The latitude here is paramount in the way that it has shaped the land and particularly, in the way that it has shaped the people that have done battle with it for eons. The cultures here both indigenous and Western, have all had to conform to the same merciless rules, and their stories are inextricable from the drama that is the Arctic.
We will venture to places that each hold a thousand stories guaranteed to spellbind, in that here, nothing is easy. Our exploration leads from the Eskimo whaling culture of Barrow to the oilfields of Prudhoe Bay to Canada's Dawson City and the Northwest Territories' Inuvik, featuring in between the fantastic Dalton and Dempster Highways, as well as the tiny outposts of Coldfoot, Eagle, and Ft. MacPherson. This journey promises a contrast of "Norths", each an intriguing story for you to ponder long afterwards.
Itinerary Capsule and Destinations:
- Fairbanks-Coldfoot; Yukon River, Arctic Circle; hotel.
- Coldfoot-Deadhorse; Brooks Range; Atigun Pass; hotel.
- Deadhorse-Barrow; Prudhoe Bay tour; Barrow flight; hotel.
- Barrow-Fairbanks; Barrow cultural tour; flt to Fairbanks; hotel.
- Fairbanks-Eagle; Fairbanks exploration; flight to Eagle; cabins.
- Eagle-Dawson City, YT; Top of the World Highway; B & B.
- Dawson-Eagle Plains; Dempster Hwy; Olgilvie Mtns; motel.
- Eagle Plains-Inuvik; Ft. MacPherson; Inuvik exploration; hotel.
- Inuvik-Dawson; cultural tour; flight to Dawson; B & B.
- Dawson City-Fairbanks; flight to Fairbanks; end of tour.
Day 1: The arctic through which this very special tour ventures, is an environment unlike any other in beauty and remoteness. The demanding reality of these latitudes promises natural and cultural experiences without parallel, and we ask that you keep in mind the unique factors that determine life here, should things possibly deviate from the best laid plans. Flexibility is the watchword and adventure the reward.
We'll meet in Fairbanks at 8AM sharp to begin our journey, at the centrally located Super 8 Hotel. We'll immediately set our compass on North, leaving town on the Elliot Highway towards the old mining settlement of Livengood. Our first stop of the morning is the misleadingly named, Arctic Circle Trading Post, (we're not at the Circle yet!) before turning onto the infamous Dalton Highway or, "Haul Road". Just recently opened to private vehicles, this ribbon of rough gravel stretches all the way to Prudhoe Bay and was built in the early 70's to "haul" the ceaseless stream of goods it takes to build and operate the huge industrial facilities of the North Slope Oilfields.
Descending from the White Mountains we arrive at the mighty Yukon River sweeping southwestward, just in time for lunch. The vegetation now begins to directly reflect the latitude, the trees looking more like shrubs in the valleys, and the tops of the rounded hills we cross covered only by arctic tundra a few inches high. Traversing the Kokrine Hills, we'll make our first of six crossings of the Arctic Circle, meriting of course a stop and a bit of background. With the stark Brooks Range rising in the distance, we'll continue a bit farther to overnight at the outpost of Coldfoot, founded in one of the early gold rushes, but prospering since serving the rush for "black gold". It's a typically arctic outpost, where luxury is defined in more basic terms than elsewhere and where "utilitarian" is not a judgement but a statement of the value of an item needed enough to have been transported to such a remote place. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 2: The road this morning continues to snake northward, climbing the south face of the imposing Brooks Range with the Gates of the Arctic National Park just to the west. A wonderful exploration of the old mining community of Wiseman with a local gives insight into how similarly those of just a few generations ago met the challenges of these parts. Depending on our progress we'll have a picnic lunch in the vicinity of Atigun Pass, a feared piece of road in the winter with its treacherous grades. Highest point on the road system in Alaska at only 4800 feet, you'll swear that you're three times that high from the decidedly alpine environment well above treeline, starkly beautiful in its severity.
