If you are planning a backpacking, hiking, river rafting trip, or other adventure trip in the Brooks range, we can assist you with trip preparation, specific access locations and other necessary details. National Park permits may be required so it is important to plan ahead.
The nearby public lands are popular destinations for many adventurers. Details about hiking, rafting and camping in these regions can be found on their respective websites:
- Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
- Gates of the Arctic National Park
- Noatak National Preserve
- Kobuk Valley National Park
- Utukok Uplands
- Teshekpuk Lake
More specifically, the following are comments about some essential and often overlooked subjects to consider while preparing and packing for your trip.
Recommended Communication Devices
- Iridium 9505 Satellite phone or the new 9555
- VHF Yaesu Aviator Pro radios
- Garmin Inreach
Very few groups go into the back-country without some form of communication. Probably the best unit is the Iridium 9505 Satellite phone or the new 9555. From our local experience, this unit offers the best communication in Alaska’s Arctic. These phones can be purchased or rented from several companies on the web, and are available for rent locally in Fairbanks at Radio Fairbanks (907) 452-1049, just ask for Vicki. Phones typically cost $20.00 for the first day and $10 a day after that. Call fees are about $1.25 per minute. We have also used aircraft VHF radios. These are strictly line of sight radios, and work when you can see or hear an aircraft. We have used Yaesu Aviator Pro radios, they are very small, rugged, and have clear audio. Garmin Inreach devices have become very popular. They are cost effective and reliable. They do have limitation though. Please make sure you have well informed emergency contacts listed when registering you device. These people will be called if you activate your SOS either intentionally or unintentionally. Also remember having these devices does not insure rescue nor make up for a lack of skill. The best form of rescue is “Self Rescue”. The best form of “Self Rescue” is not putting your self in a situation that requires a rescue. Also you should check your communication device, either Sat Phone or Inreach daily to make sure there has not been an inadvertent SOS from your device.
Not Recommended Communication Devices
- Global Star Satellite Telephones
- Spot Checkers
Although Global Star Telephones are a satellite telephone, their coverage in the Brooks Range and northern Alaska is spotty and unreliable, we therefore do not recommended them. Spot checkers although new, popular, and reasonably priced, utilize the same satellite system as Global Star, and do not have good coverage in Northern Alaska. Both false activation and several instances of failed programmed message transmission has led to confusion for family or friends at home. We don’t recommend them.
Temperature extremes in the Brooks Range occur all 12 months of the year. We see temperatures near 90 and below freezing during June through August. So it is best to plan for all conditions. As with all back country travel we recommend that you dress in layers.
Wool and/or Polypro clothing is a must, especially as first layer clothing. Our family is divided on the appropriate clothing. Dirk is a fan of wool and lives in Filson and Ibex clothing, and Danielle lives in Mountain Hardware and Sportshill. There are other brands of sufficient clothing, but these are what we use in all of our work and adventures. The critical factor is that your clothing is durable, and retains its insulating properties even when wet.
- Bug Shirts: We all wear the Ultimate Bug Shirt. These shirts are available online, and are the best ones on the market. They are comfortable, durable and work.
- Bug Repellent: We find that 100% DEET is the most effective. We have tried many others, and found them ineffective.
Bear Encounter Prevention
Of primary importance, perhaps more than bear protection is doing your part to prevent encounters with bears.
- KEEP A CLEAN CAMP
- LET BEARS KNOW YOU ARE THERE
- Park Service link on bear safety
- Bear Barrels:
Bear barrels are required for all visitors to the National Parks and Preserves in Alaska. Regardless of your opinion on these containers they are required and the park service will ticket you if you are not using them.
- Bear bells and trip wires:
The old timers in Alaska often strung up cans around their camps to alert them of intruders. It has proved an effective method of alerting you to the presence of a bear. In the converse way, it is good to alert a bear that you are in the area, and bear bells are one way to do this. We endorse both methods.
- Air Horn:
Although we have not found much information on air horns, they get our strong endorsement. They are loud and certainly startle anything, including your camp mates. They also have no real dangerous side effects, they can be used in the dark, from within your tent, and they don’t require one hitting a target. We outfit our kids with them when they do trips.
Bear Encounter Protection
The most important factor for all forms of bear protection is that you are proficient at using them and understand their limitations. This site has some good resource information on types of bear deterrents Bearsmart.com
- Guns: The often asked question: Should I bring a gun? There is no easy answer to this question. Generally, we do not recommend that people bring guns unless they are well practiced with their use and safe operation. Guns are of little help when you are in a tent.
- Hand held marine flares: Hand-held marine flares are a great tool for wilderness use. They are an effective bear deterrent and can also be used as a beacon for rescuers in the case of emergency. Hand-held flares are effective because they affect more than one of the bear’s senses – sight, smell and hearing. This is the preferred bear deterrent used by bear viewing guides on the Alaska coast. Choose a flare that ignites by pulling a string rather than by striking. Be careful not to drop flares in dry conditions until they are fully extinguished as they can be a fire hazard if not hand held.
- Bear Spray: We recommend that groups buy bear spray and practice using it prior to going into the back country. Bear spray is of little help when you are in the tent. Accidental discharge of pepper spray is not uncommon. To prevent this we recommend using a proper holster with your pepper spray canister. One that completely locks or covers the top of the canister is best. Like in the photo here. Links about Bear Spray and Guns
- Bear fences: Bear fences are a relatively new item used in the Brooks Range. Several groups have used them with good results. But their new status and relatively limited use makes it difficult to say that they are reliable or effective. They are another tool in the tool box. Articles about bear fences
An overlooked item is what to do with the poo. As per widely held ideas it is best to bury your poo in a shallow hole in the tundra, well away from water sources and the campsite. This requires a small trowel or shovel, and if you forget one, we sell plastic trowels and really cool I-Poods (an aluminum folding trowel) at our Coldfoot office.
A friend of our turned us on to the idea of carrying a paper bag (small) with each person to put their toilet paper in. In the evenings when the groups has a small campfire going everyone drops their bag into the fire and bye bye toilet paper. If you do not burn your paper please bring it out with all the rest of your trash. Toilet paper does not degrade quickly in the Arctic, and Wet Wipes last for years. No one wants to camp next to a pile of dirty toilet paper from the last camper.
Traveling with White Gas and Bear Spray
The FAA classifies the following items as hazardous materials and requires HazMat paperwork before we can fly with them. We have them for sale in our Coldfoot office.
- Coleman fuel (white gas),
- Isobutane cartridges
- Bear mace.
Other often forgotten items
Almost everything has been forgotten by someone at sometime. Don’t worry too much about this. If you have forgotten an item at home, we have a selection of gear that we can often rent or lend to you for your trip. The one thing you must not forget to bring is your sense of adventure.