Hiking and Flying in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve Travel Blog

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Squirrel tail grass in full bloom on the hillside.

This day was destined to be a busy day.  After jerry-rigging the schedule a bit our first activity today was to head into Gates of the Arctic for a short hike in this expansive National Park.  We drove a few miles up the Dalton Highway towards Wiseman (which we would visit tomorrow) and made the turnoff towards Nolan.  Nolan is the site of the Silverado Gold Mine, and has a rough gravel road leading into the area which provides a degree of access into the park.

When we arrived at the mine, we were approached by some of the miners asking about our plans.  They were concerned for two reasons: (1) that we weren't people come to scope out their claim and then (2) that we would not get in the way of the operations that they were performing.

Bushwacking up the ridge trying to find the best path and footing (which were ususally mutually exclusive)
  Of course for the ladies they were happy that it was the dreamy "Thor" who came up to greet us and he became the subject of much conversation early in our hike.  We skirted the mining area and began to climb up one of the ridges to get a better view of this area of the Alaskan wilderness.

There are no trails in Gates of the Arctic so one is left to bushwacking and their own navigational skills.  As we climbed the early levels of the ridge we got to experience first hand the tundra surface that is prevalent in Alaska.  The "ground" isn't quite grounded is the best way that I can describe it.  Instead its spongy and when you plant a footstep the ground sinks a bit under your weight.  Its not that's it is wet (although in some places and other locations it was), but even in dry areas the sponginess is present.

Looking back down at our path across the ridgeline.
  The best way to avoid this was to follow the treeline if there was one as that is indicative of firmer soil.  Or once the ridgeline is attained, simply traverse the rocky contours of the ridge where the ground is "rock solid"

So we climbed and climbed at a slow but steady pace taking rest breaks as needed.  It was a tough slog on the spongy surface as it took so much more energy with each step.  However the overall pace of the group made this a very easy walk for me and I was able to stop and enjoy my surroundings often.

There really isn't much to tell about the walk.  The best way to get a sense of our location is to simply look at the photos.  We followed the ridgline and enjoyed the views.  We took all kinds of pictures (but all the shadows made getting really good shots difficult).

Meandering around on the ridge.
  We picked and ate blueberries to our hearts content (and tried to save some for blueberry pancakes in the morning).  We tried to dodge all the ubiquitous mosquitos that buzzed around our heads (this was impossible).  We stopped for lunch and then a few of us took the challenge of trying to reach a high point on the ridge while others stayed behind to relax for a bit.  We reached the highpoint with views over Wiseman Creek and on over to the M.F. of the Koyukuk and back towards Coldfoot before proceeding back down to the rest of the group.  Meeting up we retraced our steps back down the ridge and to the waiting van.  From there we took the winding road back down to the Dalton Highway and back to camp.

Part 2 of our day was still to come.

There really isn't much to say for these pictures...Flight to Anaktuvuk Pass (8:30 - 9:00 PM)
  We tried to clean up as best we could (yesterdays shower seemed long distant) and then headed down the road to Coldfoot.  For dinner tonight we ate at the restaurant at the truckstop.  Actually a decent buffet for being out in the middle of nowhere.  After dinner we crossed the highway to the airstrip and awaited our planes for our flight over the park.  Tossed a frisbee on the gravel tarmac while waiting for the planes.  When the planes arrived we were divided into groups (actually we were divided earlier as everyone had to provide their weight so they could distribute the load evenly).  As my group walked over to the plane our pilot asked for a volunteer without volunteering what we were volunteering for.
There really isn't much to say for these pictures...Flight to Anaktuvuk Pass (8:30 - 9:00 PM)
  While everyone else started murmuring and questioning, I immediately shot up my hand guessing that we were going for the front co-pilot seat in the plane (10 seats on the plane, 9 of us plus the pilot flying meant someone had to sit there).  I was correct with my guess and would get to sit with the expansive view from the front of the plane (but no, I didn't get to fly at all).

As we got settled in, we headed to the runway for takeoff.  It was an absolutely perfect night for flying.  No real clouds or winds to speak of so we were able to fly and see all the sights of the park.  Flying around 5000-6000 ft we were heading through some of the valleys and right between the mountains that occasionally seemed so close one could reach out and touch them.

There really isn't much to say for these pictures...Return flight to Coldfoot (10:40 PM)
  It was an amazing experience and sight seeing this wild and untamed landscape from above.  We actually went around where we had walked earlier in the day, flying north and then west up the Koyukuk River and Wiseman Creek valleys.  We then crossed over to the North Fork of the Koyukuk flying between Boreal Mountain and Frigid Craggs (the so called Gates of the Arctic).  Then up Ernie Creek to Ernie Pass and down into Anaktuvuk Pass.  On our descent we had our first glimpses of the North Slope where we would be heading tomorrow, but for now we had a few hours to visit the settlement of the last tribe of Eskimos to establish a permanent settlement in Alaska.  But that's in the next entry.

The return flight was just as amazing around 2 hours later.  The sun was a bit lower on the horizon, but it was still light enough to get some great views even going on 11:00 PM.  Simply put an amazing experience for this trip.

daveruz90 says:
Amazing pics...I'm moving to Coldfoot for the summer so I'm extra excited from reading your stuff. Thanks!
Posted on: Dec 28, 2010
ms_travelr says:
Makes me definitely want to go. I would think that one gets the feeling of being away from it all when in the wilderness of Alaska.
Posted on: Mar 17, 2009
Chokk says:
Beautiful pictures
Posted on: Sep 25, 2008
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Squirrel tail grass in full bloom …
Squirrel tail grass in full bloom…
Bushwacking up the ridge trying to…
Bushwacking up the ridge trying t…
Looking back down at our path acro…
Looking back down at our path acr…
Meandering around on the ridge.
Meandering around on the ridge.
There really isnt much to say for…
There really isn't much to say fo…
There really isnt much to say for…
There really isn't much to say fo…
There really isnt much to say for…
There really isn't much to say fo…
Close-up view of the squirrel tail…
Close-up view of the squirrel tai…
Looking down at the Nolan Gold Min…
Looking down at the Nolan Gold Mi…
Trudging through the squishy tundr…
Trudging through the squishy tund…
Hikers in silhouette above me on t…
Hikers in silhouette above me on …
A lone spruce tree exposed in silh…
A lone spruce tree exposed in sil…
Timer shot on the high ridge.
Timer shot on the high ridge.
Returning down the ridge.
Returning down the ridge.
The light and shadows made photo t…
The light and shadows made photo …
Wiseman Creek meanders through the…
Wiseman Creek meanders through th…
Setting up for the group photos.
Setting up for the group photos.
Descending from the ridgeline
Descending from the ridgeline
Descending from the ridge line.  I…
Descending from the ridge line. …
Our Piper Navajo Chieftain for the…
Our Piper Navajo Chieftain for th…
Seated up front in the co-pilots …
Seated up front in the co-pilot's…
The rest of the passengers on my p…
The rest of the passengers on my …
There really isnt much to say for…
There really isn't much to say fo…
There really isnt much to say for…
There really isn't much to say fo…
There really isnt much to say for…
There really isn't much to say fo…
There really isnt much to say for…
There really isn't much to say fo…
There really isnt much to say for…
There really isn't much to say fo…
Flying through Gates of the Arctic…
Flying through Gates of the Arcti…
Return flight to Coldfoot (10:50 P…
Return flight to Coldfoot (10:50 …
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve
photo by: Kramerdude