Photo: John Pilarski
Trip Number: 13416A
Staff: Gary Aguiar
- Mush your own team of sled dogs
- Experience winter camping in the Alaskan wilderness
- Enjoy excellent opportunities to see the northern lights
- Be an official volunteer at the Eagle checkpoint of the 1,000-mile Yukon
Quest Sled Dog Race
- Round-trip bush flight to Eagle, Alaska
- Expert training on running your dog team
- Specialized equipment, sleeping bag, boots, and winter outerwear clothing
- Lodging and meals at a local homestead
Unfortunately, this trip has been cancelled. If you
have questions, please
Photo: Darren Green
Travel with us on a journey through the mountains of the Yukon Charley Rivers
National Preserve. Guide your own team of sled dogs through the same ancient
pathways that Native Americans, gold miners, and trappers used to explore this
vast wilderness. Using the mighty but frozen Yukon River as our highway, we
will loop north to the Tatonduk River and then follow the footsteps of the gold
miners up the Seventymile River to complete a circuit of unparalleled beauty
Our hosts, Scarlett and Wayne Hall, along with their son Matt, will share with
us their in-depth knowledge of raising and working with sled dogs as we journey
with them through the frozen wilderness. They began mushing as a hobby more
than 16 years ago with their own dog and a few borrowed dogs. Their passion
for mushing ignited quickly and led to a program of breeding and raising their
own sled dogs. The Hall homestead now revolves around their dog yard of 70+
friendly, energetic Alaskan Huskies that are raised as an integral part of their
After completing our wilderness dog sledding circuit, we will personally interact
with the mushers and elite race dogs of the Yukon Quest as they pass through
the Eagle checkpoint. The Yukon Quest 1,000-mile International Sled Dog Race
is run every February between Fairbanks, Alaska, and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.
Because of the harsh winter conditions, difficult trail, and the limited support
that competitors are allowed, it is considered the "most difficult sled
dog race in the world." This year it starts in Whitehorse and finishes
in downtown Fairbanks. Our host, Wayne Hall, has completed the Yukon Quest twice!
Photo: Gary Aguiar
Our trip starts with a charter flight from Fairbanks to Eagle. Upon landing,
we will be met by our hosts and travel down the frozen Yukon to their home at
Last Chance Creek. The next morning, we will receive instruction on dog mushing
and then begin our circuit through the immense Yukon Charley Wilderness. Each
day will be filled with the daily chores of living in wild Alaska, including
hauling water, melting snow, and caring for Wayne's beloved dogs that will quickly
become our friends.
Our entire trip takes place against a backdrop of serene stillness and breathtaking
natural beauty, with opportunities to observe wildlife including moose, Dall
sheep, wolves, lynx, wolverines, goshawks, marten, and possibly even caribou,
which sometimes winter in the area.
This nine-day trip begins with our flight to Eagle. It is important for you
to arrive in Fairbanks two days prior to the start of the trip. This will allow
you time to recover from missed connections and to give any lost luggage time
to catch up with you. More importantly, the trip leader will be available to
check out your clothing & equipment, take you shopping if you need any additional
items, and get you fully prepared for being comfortable in sub-zero temperatures.
Day 1: The trip starts mid-morning as we head out to the East
Ramp of the Fairbanks International Airport for our 75-minute bush flight from
Fairbanks to Eagle, Alaska. Our wilderness guides will be waiting for us at
the airstrip in Eagle. After brief introductions and issue of boots and winter
outerwear clothing, we will leave on the 45-minute, seven-mile run by snow machine
to the Hall family homestead on the Yukon River.
Photo: Gary Aguiar
After settling in, we will venture outdoors where we will start learning how
to handle the dogs and the sleds. Dogsled training starts with learning the
names of the dogs, the dog team positions, basic commands, and trail-finding
Day 2: Today you learn to care for and handle your own sled
and team of four to six dogs. Within a day or two, handling the dogs will become
second nature and the dogs in your team will come to you when you call their
name. A day trip from the homestead along the Yukon River will help us learn
to travel up and down hills and over broad frozen rivers before moving on to
more challenging terrain.
Day 3: We will mush our individual dog teams approximately
30 miles downstream from the homestead on the Yukon River, then a short distance
up the Tatonduk River where we will spend the night in a neighboring homestead
Days 4-5: Although the exact routes and distances of our trip
will depend on weather and snow conditions, we plan to make our way across the
Yukon River and over a low pass into the drainage of the Seventymile River.