From here begins our descent onto what is known as the North Slope (use of the term, "the Slope" leaves no doubt in Alaskan conversation as to where), gradually flattening out toward the Arctic Ocean and riddled with small lakes and "pingos" formed by the impermeable permafrost. It is this vast coastal plain that is the destination of many a species of bird migrating from thousands of miles and a hemisphere away, bearing their young in the brief wealth of food that is the flurry of summer. We'll be overnighting not far from the Arctic Ocean in "downtown" Deadhorse, a sprawl of equipment staging areas surrounding the airstrip that serves the oil production installations spread over many miles. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 3: A tour of a portion of the Prudhoe Bay oilfields cannot help but impress, regardless of what one might predict beforehand. The extent of facilities and the measures taken to battle the unyielding climate, when placed in the perspective of location, is nothing short of amazing. It feels as if visiting a colony on another planet, as all aspects of life here have to be shielded from the outside environment. Tubes connect everything from multitudes of huge processing facilities to the crew quarters, featuring every amenity imaginable to keep morale and sanity healthy during the long winter months.
You'll surely want to dip your toe in the Arctic Ocean before lunch, followed by our flight from Deadhorse to Barrow, the northernmost "city" in Alaska. It too has the feel of an outpost, though you're visiting it in the most hospitable months when the temperature can "soar" to fifty degrees. It's truly fascinating though, and you'll have the afternoon to explore this home to more than three thousand souls. For dinner we just might opt for Pepe's, the farthest north Mexican restaurant for a bit of irony before lodging for the night in a hotel. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 4: A bit of the morning is available for personal explorations before embarking at 10:30 for the sightseeing ground tour of Barrow and the surroundings, visiting a historic naval research site and a traditional Inupiat hunting camp among other attractions. (The tour program in Barrow is provided by Tundra Tours only, a subsidiary of the local native corporation). Lunch by necessity is a bit late (about 2PM), before the rendezvous for the Inupiat Eskimo cultural program of traditional dances, mask making, skin sewing, and Eskimo games. The program also features the blanket toss, though while seemingly just fun, it was (and is still) used for hunting, to gain height and hence a view across the thoroughly flat topography. Local artisans have their wares for sale here also, with time to browse before our flight to Fairbanks at 6:45PM. We'll get to our hotel about 8:30 or so, with most definitely a goodly amount of daylight left to take a look about the neighborhood. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 5: Our flight to Eagle is in the late morning, allowing us a peak at Alaskaland, a "refuge" for some of Fairbanks earlier buildings and homes. It is also home to the SS Nenana, a wonderfully restored steam sternwheeler from the era when there where more than a hundred of these vessels plying the navigable rivers of Alaska and the Yukon, together serving as the backbone for the system of transportation of goods and people into the north for more than half a century.
After about an hour of flying over roadless mountain wilderness, we'll cross a last ridge to see the mighty Yukon below, with a tiny settlement tucked at the base of an imposing bluff. Eagle has long served as the last supply post for the vast upper Yukon valley, providing the earliest miners and current wilderness dwellers with their link to mail delivery, telephones and the rest of the world. Its frontier nature hasn't changed much, as it is still cut off from the rest of the road system during the eight winter months of the year.
We'll bunk for the evening in historic cabins overlooking the Yukon. The famous Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen "wintered" in Eagle and spent many an evening playing cards in the main cabin, after arriving in December of 1905 from mushing by dog team from his ship locked in the ice 1000 miles to the north. It was by telegraph from Eagle that he was able to notify the world of his success in finding the long sought Northwest Passage, after three years with no communication. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 6: After a fascinating morning historic tour of old Eagle and Ft. Egbert we'll load up and head down the road toward Dawson City via the "Top of The World Highway". The road follows magnificent ridgelines with endless views and leaves no question as to the inevitability of its name. After passing through the outpost of Boundary, we'll cross the Canadian border, and then descend into the Yukon River Valley and to the goal of all the Stampeders of the Great Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, Dawson City. Dawson is still a frontier town with plenty of its history evident in the old structures and dirt streets. That evening will be left open to those that would like to explore on their own or get cleaned up before dinner on the town. Lodging will be in the White Ram Bed & Breakfast near downtown, after sampling a bit of the nightlife. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 7: After 25 paved miles of the Klondike Highway, we turn north onto the gravel path of the Dempster and into the wilderness. This is truly one of the most tantalizing roads anywhere, snaking northward over almost five hundred miles of mesmerizing wildness, broken only by features of the land. Vistas in every direction encompass hundreds of square miles of rugged country, with nary a human in it. It's a seductively severe country, unlike any other, and absolutely beautiful. Early on we enter into the Tombstone Mountains, named for the haunting vertical monolith framed at the head of a valley where we'll stop to scamper across the tundra. It's an area featured in many photos showcasing the Yukon. As part of the larger chain known as the Ogilvies, the mountains are broken only with rugged hills, the road alternatively climbing over ridges and dropping to follow along river banks.
