Update: This trip is sold out!
Please read this whole page before applying
Are you an experienced backpacker who’s always wanted to hike in Alaska’s Brooks Range, and who also wants to learn to make your own cross-country routes? Well I’ve created a trip just for you!
The Brooks Range is a mountain range that runs 600 miles east-west across the Alaskan Arctic, from Canada to the Chukchi sea. It’s bisected by only one road, the Haul Road aka the Dalton Highway, that carries supplies north to oil drilling on the arctic ocean. The Brooks Range is one of the least developed places left on Earth. It is also the traditional home of Inupiaq and Athabanscan peoples; these people still live there, have autonomy and practice their subsistence lifestyles, and some non-native people live in villages in the Brooks Range as well. The villages in the Brooks Range that are not on the Haul Road are only accessible by plane, boat, dogsled or snowmachine. The Brooks Range is also home to thousands of caribou, as well as grizzlies, wolves, wolverines, etc. Much of the Brooks Range is north of treeline; the mountains are rolling and green, the walking is along braided riverbeds or across boggy, squishy tundra. There are fewer bears in this part of Alaska than more southern parts of the state, and the relative lack of brush makes the bears easier to avoid. Summer is short and summer weather is random, even moreso now with climate change; it might be 80 degrees Fahrenheit one day, and snowing the next.
The Brooks Range has no established trails or routes. This is intentional- to travel via foot or packraft in the Alaskan Arctic one must create one’s own route- both to ensure that the traveler is experienced enough and familiar enough with the terrain to stay safe, and for the sheer fun of it- there aren’t many places left in north America without established trails, and so it’s cool to have a place where you still have to do the legwork yourself. Those who do create routes in the Alaskan Arctic are discouraged from sharing those routes online.
The Brooks Range may be remote, but it’s also a fairly straightforward place to create a cross-country route, once you have some understanding of the terrain and also know how to create routes. (You don’t need to pay for a guided trip to learn to make routes- some free resources are here, here and here.) In this course/backpacking trip combo, I’ll teach you how to create a route using caltopo, we’ll work together to create a five day trip in the Brooks Range (that fits certain parameters), and then, we’ll hike it!
Unlike the hiking and writing retreats I’m hosting in Arizona in February, this trip will be backpacking only, and for more advanced backpackers. In particular, I’m looking for people who’ve thru-hiked a five month trail (like the PCT, CDT or AT) and/or a shorter cross-country route (or mostly cross-country) like the Hayduke, Sierra High Route or L2H. (What I mean by cross-country is that there’s not a footpath or road to follow.)
This Brooks Range hike, like the Arizona retreats, is only open to women, non-binary and trans people- since so much in the outdoors is already geared towards cis-men, and since I can only host a small handful of people, that’s what feels best for me.
A note: I keep talking about “creating one’s own route” but no route exists in a vacuum; in North America, how to get from point A to point B is knowledge that has been held for generations by the indigenous people of any given area (the best ways over certain passes, which valleys are the least boggy for walking, etc) and so any information we gather about how to walk over the land is information that originated, at some point, from those people, even if we get it from some white guy at a bar who flies a bush plane. For this reason, “creating one’s own route” is not about doing-it-yourself but rather about being in relationship- with the communities that know and live in an area, as well as with the area itself. I’ve spent about 40 days in the Brooks Range, 25 days on foot and 15 days paddling the Noatak river, and to make these routes I had to not only understand the terrain and how to use caltopo but I had to reach out and build relationships with other people who had traveled in these areas, making the experience much more relational than any other trips I’ve done. This is so cool!! And something really special about Alaska, IMO.
Dates: August 1-6, 2023- five days of backpacking plus an extra day of padding in case of bad weather.
There are five spots available– four full-price spots and one half-price need-based scholarship spot.
Cost: $1500. This includes four hours of one-on-one zoom coaching beforehand, where I show you how to create a cross-country route on the caltopo website and help you work through aspects of the trip you may have questions about (gear, bears, weather etc), as well as group meetups online where we’ll plan our route together. It also includes lodging in Fairbanks, and rides to and from the airport.
Scholarship spot: One spot on the trip will be half price, and given to an applicant based on need, with priority to BIPOC. The scholarship recipient is still responsible for the cost of their flights, food and gear.
What’s not included in this trip: your flights, your meals, your gear.
Pre-trip course dates: Most of the zoom coaching and online group meetups will happen in March, April and May (I’ll be doing salmon survey work in Bristol Bay for much of June and July). Within those months, I’m super flexible- we can work around what dates/times work for you, and for the group!
Start and end: Our trip will start and end in a small village in the Brooks Range. A flight to this village from Fairbanks, AK costs approximately $200 each way. You are responsible for the cost of this flight, as well as your flight to Fairbanks.
Gear: This trip will require just normal three-season gear, similar to what you would bring on the High Sierra section of the PCT, with a few tweaks. We’ll be bringing bear cans and bear spray, waterproof socks, and I ask that each person have a PLB like the garmin inreach. (Spot devices use a different kind of satellite signal, and don’t work north of the Arctic circle). We won’t be doing any packrafting.
Terrain: We’ll be walking along braided gravel riverbeds and green, boggy tundra slopes, with the occasional scree-covered mountain pass. Sometimes there will be stretches of tussocks, which are like hairy basketballs on springs, but we’ll do our best to avoid them. Our feet will be wet all day every day. Slogging is the word that comes to mind when I think about walking in the Brooks.
Mileage: We’ll hike ten to fifteen miles a day. This is a full day of hiking: due to the boggy nature of things, the going is fairly slow.
Mosquitoes: August is autumn in the Arctic, and the time when the mosquitoes start to die down, so they shouldn’t be too bad.
Bears: There are fewer bears in the Brooks than elsewhere in the state, as there isn’t as much access to salmon. The bears are grizzlies. Our route will do its best to avoid brush- since the Brooks is mostly north of treeline, this isn’t hard to do. The general open nature of the terrain makes the Brooks a relatively safe environment in which to share space with grizzlies. If we do see a bear it’ll likely be from far away, and we can give it a wide berth. The bears in the Brooks are very wild, and tend to be terrified of people. We’ll be bringing bear cans and bear spray. There has never been a recorded fatal bear attack in the Brooks. (Unlike in Anchorage, where there have been quite a few, lol.)
Weather: August is autumn in the Brooks Range, and weather in the arctic is unpredictable. We might have hot, sunny days, and we might have cold rain or even light snow.
Application process: The application for this trip is here. The application is free, and I’ll be reviewing applications until March 1. After your application is approved, we’ll set up a zoom call to talk more about the trip and answer any questions you might have, and then you’ll have the opportunity to register (if you’re still interested).
(Again, you don’t have to pay for a trip like this to learn to make routes- Luc Mehl has great free resources here and here, and Andrew Skurka has free resources here.)
About me: I’ve long-distance hiked eleven thousand miles, including the Pacific Crest Trail (twice, the Washington section four times), the Continental Divide Trail, the Hayduke Route, the Lowest to Highest Route (2.5 times), the Mogollon Rim Trail, the Kings Canyon High Basin Route, the Tahoe Rim Trail, the Arizona Trail, the Wind River High Route, the Chugach Traverse (a 70 mile route I created in south-central Alaska), and 25 days walking in the Brooks Range on routes I created myself. I LOVE sharing my love of long-distance hiking with others.
Feel free to email me with any questions at email@example.com !
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