Although public-use cabins are available in the area, we will make an effort
to spend one night in a tent outfitted with a wood-burning stove.
Day 6: We travel back to our starting point, arriving at the
Hall family homestead in the late afternoon. As a reward for our unforgettable
accomplishment in the Alaska wilderness, we will enjoy a hearty meal, take a
hot shower in the sauna cabin, and relax in the camaraderie of our fellow trip
Photo: Gary Aguiar
Days 7-8: After traveling 600 miles from Whitehorse, mushers
from the Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race will be arriving at the Eagle checkpoint.
Scarlett Hall is in charge of this checkpoint, and trip members will get a rare
opportunity to be official Yukon Quest volunteers. Some of the duties involve
greeting the musher, helping the musher park his/her team, getting straw, fuel,
and gear to the musher, seeing that the musher is fed and has a place to sleep.
Day 9: On the last morning, we will fly from Eagle back to
Fairbanks. Trip members should allow some time for weather delays and are advised
to not plan their departures from Fairbanks until after 6 p.m., and preferably
not until the next morning. Although the trip will officially end upon arrival
at the Fairbanks airport, the trip leader will be happy to help those trip members
who want to spend the night in Fairbanks make reservations at a guest house
Barring any bad weather, the winner of the Yukon Quest dogsled race is expected
to arrive in downtown Fairbanks sometime on February 12. If you can spare the
time, you are encouraged to stay the extra two days to witness this event. Although
the winning team can arrive at any hour, the race headquarters located at the
finish line tracks the location of the leaders and can give advance notice of
when they will arrive.
Accommodations and Food
On this trip you will experience all aspects of life in a remote area of Alaska.
At the Hall family homestead on the Yukon River, we will be housed in a rustic
cabin and move about in the low-intensity lighting provided by solar-charged
batteries. It will be a strange mix of frontier and hi-tech living as you lie
in your sleeping bag and read by personal headlamp while Scarlett Hall monitors
the progress of the Yukon Quest through her satellite internet connection.
Photo: Gary Aguiar
When our dogsled journey takes us on the trail, we'll be sheltered in either
a remote one-room cabin or a large canvas tent, each heated by a wood-burning
stove. Sleep will come easily at the end of a long day on the trail after we
lay out our sleeping pad on the floor and climb into our toasty warm sleeping
As is fitting on a self-sufficient trip into the Alaskan wilderness, you'll
enjoy the bounty of the land with hearty meals that include berry pancakes,
seven-grain cereal, moose and caribou meat, and wild Alaska salmon. Although
the meals will generally feature wild game, vegetarians can be accommodated
with advance notice. Trip meals begin with lunch on day one in Fairbanks, and
end with breakfast on day nine in Eagle.
Our hostess, Scarlett Hall, has tried-and-true recipes that will warm and nourish
us through our chores and travels. Breakfast will usually be served at 7 a.m.
in preparation for a full day on the trail. Due to the short duration of daylight
and problems with stopping for a long period of time in extreme cold, there
is no formal lunchtime meal. In place of lunch, our food is packaged for individual
snacking along the trail or for sharing during a break in travel. At the end
of the day, after we have settled our dog teams for the night, dinnertime provides
a welcome opportunity to recount stories from the day.
Upon request by the group, the sauna cabin at the Hall family homestead can
be fired up for washing and relaxation. Trip members can enjoy the unforgettable
experience of a hot shower followed by an immediate scrub-down with -20 degree
Photo: Gary Aguiar
Although this trip is meant for the beginner with no previous dogsled experience,
moderate strength and agility is required. Trip members need to be in good to
excellent physical condition. As you learn to dogsled, you will fall off the
sled and land in the snow more than once.
Daily activities will begin with the care, handling, feeding and harnessing
up of your own dog team in the morning. After that, most daylight hours will
be spent riding the runners of your own sled as you explore the depth of your
relationship with your team of dogs. Some days will be spent traveling from
camp to camp deep in the Alaskan wilderness at distances of up to 40 miles,
which will take most of the available daylight hours. Upon arrival at camp in
the evening, you are responsible to unharness your dog team, then provide care,
handling and feeding of the dogs before having your own dinner.
The exhilaration of traveling by dog-powered sled through the Alaskan wilderness
can be tempered by the cold weather conditions. The trip leader and the Hall
family will help you prepare for the extremely cold temperatures we might experience.
If the temperature is exceptionally cold (below -40 degrees F), the group will
stay close to cabins and do short day trips. You will learn quickly how to dress
to stay warm and, just as importantly, how to vent to stay cool. After this
trip, you will return back home to tell friends that -20 degrees Fahrenheit
is a "dry cold" and not nearly as frigid as you expected it to be.