The East Fork of the Blackstone gives way to the Ogilvie and Peel Rivers, names oft mentioned in the lore of the north. Photo opportunities abound the whole way as we climb toward a high plateau and the evening's accommodations (the only, the length of the road), the Eagle Plains Hotel. This is truly an outpost, as the only services for hundreds of miles in any direction are concentrated at this complex of buildings, and the commanding views from here show no other roads, lights or the least signs of humanity. Here on the walls are the fascinating photographic stories of two of the famed tales of the North, the Mad Trapper of Rat River and the Lost Patrol. Both will leave you conjecturing long afterward and most likely on the trail of the books about. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 8: With "civilisation" receding in the mirror we'll check the gas gauge and descend to cross the Eagle River before climbing back to the old familiar Arctic Circle. We cross the circle in a most appropriate setting, the treeless mountains ahead and the vast rolling plain behind stretching to the southern horizon. The vistas of the Richardson Mountains are otherworldly in this northern terminus of the Rocky Mountains. The dry climate prevented the formation of glaciers, contrasting the weathering patterns of the land here with that most everywhere else. We'll cross the border into the Northwest Territories as we make our way to the ferry across the Peel River, with the old Hudson's Bay Company outpost of Ft. MacPherson on the other side. A settlement of a few hundred souls, primarily Dene Indians, the old church graveyard holds the remains of the Lost Patrol on a bluff above the river.
Now skirting the huge delta of the Mackenzie River, the terrain is undulating in nature as we cross by ferry the Arctic Red River to the native village of Tsiigehtchic, and then from here across the broad Mackenzie itself. North to the shores of Cambell Lake and then the edge of the delta might find us marveling at the jarring feeling of seeing other people as we approach Inuvik. Built in the fifties to consolidate a number of native villages subject to flooding, Inuvik is home to over three thousand folks and serves as the hub for an immense but sparsely populated region. It'll seem a bit alien to cross the street and have to look both ways, or poke through a supermarket (and marvel at the prices), after traveling all this way, and you may want a nightcap before bedding down in the Mackenzie Hotel. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 9: We're at the end of the line here as far as the road is concerned, but there is a very interesting option you may want to consider for exploring a bit further. Tuktoyaktuk is a fascinating little native whaling village on the edge of the Beaufort Sea and just a short bush plane flight north. Morning tours are available and quite worthwhile, allowing return in time for your departure by air in the early afternoon to Dawson. For those wishing to explore Inuvik a bit more instead, there is an excellent native cultural museum, a great little bookstore, as well as frighteningly, a fancy coffee shop. As not to have you backtrack the Dempster Highway and thus give you more time to discover, your guide has already left by road this morning to ferry the van back south, with airport shuttle pre-arranged as well as pick-up and transfer to the bed and breakfast in Dawson upon your return there.
You'll get a wonderful perspective of the country from the air on your return, flying over the Delta and stopping briefly in the village of Old Crow, before crossing the Richardson and Ogilvie Mountains by a different route than the Dempster Highway. You may opt for a soak in the hot tub back at the White Ram before dinner, which hopefully flat tires have not prevented your guide from joining... Dawson's night life carries on, with maybe a visit to Diamond Tooth Gerties in order. The contrast of different Norths will by now be feeling very apparent.
Day 10: There's a bit of time left this morning for a quick last poke about Dawson before our trip back to the airport and the flight to Fairbanks. The flight itself is a highlight in that the plane's route first heads back north across the Arctic Circle for a stop, and then follows the Porcupine River to the Yukon Flats and southwestward across the Yukon River itself, before crossing the White Mountains and descending into Fairbanks. It's often clear in the Interior and the views from above drive home the vastness and uniqueness of the arctic. It's a fittingly pensive end to an exploration of remarkable contrasts, beauty, and cultural interchange. Many points and experiences of the last ten days will reside long in your mind, and that we guarantee. You may not decide to move to the arctic, but experiencing it can't help but give a slightly changed perspective on our own lives, at whatever latitude that may be. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Note: There are three departure each summer for this itinerary. Please contact us for current season schedule. Single Supplement upon request (not always available).
Option excluding Prudhoe/Barrow and joining tour on Day 5 is $2175; also, return flights through Anchorage available.
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