Jan 13, 2021 at 1:35 pm #3693604
In the early stages of planning my second summer in the Brooks. In 2018 I backpacked for a month first in Gates west of the highway and then in Wrangell-St. Elias out of the Nabesna Rd. This summer I’m taking my dad on an early-season trip to get the summer started. So:
- In 2018 I was there in July-August. This year we need to go earlier. How early? Early to mid-June seems to be a consensus for a great time to start. Dial’s Arctic 1000 was 6/11-7/6, Skurka’s trips are 6/15-7/1, and some other (attempted/actual) traverses started mid-June. Plenty of aufeis then. Is aufeis the main concern with starting too early? Or excessive snowmelt? Temps don’t look bad even well back into May.
- In 2018 I hitched up and down the Haul road. Dad’s not keen on hitching. I came across the Dalton Highway Express. Anyone have any experience with them? Looks like I can get a one-way ride between Galbraith Lake and Fairbanks starting 6/1 for $166, which is cheaper than the tour bus companies. Also would consider a Craigslist “Uber.” Anyone done that?
- Why does everyone go to Gates? With the exception of people who are traversing the range, I see some Arrigetch Peaks trips and some Haul road to Anaktuvuk trips, but isn’t ANWR just as beautiful and walkable etc. as the other side of the road? Anyway, if anyone has comparative info on that, I’d love to hear it.
We are currently thinking of a ten-day trip with a bush plane at one end and the road at the other. Thanks for any advice.Jan 13, 2021 at 8:02 pm #3693664Luke SchmidtBPL Member
May might be too early. At least in my area there is often a lot if snow left in late May/early June. The valleys will be snow free but plenty of snow is left up on the passes. Now the Brooks Range is drier so I don’t know for sure.
One thing to be aware of is many remote villages are asking all outsiders to stay out. So you might not get into certain areas. Towns on the road system are open but fly in villages and some Native villages on the road system are basically quarantined until Covid is over.Jan 18, 2021 at 12:55 pm #3694380
Thanks, Luke. I was thinking the early-season dangers would be snowmelt- and aufeis-related, but snow on the passes, hmm.
We are now planning on using the Dalton Highway Express to get to near Atigun Pass, then doing a ten-day loop in ANWR. So lower elevations than it could be (e.g. upper Sheenjek area), but still maybe a risk of icy/snowy passes at that time of year? (There were a few icy passes in the upper Koyukuk area in July 2018, so I’d expect some anyway, but those were quite manageable.)
As for dates, we’re thinking starting the trek as early as May 30th (to June 9), or perhaps starting on June 6 (to June 16).
Anyone reading this who has experience in the Brooks early season?Jan 18, 2021 at 1:21 pm #3694400Luke SchmidtBPL Member
May might work. I’ve never hiked in the Brooks Range. But I do remember a trip from May 28 to June 4th. We were going to hike north of the Nebesna road but the park service told us there would be a lot of snow the passes. I think if there was snow along the Nebesna road the Brooks Range would have been just as bad. So we went down to the Kenai Peninsula instead where there was no snow. That was a big snow year. It really can change a lot depending on weather. One year we had relatively little snow. But the spring was cloudy so it took forever to melt. Another year we had a warm sunny spring and snow was gone a month early.
A May 30 start might work but it might not. If you are committed to those dates here is my suggestion.
1. Find a pilot, hunting guide or government employee who works up there regularly. You want someone who can describe the local snow conditions the week before you go.
2. Have a backup plan in case the Brooks doesn’t work. I could give you some ideas as could Dave.
Edit – I just saw that you were considering a June 6th start as well. I would probably feel better about that. You’d be surprised how much snow can melt in a week.Jan 19, 2021 at 4:00 pm #3694583
I was the “Uber” for Manfred & Sons on their Brooks Range trip – just being a trail angel. There certainly are off-the-books informal Uber types on Craigslist out of Fairbanks.
I have far fewer concerns about hitching in Alaska then elsewhere in the US; it’s more like hitch-hiking in Europe – normal people need rides and normal people give rides. Not just drunks and recently-released prisoners being picked up by rapists and axe-murders. I hitch and give rides in AK far more than elsewhere and get picked up faster and on-average pick up more interesting, less-dangerous riders than I do in the 48 states. Bring a small flag of as foreign a country as you could possibly claim and pin on your pack when you hitch – it makes you look more interesting, less dangerous and people love to talk to visitors about our state.
There’s an REI and Walmart and Sportsman’s Warehouse in Fairbanks, so fuel, bear spray, etc, are easy to source when you land at FAI. Although if you stay at an AirBnB or hostel in Fairbanks, some of them have loaner bear spray, DEET, etc – we do that for our AirBnB guests.Jan 19, 2021 at 9:24 pm #3694627KarenBPL Member
Good luck on an early trip; you might be able to beat the mosquitoes. Or not. Hitching is pretty easy in Alaska; I give and take rides and have never had a bad experience here (although lots of folks drink while they drive). On the haul road you might be waiting a long while between vehicles, especially that time of year, but you’ll eventually get a ride. Be prepared to wait a bit. Re David’s axe murderer comment, we do have our share of serial killers up here, but they seem to prefer the cities. I wouldn’t hesitate to hitch with another person.
