scenic and wildlife-rich part of the Refuge.
After being dropped off by bush plane on the edge of the Arctic Ocean, we will
hike south, following the Aichilik River across the broad Coastal Plain. For
the several days it will take us to reach the foothills of the Brooks Range,
we will traverse what has been called the biological heart of the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge. In the space of a few short weeks the plain will awaken from
its winter's slumber, with the tundra turning greener with each day as grasses
and fields of wildflowers spring forth reaching for the never-setting sun. It
is here that millions of migratory birds of an amazing variety of species congregate
at the end of their journeys from all over the world to nest, rear their hatchlings,
and rest for the long flights back to their winter habitats. Here too will tens
of thousands of caribou from the Porcupine herd pause in their migratory cycle
to feast on the rich sedges, and prepare their weeks-old calves for the long
trek back to the winter feeding grounds in eastern Canada. The year-round residents
of the Costal Plain -- brown bears, wolves, foxes, wolverines, musk ox, and
golden eagles -- will also be taking advantage of the brief summer to rear their
young and prepare for the coming Arctic winter. Upon reaching the foothills
south of the Coastal Plain, we will enter into the broad valley carved by the
Aichilik River, which we will follow deep into the Brooks Range as the surrounding
peaks rise on either side of our route. Climbing higher and higher, we will
cross the mountains and descend quickly down a spectacular valley until we reach
our pick-up spot on the Jago River, where we will make our last camp surrounded
by rugged alpine peaks and cascading glaciers.
The goals of our journey will be to see the area's abundance of wildlife and
birdlife, enjoy the stunning scenery along our route, and experience the vastness
and solitude of true wilderness. At camp we will have the opportunity for evening
readings from Alaskan and arctic-themed literature, and to discuss the day's
adventures and some of the current conservation issues involving the Refuge
and Alaska. In addition to having the personal experience of a lifetime and
a lot of fun, by visiting this vast, remote and wild place participants will
come to appreciate its unique beauty and importance as an undisturbed refuge
Photo: Ramon Roth
Before our trip begins we will meet at a B&B in downtown Fairbanks to discuss
the trip and go over our gear and supplies. There should be an opportunity for
visiting various points of interest in Fairbanks, including the University of
Alaska Museum of the North, the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center,
the Large Animal Research Station at the UA Fairbanks campus, Creamer's Field
wildlife refuge, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and downtown Fairbanks with its
variety of attractions, shopping, and eateries. Early on the first day of our
trip, we will fly north from Fairbanks via regional air service to the Gwich'in
settlement of Arctic Village. From there we will shuttle via bush plane in a
spectacular flight over the Brooks Range to an airstrip in the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge near Nuvagapak Point on the Beaufort Sea coast where we will
camp for the first night. On the second day we will begin our hike south, following
the Aichilik River for approximately 30 miles across the Coastal Plain. It will
take us approximately five days to reach the foothills of the Brooks Range,
where we may find the remnants of camping and hunting sites of the prehistoric
peoples that lived in the area approximately 10,000 years ago. We will pause
for a night at a remote airstrip and resupply from a cache left by our pilot.
The next day we will head deeper into the mountains, continuing along the Aichilik
River before turning southeast, following a nameless tributary higher into the
mountains, which we will eventually cross through a pass at 4,000'. From there
we should be able to see some of the most remote peaks and glaciers in the Brooks
Range. Descending quickly from the pass, we will turn northwest for our final
day of hiking, following a cascading mountain stream to the landing strip by
the Jago River, where we will be picked up on the last day by our bush plane.
The pace of our approximate 60-mile journey will be moderate but steady, hiking
approximately 6-7 miles a day, taking time to watch and photograph wildlife,
enjoy the vastness of the landscape, and to explore interesting places we will
find along the way. We will end our trip with another spectacular flight by
bush plane from the Jago landing strip to Arctic Village, and then by scheduled
air service to Fairbanks. The adventure usually ends with a final group meal
in Fairbanks at the northernmost brew pub in the United States.
Fairbanks is served daily by a number of scheduled airline flights either
directly from some airports parts in the lower 48 states or connecting through
Anchorage. You must schedule your flights or other travel arrangements so that
you arrive at least one full day, and preferably two days, before our scheduled
trip departure to allow time for pre-trip organization and for any delays in
the arrival of your gear and baggage. Your departure from Fairbanks should be
scheduled at least a full day after our scheduled return date to allow for possible
delays in our return due to weather or other conditions.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Ramon Roth
The cost of lodging and food in Fairbanks before and after the trip is not
included in the trip price. The leaders will attempt to reserve rooms for everybody
in one location, and participants will be responsible for finalizing those reservations
or making their own arrangements for lodging if they desire. Most local transportation
around Fairbanks before and after the trip will be provided, possibly except
for airport pick-ups and drop-offs. All nights in the Refuge will be spent camping.
All meals and snacks are provided for the entire trip beginning with lunch on
the first day. The menu will be vegetarian but not vegan as it will include
dairy and eggs. Participants are responsible for notifying the trip leader of
any special dietary requirements. The Sierra Club will furnish stoves, pots,
cooking gear, and fuel. All meals will be prepared and eaten as a group, and
everybody will be required to take turns assisting in the preparation of meals,
cleaning up afterwards, and with other camp chores. Water in this area of the
Refuge is very clean and many travelers (including the leaders) drink it without
filtration or treatment. However, on our trip all water used in food preparation
will be either boiled or treated. Individual participants wishing to treat water
for their personal use should provide their own purification equipment.
