This is an exciting trip to one of the least visited parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Participants on this trip should be prepared for a real Alaska adventure. The rugged mountainous terrain and unpredictable headwaters of the Canning River demand a certain toughness and willingness to experience nature on her terms. However, the wild beauty of this region and the abundance of animal life will reward those who come along. From it's headwaters on the northern Continental Divide, we will float this river of surprises to the coastal plain of Alaskaís North Slope. The adventure begins when our Cessna 185 carries us through some very rugged and remote mountain passes in the eastern Brooks Range then comes in for a landing on a rugged tundra airstrip in a high mountain valley. Using small rafts and inflatable canoes or kayaks, we will start the journey on the Marsh Fork of the Canning River.
During the first two thirds of the trip, the river carries us through an extreme landscape of abrupt mountains and vistas. Truly, this is some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in all of Alaska. The surrounding Franklin Mountains are sheer, craggy and accentuated by massive strata layers. The powerful tectonic forces that uplifted these mountains are evident in the tortured rock walls. The upper section of the river is characterized by shallow braided streams. Route finding through these rivulets is key and we will often have to get out of the boats to pull it through shallow sections. The water of the Marsh Fork is typically gin-clear and icy cold. In many places the river will be covered with beautiful blue aufeis - thick river ice that is formed through repeated cycles of river overflow and freezing creating dense, layered ice walls. In some sections the river will be hemmed in by the aufeis creating ice canyons that are lovely and intriguing but can be treacherous. Dallís sheep are abundant on the ridges above the Marsh Fork and are often seen at salt licks along the river. From every one of our camps along this stretch of river, the hiking is superb. As this area is so seldom traveled, we will literally be exploring the region any time we hike into the mountains. A sharp eye may reward the observer with very interesting fossil discoveries, sightings of wolves, grizzlies, and other wildlife, and some stunning photographs.
The Marsh Fork flows out of a mountain gorge and suddenly merges with the Canning River. Here the landscape changes and the terrain begins to open up. The craggy mountains along the Marsh Fork give way to the lovely Shublik Mountains. The river widens. Marshes, small lakes and tundra benches and plateaus are found on both sides of the river, but the high mountains are not far off. Caribou herds will be a common sight on tundra hills on this stretch of river and grizzly bears and wolves may be seen along the river banks or among the caribou. The Shubliks give way to the Sadlerochit Mountains and they roll down to the coastal plain.
The last third of the trip is a naturalistís bonanza. As we float through the northern foothills on to the coastal plain, we will see increasing numbers of birds, caribou, and grizzlies. The tundra has an abundance of wild flowers and we will encounter numerous nesting birds on the tundra and along the ponds and marshes. We will especially be watching for that great survivor of the ice ages - the musk ox. The area between the Canning River and the Sadlerochit River to the East is the best musk ox habitat in Alaska. It is not unusual to see large herds up to 20 animals or more.
Fishermen on this river in late July and August will be equally excited by the large and beautiful arctic charr. Few rivers in Alaska can match the Canning for the size and abundance of these fighting fish. When we aren't catching charr, grayling will be in abundance and easy to hook. Anyone wishing to fish will need a valid Alaska fishing license available in Fairbanks.
The trip beings in Fairbanks with a 90
minute charter flight to the Yukon River village of Ft.Yukon. From here
we will load up smaller wheeled planes for the flight to the
remote Athabascan community of Arctic Village. Smaller Cessna 185s will
meet us here and begin ferrying all people and gear 60 minutes to a
gravel bar on the upper reaches of the Marsh Fork - the headwaters of
the Canning River. We start our Arctic river
voyage at an altitude of about 2400 ft. Rafting the Marsh Fork and The
Canning rivers, we will end our journey at the Canning River Delta near
the Arctic Ocean at about 350 ft. elevation traveling about 90 river
miles. The upper waters of the Marsh Fork will be shallow and may
require us to drag the boats or even portage them through rocky shoals.
For the first 6 days, mountains as high as 7000 feet tower over our
small river valley. The mountains almost abruptly give way to graceful
tundra hills which mellow into the rolling coastal plain.
From a small rocky bench alongside the river, DeHavilland beavers will
ferry our group to an oilfield camp on the Kavik River. A dual engine
Caravan will carry us back to Fairbanks.
From a small rocky bench alongside the river, DeHavilland beavers will ferry our group to an oilfield camp on the Kavik River. A dual engine Caravan will carry us back to Fairbanks.
Climatically, the northern Brooks
Range and Arctic Slope are considered arid. Unfortunately, most of its 5
- 6 inches of annual precipitation comes in the
summer as rain with an
occasional snow squall possible. We can expect one third of the trip to
be wet, mostly in the form of drizzle; another third will be dry but
overcast; and last, the much anticipated third, sunshine. Temperatures
can range from 25 to 60 degrees F. Wind from the South or North can be
quite violent. Low lying fog further into the trip usually burns off by
late morning. A very big advantage is the nearly 24 hours of daylight.
With proper planning and flexibility, we can maximize our travel or
hiking time regardless of weather conditions.
The plant life on this trip is
representative of alpine/arctic tundra. This miniature ecosystem is as
interesting and diverse as any in the world. In June and July the
tundra is covered with blooming arctic poppies, Kamchatka rhododendron,
fireweed, louseworts, oxytrope, composites, and saxifrages. By August
most of the flowers with the exception of poppys, fireweed, and asters,
have faded but the tundra is not any less colorful; the willows have
begun to take on a golden color and the tundra is splashed with red from
the autumn colors of the blueberry and bearberry. Throughout the summer
the cotton sedge will give the marshes a blush of white.
FAUNA: The ever present caribou and the magnificent musk ox will top our list of mammals we will see. Other large mammals we will see will be Dallís sheep in the mountains, grizzlies, moose, and with luck wolves and wolverines. The raptors in this area include the rough legged hawk, gyrfalcon, golden eagle, merlin, peregrine falcon, and several types of owl. There are over one hundred species of birds among which are the jaeger, willow ptarmigan, and numerous shore birds and water fowl. The fish population consists primarily of grayling and arctic char.