A CHANGE REGARDING OUR SCHEDULING
For several years we have offered a flexible scheduling program for our Prince William Sound trip. It has been working well enough for us to try it in our Arctic trips as well. Wilderness Alaska conducts small personalized Alaska trips; it is our specialty. Having flexible scheduling allows us to be as helpful to you as possible. We are not big business processing faceless tourists. We are a company that makes friends and shares experiences.
HERE'S HOW IT WORKS
Below is a listing of all our trips for 2017. Beside them is the "season" we feel is most appropriate for that trip, that is when that part of Alaska sparkles. Look through the trip listings, select the trip that seems most interesting and then call us to discuss dates. Three outcomes are likely. First, your proposed dates might fit in our schedule and we will adopt them. Secondly, we may already have that trip scheduled, but for slightly different dates that may work with your schedule. And lastly, we may have a similar experience which we can recommend that will fit in your travel plans. Working with small groups means we are never very far from filling a trip.
During the last couple summers we are having an increasing number of couples visiting Prince William Sound book custom trips. It requires an additional fee which represents the extra responsibility of covering all logistical cost rather than sharing them throughout a group, but they have been very relaxing and successful outings. We will gladly help design such experiences for you anywhere we do trips.
SUMMER 2017 SCHEDULE
PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND, SEA KAYAKING - $1850
May 21 - 30
We have used this spring trip to celebrate the beginning of the field season since the 80s. This is OUR New Year’s party. Winter is over and exploring has returned. Prince William Sound changes dramatically throughout the summer and in late May there is a transparency that does not last long. Fragile new growth emerges thinly and precariously revealing the inner deep dark forest to all those present. Many land mammals are busy harvesting nutrients along the now snow bare beaches while the marine mammals are more at ease patrolling their usual pelagic haunts. Night is gone. The mountain tops and hillsides for the most part are still shrouded under deep cloaks of snow which adds to the illusion of their unquestionable glory. On a blue sky day these mountains seem twice as tall as they are . We will pick a travel route that optimizes the spring break up and the welcoming beaches that have abandoned winter’s grasp. (We can also shorten the trip if that is the consensus of the group that signs up.)
KONGAKUT RIVER - $5250
June 12 - 21 and July 28 - August 6
If there has been one certainty, it’s, ‘ if you offer a Kongakut trip, it will go’ - it’s the ultimate ‘no brag, just fact’ river. Perhaps the best contender for Wilderness Alaska’s favorite arctic river trip. We have decided to return our focus on the Arctic Refuge after several years exploring western Alaska’s NPR-A. A symphony of breeding birds, a dynamic palette of color during the peak bloom of wildflowers and with luck, a parade of caribou. Expect excellent hikes and incredible scenery. Thus there is no better place to celebrate the explosion of the Arctic spring than here. In fact, the river’s numerous wonderful hikes are it’s most frustrating attribute for there isn’t nearly enough time to do even half of them. By trip’s end you will have also probably seen most of the classic arctic mammals and loads of migratory birds from several continents. I could go on, but it would be embarrassing and unnecessary; this is an Arctic classic. This is the normal mountain/foothills trip ending at Caribou Pass and with so many great places to explore we generally move everyday floating for a couple,few hours and hiking the remainder. The endless daylight energizes everyone during this busy schedule. It is such a favorite, that I like floating it twice each year. We offer a later departure for folks that want a quieter trip. There are definitely less people floating the river later, but that’s because it is less likely to see the big herd of caribou. Though the birds aren’t in full on breeding mode and the flowers are a little past prime, the country is still green and the hikes are all still there and the extra elbow room may make it the perfect trip for you.
MARSH FORK, CANNING RIVER - $4795
June 21 - 28
The Limestone formations of the Marsh Fork are spectacular. With the sun at its zenith, these mountains are constantly changing in the revolving light of solstice. One could sit in one spot all day and be amazed by the way the light plays on the intricate features of the hillsides commanding your attention. Though there will be time to sit around, that won’t be featured on our ‘to do’ list. This is a shorter trip with regard to river miles which leaves plenty of time for hiking. Though there are plenty of peak bagging opportunities, there are also some very interesting erosional features that can feel like SW desert slot canyon hiking; we’ll probably do some of both. The river is clear and fast, there are long sections of fun whitewater in between big braided sections of classical ephemeral arctic waterways. And at this time of year, we will pass by a few of the unique and totally arctic aufeis fields which leaves no mistaking where you are.