However, even with these assurances, trip members must be mentally prepared
for the challenge of being outdoors and active throughout the day at sub-zero
Although showers are not possible while on the trail, trip members will be
able to take a hot shower and clean up when at the homestead.
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: Gary Aguiar
Winters in the interior of Alaska are extreme. Temperatures in February can
range from +30°F to -50°F. Layered clothing is essential to accommodate
indoor and outdoor activities and varying levels of exertion. Thin underlayers
of silk, capiline, and/or polypro form the necessary base layer. Polar fleece
or tightly woven wool pants and a shirt can be worn comfortably over the base
layer, followed by windbreaking and heavily insulated outerwear.
A complete list of clothing will be provided prior to the start of the trip.
The trip leader will help each trip member develop his/her own personal set
of clothing. Trip members will be responsible to have their own layered clothing,
with exception to the specialized winter outerwear. The outerwear consists of
specialized boots, insulated bib overalls and insulated parka with fur ruff.
Arrangements will be made to borrow these from the local guides. However, many
trip participants from the northern portions of the Midwest and East Coast opt
to purchase a personal set of winter outerwear, since there will be opportunities
to use it later in their hometowns. In addition, having your own personal clothing
will insure that you have the most comfortable trip possible.
In this extreme climate, special care must be given to the selection of gloves,
hat, boots, and face mask, as the extremities are most susceptible to the effects
of cold. One thinner layer of gloves is necessary so that you can quickly perform
duties requiring manual dexterity under cold conditions. Our guides will provide
each trip member with outer mitts and face masks.
Photo: Gary Aguiar
Personal toiletries, a small duffle or backpack for extra gear, your one change
of clothes, and a camera (with extra batteries) round out the list of necessary
items. Since batteries become non-functioning at sub-zero temperatures, small
digital cameras that can stay tucked inside your parka (to stay warm) work well
in the frozen north.
Specialized equipment needed for dog sledding will be provided. Although trip
members may bring their own sleeping bag (if suitably rated), we recommend that
you borrow an expedition sleeping bag from our guides.
about the Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race can be found at the official website: www.yukonquest.com
can find all of these books at Amazon.com or through their local book dealer:
- Balzaar, John, Yukon Alone. Wayne Hall, our host, was
the guide for the author.
- McPhee, John, Coming Into the Country. The third section
in this classic book is about living in bush Alaska in the Eagle area. This
book can give you a real feel for the country that you will be traveling
- Shore, Evelyn B., Born on Snowshoes. Evelyn was born and
raised near Eagle and has traveled extensively by dog sled.
- O'Neil, Dan, A Land Gone Lonesome. This book describes
the history of the area and current issues, a great read that provides insight
Photo: Darren Green
Most of the conservation issues in this region of Alaska concern the balancing
of fish, moose, and caribou populations while still providing for the needs
of people and of predators such as wolves, bears, and eagles. Most of the people
in this region live a subsistence lifestyle where they are dependent on wild
game and fish populations, and are intimately involved in decisions made by
local, statewide, or national entities that manage these resources. The Hall
family lives off the land, and they are very concerned and politically active
in all conservation issues to ensure that the wilderness remains wild and unspoiled
while providing a way of life that blends with the environment. The Halls are
happy to discuss all of the conservation issues that affect their subsistence
lifestyle, and give us the chance to experience their lifestyle for ourselves
as we travel with them.
Sierra Club outings in Alaska 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. All of our Alaska trips now carry satellite phones,
but even with this technology, communication with the outside world can be difficult
and emergency assistance is at least a day away. Weather in Alaska is unpredictable,
and inclement weather can be severe or serene and beautiful.
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 Aguiar fell in love with Alaska on a 1983 trip to the Alaska Range, east of Denali. On that trip, it rained 12 out of 14 days, and the group ran out of food a day before the bush pilot returned to pick it up. Needless to say, Gary developed a healthy respect for Alaskan weather on that trip.
Not all Alaska trips are like that, of course. Since then, he has led a number of Sierra Club trips to Alaska, developing trips that include day hiking and a casual travel itinerary so people of varying abilities can experience the Alaskan wilderness. Gary owns and operates a small environmental engineering firm that has been cleaning up contaminated groundwater in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 20 years. In addition to hiking in Alaska, his recreational interests include long-distance running and open-water
swimming in the bay.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips