Gates of the Arctic

swbugas Member Posts: 46

Hello All!

I've been dreaming of Alaska more than normal these days...Which is certainly to say that I'm always dreaming of Alaska. My last trip was largely touristy. We stayed in some cabins, took a flight, visited some glaciers, etc... I'm scheming a trip to Gates of the Arctic national park now, as it seems like arguably the purest way to spend a couple weeks in Alaska without tourism involved.

(Picture for attention, or nostalgia for those that have flown around Denali).

I have plenty of experience outdoors (mountaineering, trekking, hiking, etc...) and feel confident in navigation and general survival skills. However, It's my understanding that Gates of the Arctic is a bit of another level when it comes to exposure and remoteness. This is the primary reason I'm so interested.

This begs my first question though: is it worth choosing a "route" that someone else has put together in a place like this? This may seem naive, but I sometimes fail to shake the pride that goes into such planning. On the other hand, a perfected or refined route garners a sense of safety and clarity that I can't ignore.

I'd love to discuss other people's experiences if anybody on here has visited that way. I'd be open to route advise, gear advise, etc... as well. I feel happy with my gear (which pretty much all happens to be HMG at this point), but I'd love to hear what kind of gear made the difference? Solar panels? Pack rafts? Pet bears? I'd love to hear it all!


  • tina
    tina Member, Moderator Posts: 56
    edited September 2022

    I've been there and I hiked in without assistance. It was the strangest experience of my life. I rented an expedition vehicle in Fairbanks from a place near the airport. It was a burly mid-size SUV with special tires, a CB radio, and some emergency provisions in the back. I also rented a satellite phone. The first excitement was driving 200+ miles on the infamous Dalton Highway. Expect slow going, lots of pot holes, lots of time spent waiting on construction crews, and very, very expensive gas. I think gas was $5.50/gal -- and this was in 2018. I drove to Coldfoot, which was charming in its way, and then to the "park entrance," which was closed when I arrived. This was late August, I believe. I managed to find a NPS employee hanging around a maintenance shed who graciously gave me a park unigrid as well as a plush toy. He told me something to the effect of "I can not advise you on how to enter the park, and if you can figure it out yourself, then you are probably experienced enough to go." The "don't die trying" part was implied, I guess?

    Anyway, with no help from park staff, I drove out to an old silver mine that I read about in someone's very old blog post weeks prior, parked this expensive expedition vehicle on the side of the dirt road, and started walking. I had my Southwest pack & Echo II shelter at the time, plus some burly cold/rain gear and the satellite phone, but otherwise just my normal hiking setup. It took about 20 miles of intense bushwhacking to make my way into the park. No cell signal, obviously, so I was looking at the very basic unigrid map and satellite map and walking in the park's general direction. It was a pretty dumb thing to do. It was also super duper awesome.

    I spent another day wandering around the Brooks range. Never been somewhere so quiet in my life. Aurora dancing above my head. Rainbows. Electric sunrises. Milky Way. Incredible. From atop a small ridge, I could see my car along the snake-like dirt road off in the distance. I spent a day ambling back in its direction. On the way, a full-grown bull moose walked right past me. Obviously, I did not see or hear another soul. It is a place completely absent of human interference.

    I wouldn't change a thing, but I also imagine there are better ways to do this. Lots of my time was spent hiking to/from the park, rather than in it. However, there's definitely a sense of pride and adventure that comes from that approach, rather than paying $5k for a private plane ride to a designated spot. I think I wrote a blog post for this here site about it some time back. I'll see if I can find it. Any other questions, let me know!

    Edit: here's the blog post