Though we do have a chance at seeing several species of mammals there is a hungriness about the land that doesn’t support as much wildlife as other valleys. This is peak breeding period for birds, so they may become the wildlife highlight.
For better or worse, the Marsh Fork is located entirely in the mountain zone habitat; therefore it’s more of a high grading trip rather than a sampler. It is perfect for mountain lovers on a time budget. And without question it is scheduled solidly during the most glorious days of high summer.
NORTH SLOPE TRAVERSE PACKRAFT
June 28 - July 7
I love to traverse the north slope in the spring. This iteration got stuck in my mind from experiences on two trips this past year. After our Marsh Fork trip, they wanted to flight see over the caribou. This is a difficult proposition most years and we cautioned them that it could turn into a scenery trip, but dang if they didn’t get into a mess of ‘bou not far downstream and just off the river. On our Canning trip we sat up on Red Hill in the foothills and stared back up the Nanook valley and the lure was hard to resist. I am taking those two seeds and calling this the Being Caribou Pack Raft trip. It’s a float down the Canning to the Nanook Valley, hike up and explore that valley in the Shublik Mountains. The hike will continue over into the Katakturuk valley where we will pass through the Sadlerochit Mountains and out to the ocean. It was on the Katakturuk that my group saw all the caribou. If nothing else we will have gotten to sample all but the highest mountain country on the North Slope and all during the great days of spring in the arctic.
PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND - $1995
July 13 - 22
This is the classic summertime visit in the Sound. We are considering three of our favorite longer trips in the Sound as options depending on the interests and experience of the group. Our most common choice is a trip along the west side of Knight Island. The coast is cut regularly by big deep bays. We head north exploring the bays and camping on the outer coast with an eye out for whales and other marine mammals. There are several opportunities to get out of the boats and into the open damp uplands. There is a lot to do and plenty of daylight to do it in. Generally the Island blocks the worst storm winds so this can be a reasonable trip for many paddlers. We have scheduled this trip so we could catch an Alaskan state ferry to the southern end of the Sound. So far south that there is a very pelagic ocean feel for the first few days until we get back to the more normal paddling conditions of the more protected Sound. This lower end is rich with all types of wildlife and has a much wilder feeling partly from the remoteness and few visitors and partly from the swell. We will paddle up a series long passages through some large islands until we reach the mainland coast. Here we will have a chance for a quick visit to huge tidewater glacier and then continue paddling north for manny more miles. This is a strenuous trip for paddlers with some experience. A final opportunity Is to remain toward the north end of the Sound and paddle across several south facing large bays, some we will explore and some we will cross by. We plan to paddle up Unakwik which is one of the larger ones and get a chance of some glacier viewing but otherwise this is a coastal trip with more focus on the islands which can attract more marine wildlife. When we get a group we will make a choice. In any event there is more in common with the trips than less so for a first time visitor it is mostly nuance.
4x2 SOUTH SLOPE PACKRAFT TRIP
August 6 - 16
This trip breaks from our tradition of traversing the north slope. I have traveled the upper section several times by boat and foot and it is gorgeous in a Marsh Fork kind of way. I spotted the final canyon which looked like a perfect scale for the pack rafts from a flight back to Coldfoot. The ‘tweens are a cartographer’s connection linking both these treasures. I am calling this trip the 4x2 which represents the fact that we will paddle on 4 different drainages requiring 2 portages. Optimistically this translates into about 30 miles of hiking and ~100 miles of paddling. Crunching the numbers it’s a fairly equal outing to our classic epic north slope traverse trips just in an opposite direction. We start above tree line not far from the continental divide and spend about a third of the time in the alpine habitat before we drop into the boreal forest. Autumn colors should be starting and there will be long evenings of dusk starting to allow for star and aurora gazing improving each evening as the days shorten by 14 minutes. The trees provide wood which adds a new level of comfort unfamiliar to our north slope trips. Pack rafting is a wet and cold sport, so this should be a real treat.
