Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska

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Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska

Joined: November 15th, 2017, 9:18 pm

June 24th, 2018, 6:00 am #1

Got back yesterday from an 8 day trip in Gates of the Arctic up in Alaska. Not going to write up a detailed trip report, but will give a general overview with some highlight pictures. Here is a little background on the area itself since I knew basically nothing about this before I started planning for the trip:

Wiki:
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is a U.S. National Park in Alaska. It is the northernmost national park in the U.S. (the entirety of the park lies north of the Arctic Circle) and the second largest at 8,472,506 acres (3,428,702 ha) (34,287 km²), slightly larger in area than Belgium. The park consists primarily of portions of the Brooks Range of mountains. It was first protected as a U.S. National Monument on December 1, 1978, before becoming a national park and preserve two years later in 1980 upon passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. A large part of the park is protected in the Gates of the Arctic Wilderness which covers 7,167,192 acres (2,900,460 ha).

There are no roads [Or trails! -headszieburrito] in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Owing to its remoteness and lack of supportive infrastructure, the park is the least visited national park in the U.S., and one of the least visited areas in the entire U.S. National Park System, which also includes national monuments, recreation areas, preserves and historic sites. In 2016, the park received just 10,047 visitors, while Grand Canyon National Park received nearly 6 million visitors (about 600 times as many) in the same year.[4]

I'm generally too lazy to plan trips with complicated logistics, so luckily family members wanted to do this, came up with the plan, and did most of the planning! I went with two siblings, my dad, and my wife. We flew up to Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse from Anchorage, then got a ride south down the Dalton Highway and were dropped off along the road a little south of Atigun Pass. From there we hiked west for eight days and 88 miles to Anaktuvuk Pass. There we caught a plane to Fairbanks, then back to Anchorage. With no trails, travel obviously is all cross country, and going is slow. The tundra is full of tussocks and is generally a saturated mix of moss, grass, low shrubs, etc. It's like walking on a damp to saturated sponge almost the whole time, so your feet are constantly wet and it's hard to go more than one mile an hour. There are frequent stream and river crossings, halfway through day one we gave up on changing into our camp shoes to stay dry and just walked right through everything. In addition to this, we had unusually late winter conditions and were snowed on multiple times, as well as going over snowy/icy passes and ridges. We had a little blue sky on two or three days, but despite 24 hour sunlight up there this time of year, rarely saw the sun itself due to a solid cloud layer. It was also below freezing for several days, including getting down into the teens one night. Luckily we were reasonably prepared for this, but it wasn't ideal or what we were hoping for! Still an awesome trip overall despite some challenges. Awesomely isolated with spectacular peaks and valleys, cool rock formations, and an overall feeling unlike anywhere I've been before. Not a ton of wildlife due to the later winter, but we saw a few small groups of caribou along the highway on our drive south, a single young one a couple days into the hike, a porcupine, two bears luckily from across a valley, and scattered birds. Didn't see a single other person between dropoff and arrival in Anaktuvuk. No trails, no human footprints, no signs of campsites or even cairns. We did pass an old broken down 1960s hunting shack at one pint, the only other things we saw along the way were a couple pieces of discarded gear on two days, then a faint ATV trail to the village at the very end. I'd love to go back for another trip some day!
Last edited by headsizeburrito on June 24th, 2018, 6:31 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Joined: November 15th, 2017, 9:18 pm

June 24th, 2018, 6:05 am #2

First day of hiking, the best weather all trip!

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Saw signs of bears every day, usually much fresher than these prints!

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Going over an icy pass the first evening

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Campsite the first night

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And waking up to fresh snow the next morning, welcome to June in the Brooks Range!

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Lots of cool ice formations

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Getting to a lower elevation away from the snow

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Moose antler, we saw tracks here and there along the trip but no live moose

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Caribou bones and antlers were very frequent in most areas of tundra

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Joined: November 15th, 2017, 9:18 pm

June 24th, 2018, 6:14 am #3

A nice campsite, flat and dry ground was hard to find, often the only spots were sand/gravel bars along the rivers

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Triangles!

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Cool lichen

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Some early flowers here and there among the complex mix of ground cover

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Occasionally instead of single antlers we'd find fairly intact skulls

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Approaching one of our more dramatic campsites, we ended up having to backtrack the next day due to a winter storm

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A full day of walking in this kind of stuff while being snowed on and with soaked and frozen shoes!

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Skies cleared a little that night but it was still very cold and a bit windy, this was taken at almost 10pm!

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Going up a valley the next day. Walking on the ice is generally the only time you get firm ground and aren't in water at least occasionally, but you have to be careful you don't fall through!