We will be hiking in a rugged wilderness area with no improved trails. Hiking
will be on tundra, river bars, and following wildlife trails. The length of
our daily distances will typically will not exceed 6-8 miles, at altitudes ranging
from sea level to 4,000’. Although we will not be trekking long distances,
because of the lack of established trails, the need to cross streams and rivers,
to traverse rugged terrain, and the highly variable nature of Arctic weather
and wilderness travel, this trip is rated Moderate. Therefore, participants
should be in good physical condition with at least some experience hiking off-trail
in wilderness terrain. Also, it is likely that we may be hiking with wet feet
as crossing streams, rivers and soggy terrain will be necessary.
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: Andrew Ogden
Participants should appreciate they will be outside for the entire trip with
little opportunity to be sheltered out of the weather except when in camp. Because
of the changeable weather, participants should be prepared to camp and to be
active in rain and other adverse weather, sometimes for several days at a time.
Proper equipment selection is critical and all equipment should be field tested
before trip departure. We especially urge you to bring only high-quality clothing
and boots, high-quality lightweight pack, tent, sleeping bag and other equipment,
good binoculars, and as little of everything else as possible. Participants
are responsible for supplying their own tent, backpack, sleeping bag, pad, rain
gear, personal mess kit, clothing and personal items. In addition to all of
their personal gear, when we are backpacking each participant will be expected
to carry approximately 10-12 pounds of group food and gear, and the weight of
your personal gear will need to be limited accordingly. Confirmed participants
will receive a detailed equipment list after signup.
Fishing will be variable at this time of year, but grayling and arctic char
may be found in some streams and rivers. Fishing licenses are required and may
be purchased at sporting goods stores in Fairbanks or from the Department of
Revenue, Fish and Game Division, Pouch SA, Juneau AK 99811.
The remoteness of the Refuge requires that we be self-sufficient for the duration
of our trip. Leaders will carry an extensive first-aid kit and a satellite phone
for communicating with our pilot and for use in medical or other emergencies.
The weather in the Refuge at this time of year is usually mild, with temperatures
in the 50s and 60s, but will be warmer or cooler and is very changeable at any
time. You should anticipate and be prepared for strong sun, fog, drizzle to
heavy rain, strong winds, and a wide range of temperatures. Below freezing temperatures
and snow is possible, especially near the coast and in the high mountains.
Photo: Janet Cerretani
- USGS quadrangles: 1:250,000 "Demarcation Point"; 1:63,360 “Demarcation
Point" B-4, B-5, C-4, C-3 & D-3.
- Pielou, E.C., Field Guide to the Arctic. (University of Chicago
Press). This book won the Western Book Award for Creative Nonfiction in 1995
and is very readable natural history and science.
- Kaye, Roger, The Last Great Wilderness: The Campaign to Establish the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (University of Alaska Press 2006). Comprehensive
history of the effort and political dealings to establish the Refuge.
- Wohlforth, Chalres, The Whale and the Supercomputer. A well-researched
study of climate change effects in the Alaskan Arctic.
- Miller, Debbie S., Midnight Wilderness-Journeys in Alaska 's Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge. (Alaska Northwest Books 1990 & 2000). An
excellent compilation of the author's journeys in the Refuge.
- Madsen, Ken, Under the Arctic Sun-Gwich'in, Caribou & the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge. (Earthtales Press 2002).
- Kantner, Seth, Ordinary Wolves. (Milkweed Editions 2004). Acclaimed
novel about growing up in modern Inupiat culture.
- Kantner, Seth, Shopping for Porcupine-A Life in Arctic Alaska. (Milkweed
Editions 2008). Collection of short stories and photography about the author's
life growing up in western Alaska.
- Bornman, Walter R., Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land. A well-written
comprehensive history of Alaska.
Websites & Videos:
- US Fish & Wildlife Service/Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: http://arctic.fws.gov/index.htm
- NOAA National Weather Service for Fairbanks, AK: http://pafg.arh.noaa.gov/
- Northern Alaska Environmental Center: http://www.northern.org
- Pew Center on Global Climate Change: http://www.pewclimate.org/
- "Being Caribou," Karsten Heuer & Leanne Allison (2003). Travel
with the filmmakers on their 5-month journey by ski and on foot following
the Porcupine Caribou Herd from its winter calving grounds to the calving
grounds on the Coastal Plain in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and back
Photo: Ramon Roth
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last intact large-scale ecological
systems in the world, and protecting it is among the highest priorities of nearly
every major environmental organization. At this time the Refuge is under considerable
political pressure by both resource development advocates and by the effects
of climate change. During our trip we will discuss the conservation, economic
and other issues affecting exploitation of Alaska's natural resources. We'll
also discuss the opening of the Refuge -- and the Chukchi and Beaufort seas
-- to energy development, the effort to designate all of the Refuge as wilderness,
and the short- and long-term effects of climate change that are affecting the
Alaskan Arctic. Participants will also learn how to keep abreast of developments
affecting the Refuge and Arctic Ocean, and how to become advocates for their
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.
Andrew Ogden lives in Boulder, Colorado, from which he pursues his passion for outdoor adventure and travel. Andrew is an experienced backpacker and a veteran of numerous treks in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and other parts of Alaska. Andrew is an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado School of Law, where he specializes teaching courses in wildlife and habitat conservation. He is also an American Mountain Guides Association certified climbing instructor, backcountry ski guide, and certified avalanche safety course instructor. Andrew enjoys helping others to safely and respectfully travel in the Alaskan wilderness, and using his political and legal experience to support the conservation efforts of the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations. Andrew hopes that you will contact him with any questions about backcountry travel in general or this trip in particular.
Don Murch is an organic farmer, commercial fisherman, and wilderness guide with extensive travels in the wilds of Alaska. He has 35 years of experience planning and executing backpacking, rafting, and group tours in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Mexico. Gourmet cooking is one of his favorite pastimes.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips