“Alaska’s Ultimate Wilderness,” The Brooks Range-North America’s Northernmost mountain range is home to The Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. In early June of 2021, our adventure trio Chris, Dave, and I, explored eighty-three trail-less miles inside the Gates of the Arctic. For eight days, we became Arctic residents in this expansive manless environment. Without human contact, constant silence, our fourth adventure companion.
A quick snapshot: Our intended exploration itinerary was to cross multiple high mountain passes, arranging for a bush plane pickup eight days later. To our surprise, winter’s blanket still covered the high peaks and mountain passes with waist-deep snow limiting our travel to the lower elevation glacial valleys. Slowly the Arctic awoke to spring’s animation accelerated by twenty-three hours of daylight and rain. River’s swelled as every hillside, peak, and knoll drained winter’s cold shroud.
Most of the locals appeared not to register what we were. Our wildlife log included the Western Arctic Caribou, Grizzly bear, Dall sheep, moose, Arctic fox, ptarmigan. Our tundra trio experienced a rare and elusive lone wolverine attempting to share our breakfast.
Why Go Here?
We went to see and experience a wild, undeveloped, rugged wilderness void of man’s intrusive disruption. Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, located in the Arctic Circle, is as wild and untamed as early explorers discovered her in the 1880s.
Some facts about “The Gates”
There are countless unnamed peaks, frigid crags, and endless tundra north of the divide. The park boundary is the second largest national park in North America, making it 3.5 times larger than Yellowstone. Containing no roads, trails, or signs, and if you underestimate what’s required, the National Park Service warns, you must be self-sufficient. There is NO ONE nearby if you run into trouble.
How long should I go for? A few days to weeks. Most groups require food resupply after 8-10 days. Our eight day, seven night trip was perfect.
Season: When asking the question “when should I go,” The Brooks Range has a complicated set of questions, trade-offs, and considerations to evaluate. See Andrew Skurka’s Quick Start Guide assess your options thoroughly. We arrived Mid-June which came with twenty-hours+ of daylight, requiring an eye mask to sleep and before mosquito season.
My Journal entries during our adventure
Day 2: Terrain is a Star Wars movie. Endless valleys, wide sweeping glacial remnants. The hills are dormant-not awaken to alpine summer.
Day 2 evening: Out and up unnamed valley toward unnamed pass. Lots of deep snow. Decided to turn down after watching a small snow slide break across our path. Full hearted day as friends as brothers.
Day 3: Grizzly bears, caribou, arctic fox, moose-a regular alpine zoo. Amazing. Big river we decided not to cross-swollen, fast.
Day 4-5: No entry. Guess, I was too tired. Nursing an Achilles heel injury I brought with me.
Day 6: “God is the country in which I live” Eugene Peterson
Pickup day: @ landing strip, crossed river last night after we pitched our tents on a windy ridge. Decided to walk to here instead. Awaiting Dirk’s pickup, Coyote Air 1953 bush plane “Pumpkin”.
Getting there by bush plane
Custom charter air taxi “bush plane” service from Coyote Air in Coldfoot, AK. Our pilots, Dirk Nickish & Danielle Tirrell are seasoned Arctic veterans. Getting to Coldfoot: From Fairbanks or Anchorage, AK, fly Wright Air or drive the Dalton Highway five to six hours from Fairbanks. Getting to The Gates required a total of four airline legs. Denver to Anchorage, to Fairbanks, to Coldfoot, to the Gates of the Arctic drop point to begin our adventure. Plan on enjoying the Alaskan experience where the weather influences every schedule. In total our air travel cost was around $2,000.
Gear worthy of mention:
I’ve upgraded the backcountry equipment I carry on these expeditions with a focus on ultra light. I’m no zealot over ounces, but I do appreciate stuff that works, stuff that holds up and reduces my base weight of 13-14 lbs (my pack weight including everything but food and water).
Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Down Jacket
Hyperlight’s 4400 Southwest Ultralight backpack
Sierra Design High Route 1 person shelter
Trail Design Sidewinder Tri-Ti 900 ML bundle Alcohol stove
Andrew Skurka has extensive experience exploring the Brooks Range and provides backpacking enthusiasts helpful resources: A quick start guide, a gear list for June, and details about their guided trips.
Dave Eitemiller, the Pathfinder, put this trip together with his extensive Arctic experience and love for analytics, logistics, and planning. He deserves special thanks as well for many of these photos. Thanks to Andrew Skurka and the opportunity to benefit from your six-month exploration of the Brooks Range.