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Steep and long climb over a ridge

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Joined: November 15th, 2017, 9:18 pm

June 24th, 2018, 6:23 am #4

A look back during the climb

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Another nice campsite

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Weird and cool plants

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Majestic mountains, majestic socks

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Cool ice

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Terrain the last couple days

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Final campsite

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Anaktuvuk Pass finally in view on day eight

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Joined: November 15th, 2017, 9:18 pm

June 24th, 2018, 6:24 am #5

Our ride back to Fairbanks

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Joined: September 30th, 2007, 6:33 pm

June 25th, 2018, 4:57 pm #6

Thanks for sharing an area that many of us will never see. Were those grizzly bear prints? Did you carry pepper spray?
"It is our task in our time and in our generation, to hand down undiminished to those who come after us, as was handed down to us by those who went before, the natural wealth and beauty which is ours."

President John F. Kennedy
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Joined: November 15th, 2017, 9:18 pm

June 25th, 2018, 9:03 pm #7

Yes, the distinction between brown and grizzly is sort of arbitrary and they are technically the same species, but according to Alaskans the inland bears are grizzlies. We found prints and/or bear poo pretty much every day, some pretty fresh (looked to be a day or two old), as well as places where they had been digging for roots.

My sibling who lives in AK tangentially knew two people who were killed by bears in recent years, and this happened while we were up there. I learned the term "beararanoia," which was kind of funny. Bears are kind of just a fact of life up there, but obviously we tried to be careful about staying together, food storage at night, etc. We had two cans of bear spray, carried by those in the front and back of the group, then at night one was kept in each tent.
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Joined: September 30th, 2007, 6:33 pm

June 26th, 2018, 12:59 pm #8

Years ago, I worked with a fellow who had a nephew living on Prince William Sound. The nephew always carried a handgun when he took his garbage out just in case.
"It is our task in our time and in our generation, to hand down undiminished to those who come after us, as was handed down to us by those who went before, the natural wealth and beauty which is ours."

President John F. Kennedy
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Uncle Rico
Can Throw A Football Over Them Mountains
Uncle Rico
Can Throw A Football Over Them Mountains
Joined: March 21st, 2008, 1:48 am

June 27th, 2018, 2:05 pm #9

Epic.
http://wildsouthland.blogspot.com
Instagram: @wildsouthland
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Sean
Cucamonga Man
Sean
Cucamonga Man
Joined: July 27th, 2011, 6:32 pm

June 30th, 2018, 3:37 pm #10

Thanks! Very cool trip. I went to Alaska many years ago and saw the glaciers and animals. That dirt road to the Arctic Circle was too much though. I didn't have time to take my rental car on it for a hundred miles and back.
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tekewin
Resident Trailcam Guy
tekewin
Resident Trailcam Guy
Joined: April 11th, 2013, 11:07 pm

July 7th, 2018, 4:42 pm #11

That's an amazing trip into a level of wild most of us will never know. Thanks for all the photos. I'd love to visit Alaska some day. I would have had a couple of bottles of bear spray on me at all times. Grizzlies are death machines.

So, did you scout out a route to Denali?
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Joined: November 15th, 2017, 9:18 pm

July 7th, 2018, 9:58 pm #12

Sean, I'm pretty sure most rental agencies have "no dirt road" clauses specifically because of the Dalton, it can be pretty rough on vehicles! I know there are places that rent specifically for that trip though. We also saw one guy biking the road on our trip to our drop off point!

tekewin, do it! Alaska is an awesome place for outdoor activity of all kinds. I've been there several times for various reasons, but this was my first real hike since a childhood trip along the Klondike Gold Rush era Chilkoot Trail. Funny you mention Denali, my dad is an old school mountain climber who has spent weeks or longer at a time climbing in Alaska. While we were up there he mentioned wanting to do Denali and I don't know how serious he was but I said I'd be interested too. It would take a ton of prep and training and he is on the edge of viability age-wise, but I guess we'll see if he brings it up again...
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Joined: November 28th, 2010, 3:09 pm

July 14th, 2018, 5:27 pm #13

This looks like an awesome trip. Despite the gloomy skies you still got some great pictures and memories. Seems like just drying off every "evening" would be a chore after going through tundra all day. How was the route finding? Was anyone else on the trip familiar with the area?
"Argue for your limitations and sure enough they're yours"
(Donald Shimoda)
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Joined: November 15th, 2017, 9:18 pm

July 15th, 2018, 6:39 am #14

 Luckily it never rained on us besides a very short drizzle, and the snow was always cold enough that it didn't get us wet. The only thing consistently wet was shoes, socks, and pants from ankle to knee depending on the ground saturation and rivers we crossed that day. Having separate camp shoes (crocs etc) and an extra set of socks that were kept dry just for camp and/or sleeping bag use made a big difference.

For the route we had a friend who had been in that area several times suggest a few routes. None of us had been there before. We then studied the maps as a group before leaving Anchorage and picked a variation of one of those. Then of course when we got there we had to change the route multiple times due to weather and sort of take it day by day. Route finding was actually not too bad since it's mostly well defined valleys, you just have to figure out the best passes and ridges to go up and over when you need to get from one to the next depending on your intended route. We only got lost and spent a few hours going up the wrong valley once! But at least we saw a cool ice fall as a result...
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