The trip is comparable to the epics of the past. Boating skills are a necessity. We will be in the boats most of the time. The drainages are small and technical. Once we enter the forest there is the constant issue of sweepers. Some tight corners may require walk arounds. This is an original outing. You will have the satisfaction of saying you did something no one else has, but you’ll need to accept the responsibility of never quite knowing what is in store. We may have the luxury of a cache after the first portage but we won’t escape all the notorious hardships associated with this mode of travel. It will still be work. Call if you are interested in trying something new and extraordinary.
CANNING RIVER - $4995
August 7 - 16
The first real crush of visitors came to the refuge in the late 80’s and early 90’s to see the porcupine caribou herd. The Kongakut and Hula Hula Rivers were mobbed. We chose to sequester ourselves on the Marsh Fork and Canning Rivers. In conversations with other guides, I recognized just how great this decision was. The Canning is monumental in terms of scale and diversity yet still seems to avoid any crowding issues. We start just north of the continental divide and float within 20 miles of the coast with a clear view of the ocean. We spend nearly equal amounts of time in the principal habitats of the north slope making it our best sampler of the North Slope. Perhaps this is why this is a great opportunity to see all the major mammal species and a incredibly diverse array of birds. The river has healthy fish population which attracts a wide variety of waterfowl and the cliffs along the mid section of the river are home to many falcons and hawks.
This is one of the longest trips we do, but there is still time to explore the country we are passing on day hikes. These are opportunities but not staples like on the Kongakut. Even though the lower section doesn’t have the classic day hikes, it often wins ‘people’s choice’ awards for most interesting scenery unexpectedly.
This time of year sees the return of sunsets and the inevitable end of endless days. In the beginning these are the nights of long long sunsets where the sun skips along the horizon before stumbling below for a couple hours. The tundra takes on color and there is a sense that the animals know its time to start prepping for change.
LOWER CANNING TO THE COAST, PACKRAFT
August 16 - 21
Pack raft trips are well known as very tough outings. On this trip we are using the boats as a convenience. Though one of the biggest rivers in the Refuge the lower section braids into dozens of small channels before making it to saltwater. Switching to the little rafts allows a great deal of flexibility as the route gets much less obvious. Once at the coast, the most reliable airstrips are several miles east. Once again, we can choose to paddle the saltwater if the conditions allow or choose to link large coastal plain lakes and if all else fails, roll up the boats and walk. I have never made this section and look forward to discovering a new place buzzing with birds preparing for migration as well as all the normal creatures of this distinct habitat. As a very short trip we can cheat the normal restraints of pack rafting and bring a few luxuries to make life more comfortable. In the ideal world this is mostly a paddle trip with only a few walking portages; only the wind knows for sure.
WIND RIVER - $4895
August 26 - Sept 4
This has become my favorite venue for the fall colors trip. Despite it’s Wild and Scenic designation, it is overlooked by most visitors which helps it maintain a solitude. As an Alaskan, there is some despair and desperation with the arrival of fall, exactly what most of the animals must feel I’m sure. But there is no denying the beauty of the time. The tundra floods in color and with luck the same is true with the sky at night. For the first time, there is night. Because we are floating below tree line there is adequate wood to buffer the crisp evenings while on aurora watch with a friendly camp fire.
Large mammals are in their prime on all accounts. Most birds are preparing to fly south and on some days we will see large flocks of geese starting on their way. Swans and loons are most noticeable in the lake portion of the trip tending to their young that are still not quite ready to fly. On the last day we float under at least one falcon nest still actively teaching their young the arts of flying and hunting. Though not as star studded as some of the north slope rivers, there is a daily opportunity to get above the river and puzzle together the big picture. The river actually feels like 3 rivers in one, with a shallow braided section in the upper mountains, a slow meandering single channel through an open lake studded step and finally loaded with whitewater excitement ricocheting back and forth in the forest section. Though the party is almost over, you definitely sense the party; these are rich days of sight, sound and scent.