I echo Luke’s comment about doing your research before going into any villages. Alaska Native people make up at least 30% of the Covid cases in the state and 30% of hospitalizations, and many deaths. They may not be super excited to welcome in visitors. And watch the State of Alaska covid page for quarantine and testing requirements for visitors. I’d like to think that by June you won’t need to but…
Brooks vs ANWR: Lots of people explore ANWR on foot, so yes, definitely an option. There are guided backpacking trips up there too, pricey though. Have you contacted the Alaska Public Lands Information Center? Might be one place to start and I think they are open year round, unlike the Coldfoot visitor center. Luke’s suggestion of contacting a flying service is good, especially since you’re wanting to hire one anyway.
Sorry just tips for getting started, no experience on the ground up there!Jan 19, 2021 at 10:18 pm #3694635
My Alaskan axe murderer story:
I was working at an environmental site in Craig, Alaska on Prince of Wales Island. I was there for the responsible party and a former co-worker, Darryl, was there for the insurance company. While we were there, a guy killed his mother’s boyfriend with a wood-splitting maul (okay, not *exactly* an axe, but I think it’s fair to lump him in with the axe murderers).
The two cops in town were supplemented with game wardens and state troopers deployed to the island as they were searching for him.
We were staying at the local hotel and Darryl was freaking out a little bit. Every time a branch scraped against the building in the wind, he thought it might be the fugitive. I’d been in Alaska long enough at that point to figure, “I don’t have anything against him, he doesn’t have anything against me – I wasn’t dating his mother – he and I would probably be fine going out for a beer.” and I wasn’t concerned.
They eventually found that he’d swam to another island and took him into custody without incident.Jan 19, 2021 at 10:19 pm #3694636
On the Haul Road (Dalton Highway), there’s always lots of commercial traffic – mostly big rigs. Their company policy will be to not pick up hitchhikers, although obviously, cute young women don’t wait long for a ride. Likewise, Alyeska Pipeline Security’s policy is to not give rides nor render any assistance to adventurers (no, you can’t fill your water bottle, charge your phone, etc, at their facilities) so as not to encourage more of the same.
But there are always locals driving around, less official workers at cafes and truck stops, and tourists throughout the year (although vastly more common in summer). Last time I drove up to Prudhoe Bay on a lark because some 48-states friends hadn’t ever been, was in January and if some guy was walking along with a backpack and his thumb out, I absolutely would have picked him up. I stop for most bicyclists and ask if they need anything and have taken to carrying a few gallons of tap water because that is their most frequent request. In some terrain, there’s no shortage of rivers and streams but it can be a real scramble from the highway down the ravine to the surface water. Once I loaded up ice cream sandwiches in a cooler with dry ice and handed those out as I did a summer road trip past my toxic waste sites.Jan 19, 2021 at 10:32 pm #3694637
I expect villages to get vaccinated before most Alaskans – they’re identified as at risk due their remote location and cramped housing, they may get it through the State and the Native Health System, and they have a strong oral tradition from elders whose families were hammered by various western diseases passing through, including the 1918 flu pandemic H1N1 influenza A virus which was genetically sequenced from a victim in Utqiagvik (Barrow) exhumed from the permafrost. So villages don’t have that anti-vaxxer nonsense going on and are already getting vaccinated ahead of most populations. May 2021? Maybe, maybe not, but I’d guess so by then. Definitely something to consider, track and respect their wishes.Jan 20, 2021 at 7:44 am #3694670
Luke: Thanks for the perspective on snowmelt. With 24 hours of daylight, I imagine it goes quick. We can probably wait until at least April to figure out exactly when we are going, and by then I’ll be able to contact some locals to figure out how it is looking. We’d hope for May 31 (or something around there), but we’ll just wait and see. Good to know it is at least a possibility.
David and Karen: I’ve had right around a hundred good hitchhiking experiences in North America and Europe, and zero bad. A couple iffy drivers, but of course in such situations one can just say no or leave, not that that’s actually happened. Some of my best experiences were in Alaska in 2018.
Luckily, there is the “Dalton Highway Express” (what a name!) which is reasonably-priced for the trip we are thinking about. We made some inquiries about flight prices and have pretty much decided to start and end from the road, around Atigun Pass. There’s plenty to explore there—on the eastern side of the road—so the extra ~$750 seems unnecessary (and expensive).
If anyone else is reading this and has experience in early-season Brooks trips, we’d love to hear from you!Jan 20, 2021 at 9:04 pm #3694822KarenBPL Member
Atigun Gorge is popular for a day hike, or packrafting. I hope whatever you do you’ll give us a trip report!Jan 21, 2021 at 11:58 pm #3695015Eric BBPL Member
“genetically sequenced from a victim in Utqiagvik (Barrow) exhumed from the permafrost.”
It was Brevig Mission, where the 1918 flu killed 72 of 80 adults in five days:
Quite an amazing story. Short version linked to above, more details at CDC:
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