Thursday, July 7, 2011

Introduction to Arctic Backpacking

Outdoor Adventures had a GREAT time backpacking in the Brooks Range June 18-24th. The Introduction to Arctic Backpacking course started on Friday, June 17th, with a trip-planning day. Frank and I helped our 5 participants go over the basics of route planning, gear prep, menu planning, food shopping, and all other matters of trip prep. We got everything ready to head out early the next day.

Saturday morning we all piled into the Suburban and started on the 8 hour drive up the Dalton Highway. We stopped to stretch our legs at the Yukon River and had a late lunch at the diner in Coldfoot. We arrived at the start of our hike just south of Atigun Pass, readied our gear, and threw our packs on to start our week-long trip on foot.

We hiked a couple of miles Saturday evening before finding a nice flat area to set-up our first camp. Those couple of miles were a good introduction to the type of terrain we would be hiking on for the next several days. Arctic Tundra is exciting and unpredictable, with lots of varying terrain to offer!! Dry, firm, boggy, rocky, never know what you'll find! Saturday evening we had a dinner of Caesar salad and boiled bratwursts on buns and crawled in our tents for the first night of camping under the Arctic sun.

Sunday morning (day 2) Amy made Ranchero Grits for breakfast, we broke camp, and we started hiking up our first pass, which was about 1000' of elevation gain to go up and over the Continental Divide.

While hiking down the other side of the pass, we spotted a muskox on the other side of the drainage!!! It was very exciting for all of us!! We stopped for a lunch of flatbread pizzas with cheese and pepperonis and hiked down the rest of the drainage to cross the headwaters of the Atigun River. We hiked a few miles down the river before stopping to make our second camp and cook a delicious dinner of pine nut couscous with sauteed zucchini, squash, and chicken. After dinner Amy, Jana, and Gregg did a bit of a side-hike up a nearby drainage to see some neat waterfalls and a glacier.

Monday morning (day 3) we awoke and ate some oatmeal that we flavored with brown sugar and various dried fruits. we hiked a few more miles down the Atigun River and had a lunch of triscuits with salami and cheese. we continued hiking until we were just below the slope that we would be hiking up the next day to gain our largest pass. Rather than leave a 3000' elevation gain for the next morning, we opted to hike about 1000' up until we found a nice bench to camp on, leaving only 2000' to climb the next morning to gain the 6200' pass we would be going over. We got camp set-up just before it started to rain on us a bit, and we rested a while until the rain started to let-up. We began to gather while Frank cooked an amazing dinner of golden curry with chicken, veggies, and buckwheat pasta.

Tuesday morning (day 4, and solstice) we ate a hardy breakfast of sin dog bread rolls (not sure of how those are actually spelled) and started on our climb to the top of the pass. After 3 or 4 hours of climbing, we reached our pass just in time to eat a lunch of flatbread sandwiches with cheese, bell peppers, and cucumber slices.

Hiking down the other side of the pass to the headwaters of the Itikmalak River provided a great view of a big glacier, as well as some exciting moments on tough, rocky terrain in the rain. Towards the bottom we encountered the hardest part of the descent and folks were starting to get a bit tired and low on energy, so slips and small falls started to occur among the group. We finally made it down and hiked a mile or so down the river to the first nice gravel bar we found to camp on. It was a long day and we were all excited for some food and rest!! Jana made some delicious macaroni and cheese with summer sausage bits mixed in, and I made "poop" for dessert, which is a great backpacking rendition of Jello No-Bake Oreo pie.

Wednesday morning (day 5) Gregg made some great toasted english muffin sandwiches with bacon and cheese and we started hiking down the Itikmalak river. This was the first day that we really started seeing large concentrations of mosquitos, and some folks started to pull out their bug nets for the hike. Frank ranked them on a 4 or 5 out of 10. The hike reminded us all of Jurassic Park habitat, so T-Rex and Velociraptor footprints abounded in our imaginations.

We had a delicious lunch of chicken wraps in the rain and hiked a total of 6 or 7 miles to a nice camp in sight of the next valley we would be turning into to hike over our next small pass. Our camp happened to have a great caribou shed sitting in it, so I used it to pitch my tarp!! Gregg braved the rain to cook breakfast burritos for everyone for dinner, and we all stood in the wind and drizzle to eat before we headed to bed.

Thursday morning (day 6) brought better weather and Kathi cooked hashbrowns, black beans, and scrambled eggs with salsa for breakfast. We hiked toward our next small pass and had beautiful weather during the morning! At lunch (pita with hummus, cheese, and sundried tomatoes) it started raining on us, and did for most of the rest of the day. Between the weather and how close our last camp would be to our final destination, we decided to beat out the last 8.5 miles on day 6, making our way through the rain and over our last small pass to Galbraith Lake Campground, where our Suburban and clean, dry clothes waited patiently for us. We made camp at the campground and enjoyed a rest and some time out of the rain before Amy cooked hot chicken and veggie stew for dinner. We were all pretty excited to have access to an outhouse with walls and a roof, as well!!

In all, we hiked about 30 miles through the Brooks Range and had an amazing time!!! The weather was mostly wonderful and the bugs were surprisingly lacking, for the most part. The worst they may have been was a 6 out of 10, and that didn't happen until our last day of hiking. Friday morning we hit the road early and had brunch in Coldfoot. We made it safely back to Fairbanks Friday evening in high spirits but ready for some well-deserved rest and relaxation!!

For a general idea of our route, see here:

Thanks for reading!!


1 comment:

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