Backpacking in the Arrigetch Peaks, Gates of the Arctic National Park
If you have been following my blog, you may remember a trip I did last summer, where I spent 10 days backpacking in the Arrigetch Peaks, located in the Gates of the Arctic National Park, in Alaska’s Arctic. This region is well known among climbers and hikers, and is stunningly rugged and dramatically beautiful. Getting there requires some good legs and an airplane ride. The Arrigetch Peaks are situated in the Brooks Range mountains, and can be accessed from a few locations. One can choose to fly out of Bettles, AK, or Coldfoot, AK.
If you are considering making this venture, let me offer a little advice, at least pertinent to the time of this writing.
First of all, getting to the Arrigetch Peaks requires a long hike up one of the drainages that lead into the mountains. I trekked up Arrigetch Creek from the Alatna River. This is a very common route, and a trail, although more defined in some areas than others, foll0ws the creek into the mountains.
A common way to get to the Arrigetch creek is to fly in on a float plane and land in a small, nearby lake, and then trek across the tundra to the creek. But that little “trek across the tundra” can be a serious job of bushwacking! As an alternative to this, Coyote Air pilot Dirk Nickisch has outfitted his planes with special tires that enable him to land on a variety of surfaces, including rocky beaches and lumpy tundra.
This enables Dirk to drop you off on a gravel bar near the junction of the Alatna river and the Arrigetch creek, saving you a lot of tundra bushwacking. You won’t need to cross the Alatna river itself, but depending on water levels, you will need to cross a few streams. We happened to arrive at a very high water level, and even the side channel was waist deep in muddy brown water. All other water crossings were nothing more than shin or knee high and easy, like the one shown below. We had 60+ pound backpacks, so a pair of hiking poles come in very handy.
In full disclosure, Dirk and Danielle and family, owners of Coyote Air are friends of mine, but they are also a very skilled team that provide air taxi service to much of Alaska’s arctic. Dirk is a seasoned, experienced pilot and knows that giant county very well. I highly recommned thier service.
As for what to expect in the Arrigetch Peaks…. well, the pictures tell the story quite well from a visual perspective (see the Arrigetch Peaks photo gallery on my website). It is Alaska mountain travel, so expect every kind of weather possible, including snow, even in the summer. It can be hot and/or cold, all in the same week. The other basics of backpacking apply, like good gear, knowledge of traveling in bear country (you are required to take a bear resistant food container), some first aid sense, flexibility, and most importantly: step with great respect in that land of visual wonder, camp clean and take out everything you bring in.
Coyote air has some good information and advice about travel in Alaska’s arctic, and it worth a read.