Mush through the Gates of the Arctic


Exploring the Arctic tundra by dogsled could very well be the paramount polar wildlife experience. And what better place than the 8.4-million-acre Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, one of the largest wilderness areas in North America and the most remote and nortern of all U.S. national parks. The only sign of civilization in this land are the tracks left behind by other dog teams and their sleds—and these linger only until the next snowfall.
Alaska's Brooks Range runs through the parks, with two peaks, Frigid Crags and Boreal Mountains, forming the "Gates" from the central Brooks Range into the high Arctic. In these latitudes above the Arctic Circle, around-the-clock sunlight affords perfect conditions for viewing the moose, caribou, dall sheep, bears, wolves, and foxes that inhabit the park.

During April, local outfitters run challenging combination dogsled-ski trips through the Gates. The trip usually begins with a ski-plane flight from Bettles, Alaska, to a winderness outpost at Eroded Mountain. Over the next nine days, you travel north through the dramatic Koyukuk River Valley. Dog teams carry all communal gear and heavy personal items while tour members take turns skiing and mushing. Camps are made in heated-wall tents along the trail.
At the Gates, take to your skis, cut north across virgin powder, and make camp to enjoy fantastic views of the Gates, Hanging Glacier Mountain, and nearby frozen waterfalls. The next day, travel down to the confluence of the Koyukuk River and Erine Creek, where the ski plane waits to take you back to Bettles.
Practically Speaking
This trip is a true wilderness adventure—one of the most unique commercially guided tours in the world. It is demanding, but any intermediate skier with some wilderness experience should be able to handle the conditions. No moutaineering skills are required, though you must bring your own expedition-grade equipment.
The longest day's run goes approximately 15 miles, and daytime temperatures average 20 degrees. Prices are approximately $2,000 for ten days, eight of which are spent in the wild.

Published: 8 Jul 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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