Trip Number: 13422A
Staff: Don Murch
- Mush your own sled team of Huskies
- Experience the chance to see the northern lights and listen to the
dogs howl with distant wolves
- Enjoy camaraderie with fellow trip members
- Round-trip bush flights to Eagle, Alaska
- Expert training on running your dog team
- Lodging and meals at a local homestead
Photo: Don Murch
Imagine yourself journeying through the Alaskan wilderness on the runners of
your own dog sled, urging your team on before you. During the day, you hear
the crisp crunch of the snow at zero degrees. At night, from the comfort of
a cabin, you hear the howling of wolves in the distance. Peeking outside, you
see the shimmering northern lights overhead.
With tales of the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race fresh in their minds
and hearts, our hosts, Scarlett and Wayne Hall and their son, Matt, will share
with us their in-depth knowledge of raising and racing sled dogs as we journey
with them through the frozen wilderness. After a short bush flight from Fairbanks
to Eagle, we travel by dog sled down the Yukon River to the Halls' homestead.
Over six days, we will receive instruction on dog mushing and will drive our
own sleds on a circuit of bush cabins. Each day will be filled with the daily
chores of living in wild Alaska, including hauling water, melting snow, and
caring for the spirited Alaskan Huskies that will quickly become our friends.
All this will occur 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 seven-day trip begins with our flight to Eagle on March 12, 2013. You
are advised to arrive two days prior in Fairbanks so as to be able to recover
from missed connections and give any lost luggage time to catch up with you.
The days of rest in Fairbanks will be important as we prepare for total immersion
into the Alaskan dog-mushing lifestyle the following day. While jet lag and
time changes pose their own challenges, be aware that the 15 hours of darkness
of the Alaskan winter can also play havoc with your internal clock!
Photo: Don Murch
Day 1: We make a 75-minute bush flight from Fairbanks to Eagle,
Alaska. The Hall family will be waiting with their dog teams at the airstrip.
After brief introductions we will be off for the 45-minute, seven-mile run by
dogsled to their homestead. After settling in, we will venture outdoors where
we will begin learning how to handle the dogs and sleds, starting with the names
of the dogs, their positions, and basic commands and trail finding skills.
Day 2: Today you will learn to care for and handle your own
sled and team of 4-5 dogs. Harnessing and unharnessing dogs will become second
nature. An initial trip from the homestead will help us learn to travel up and
down hills and over broad pathways before moving on to more challenging terrain.
Day 3: We will mush our individual dog teams to a cabin approximately
30 miles from the homestead.
Days 4-6: We will travel up to 50 more miles, returning to
the homestead on the evening of day six. On any of these days, routes and distances
will be dependent on weather and snow conditions. We will pass through extraordinary
and varied landscapes that may include sections of tight, twisting, tree-lined
trails, canyons, frozen rivers, summit crossings above treeline and descents
into boreal forests. We will have numerous opportunities to view the wildlife
that live in this harsh climate.
Day 7: In the morning of March 19, 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 3 p.m. Although
the trip will officially end on 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 or hotel.
We will meet in Fairbanks at a B&B near downtown for final gear check
and a hearty breakfast before our departure to Eagle. It is important to book
your flight at least a day ahead of time to reclaim any lost baggage and have
a day to get your gear ready. Fairbanks has great and inexpensive shopping in
walking distance from our B&B for any needed winter items. After the trip,
you may book an evening flight south or stay an additional night in Fairbanks.
The leader can offer recommendations on places to stay.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Don Murch
On this trip you will experience all aspects of life in a remote area of Alaska
(see http://bushalaskaexpeditions.com). At our hosts' home on the Yukon River
we'll be housed in a rustic cabin, sleeping in sleeping bags on bunks and reading
by propane or Coleman lamps. As our dog-sledding journey takes us on the trail
we'll be sheltered in more remote, one-room cabins heated by wood-burning stoves.
Sleep will come easily at the end of a long day on the trail as we make nests
on a sleeping pad on the floor and climb into our sleeping bags.
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 1 in Eagle, and end
with breakfast on Day 7 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 7:30
a.m. in preparation for a full day on the trail. Lunches will be packaged for
individual snacking along the trail or for sharing during a break in travel.
At the end of the day, when we have settled our dog teams for the night, dinners
will provide a welcome opportunity to recount stories from the day.
A sauna at the homestead and at one of the distant cabins will be available
for a delightful treat. A battery-operated shower at the homestead can also
provide a chance to clean up.
Moderate strength and agility will be assets on this trip with an overall
requirement that trip members be in good-to-excellent physical condition. Daily
activities will begin early with each participant engaged in instruction about
and, ultimately, the care and handling of their own dog team. By Day 2, most
daylight hours will be spent riding the runners of your own sled as you explore
the depth of your relationship with your own team of dogs. Some days will be
spent traveling from camp to camp at distances of up to 50 miles, which will
take most of the available daylight hours.
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 will experience.
When it is exceptionally cold, the group will stay close to cabins and do short
day trips. Most people who go on winter trips with the Halls learn very quickly
how to dress to stay warm, how to vent to stay cool, and report that -20 degrees
Fahrenheit is a dry cold and not nearly as frigid as they 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 every day, the sauna will provide an opportunity
to clean up when at the homestead.
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: Don Murch
Winters in the interior of Alaska are extreme. Temperatures in mid March can
range from +20°F to -70°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 in the form
of ski pants and a hooded jacket.
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, face masks, and, if necessary, outerwear
that is appropriate for use in an arctic environment.
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. Small digital cameras that can stay tucked inside your parka (to stay
warm) work well in the frozen north. A complete list of clothing and equipment
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 and may supplement
these items with clothing from the local guides or the Sierra Club.
Specialized equipment needed for dog sledding will be provided. Trip members
may bring their own sleeping bag (if rated as a four-season bag) or borrow one
from our guides.
Trip members can find all of these books at Amazon.com or borrow the copies
that will accompany the trip leader:
- 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 in.
- Shore, Evelyn B., Born on Snowshoes. Evelyn was born and raised
near Eagle and has traveled extensively by dog sled.
- Neil, Dan, A Land Gone Lonesome. This book describes the history
of the area and current issues, a great read that provides insight for discussions.
Photo: Don Murch
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 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 will
be 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. Many of our Alaska 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 is unpredictable,
and inclement weather can be severe. 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.
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.
Don Murch is a father, organic farmer, commercial fisherman, and wilderness guide with extensive travels in the wilds of Alaska. He has thirty years experience planning and executing backpacking, dog-mushing, rafting, and group tours in the US, Canada, and Mexico. Gourmet cooking is one of his favorite pastimes.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips