Friday, July 20, 2007

Alaska Brooks Range Traverse

Last summer I hiked and canoed across the Brooks Range of northern Alaska. For the story, many photos, and a gear list, please click this link. If you have any questions or would like to leave any comments, please leave them here.


  1. Anonymous1:46 PM

    Buck, you mentioned a "one time exemption" from Gates of the Artic National Park to cache your barrel. Why was the exemption required? I have read the regs and don't see a conflict there.

  2. Hi cjjeeper,

    Thanks for the comment. Let me first say that when it comes to regulations, people should always check with the land managers for themselves. For one thing, regs change; they are frequently interpreted differently by different land managers; and your buddy, website or what have you may be flat out wrong.

    When I was planning to put that cache at the headwaters of the Noatak River, an air taxi I talked to said that Gates of the Arctic wouldn't allow them (air taxis) to leave unattended caches. When I talked to Gates of the Arctic they asked me what I was going to do, asked if I had bear-proof containers, and said they would allow it this time.

    Bottom line: contact Gates of the Arctic and ask them specifically about what you are planning to do.

    Good luck!


  3. Your DVD arrived and I watched it last night. It was both inspirational and daunting. Thanks for the kind note on the DVD and receipt. My parents were impressed. I've got a lot of work to do with the preparation for my expedition. Organising an expedition of this magnitude from a sunny beach almost as far away as you can possibly get is not easy. I do have a few more questions for you. I expect that you have many important and fun things going on during this festive season, so no rush with your response. Now. . . . .
    - Roughly how much do the following items cost (or can I rent them if they will be 100% reliable?) and where do you recommend getting them from:
    Sat Phone
    Bear proof containers
    the canoe you used
    - I'm aware that people are meant to hike with animal resistant food containers whilst in Alaska parklands. Did you have one of these with you? Is this more of a suggestion rather then being mandatory? And if so where did you get it, how much did it cost and how much did it weigh?
    - You mate that flew you and your food in, is he a pilot by trade? Could I use him for my expedition? If not do you have a friend you could recommend as a pilot?
    - I would understand if you wouldn't want to give the coordinates away, but if you are happy to, could you tell me the coordinates of your food caches to give me a better idea of the distances you hiked between food drops and the route you took?

    Once again thanks for all of your help. You are really proving to be invaluable to my attempt at crossing the Brooks Range. I hope you have a fantastic christmas. Just in case you are a little chilly at the moment, at the time of this email, the difference in temperature between where I am right now and where you are (provided you are in Fairbanks) is 120 F!!!!!! : )

    take care Buck.

  4. Hi Axel,

    I would recommend purchasing your GPS and sat phone. They would run about $100+ and $1,000+ respectively if you shop around (ebay,etc.) Plus you'll need to buy minutes for your sat phone at about $1+ per minute. Sat phones should be on the Iridium system for northern Alaska to get decent coverage.

    I didn't use any bear-proof containers until I got to the "Haul Road." The backpacking cannisters I got on loan from Gates of the Arctic National Park. They also loaned me the smaller "food barrel" for my trip on the Noatak. I purchased the large "raft barrel."

    GAAR (Gates of the Arctic Park and Preserve) says "All Alaska National Parks and Preserves require that food and garbage be stored by an approved means." ANWR didn't require cannisters as of 2006, but you should check on the latest. Light ones weigh from about 2 1/2 pounds on up.

    My inflatable canoe was a Pro Pioneer, and I got it from Pristine Ventures. You can check with them about rentals to see if it makes sense to buy or rent.

    Marty, my pilot buddy, is a private pilot. Private pilots cannot fly others for hire. You'll need to contact a licensed air taxi(s) such as Coyote Air, Brooks Range Aviation, etc. Flying in Alaska is quite expensive, for good reason.

    I had caches on the Sheenjek River, the Marsh Fork of the Canning, and the Wind River. West of the Haul Road they were at the Anaktuvuk Pass Post Office, Circle Lake at Arrigetch Peaks and at the headwaters of the Noatak. Those were easily doable distances. I don't have the exact coordinates at hand. The actual walking distance between these points is a bit of a guess anyway.

    When I was planning my trip, I was surprised at a couple of things: one was that no one from ANWR or GAAR told me it was a crazy idea, and they were very vague on route-finding suggestions. One reason is there is minimal information on parts of the route I was looking at. Another is that they wanted people to explore, and the unknown is one of the best parts of the Alaskan wilderness. There were many mountain passes where, as I approached the top, I didn't know if I could make it down the opposite side or not. That was both a tense feeling and a wonderful feeling. For that reason I'm going to avoid publicizing my exact route.

    One other point to those that may be reading this: needless to say there are some real risks involved in a trip like this, and when most people consider the risks the first thing that springs to mind is bears. But bears aren't nearly as dangerous, in my opinion, as poor judgment and a lack of proper experience.

    In the book and movie "Into the Wild" young Christopher McCandless died a relatively short distance from the road, inside a bus, because he had a dream and a sense of adventure but poor judgment combined with insufficient experience.

    Skills required to do a trip like this safely include:

    Dressing properly,
    Knowing how hard to push,
    Gear selection,
    Safe river crossing,
    Campsite selection,
    Setting up shelters properly,
    Keeping sleeping gear dry,
    Avoiding falls,
    Staying properly hydrated and fed,
    Good route finding (knowing how to use maps, compass, and GPS,)
    Foot and general body care,
    Fire starting,
    Minimizing bear encounters,
    Proper experience,
    Good judgment,
    Proper planning.

    Best of luck, and Happy Holidays!


  5. Anonymous11:04 AM

    Merry Christmas Buck! I was wondering if you had a local map source (Alaska. FB or ANC)?

  6. Hi cjjeeper,

    Most of the topo maps I buy I get from the Geophysical Institute map store at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. I also download and print maps from these two sites:

    Happy Holidays!


  7. Anonymous1:17 AM

    Hey Buck,

    How did you get back after you got to the ocean?

  8. Hi cjjeeper, to quote my site "I'd gotten the names of 3 people from Kotzebue who shuttle people across the Sound. I gave one of those fellows a call and in an hour we were pounding our way across at high speed!"

    Happy New Year!


  9. Hello Buck,

    Just received and watched your Brooks Range Traverse DVD. Another outstanding Alaska adventure! What an amazing trip, loved it! Will be re-watching it many, many times, just as we did your 700 Mile DVD. Great work!

    Also looking forward to your Continental Divide Hike. Thought that it would be relatively safer without all the 'big' bears (except for the few up north), but see on the news about the activity with the Mexican army down by your Columbus terminus. Might be exciting there too?

    I've spent some time in the Gila, closer to the Nagrito Fire Station, and Bear Wallow areas. More of a camper than a hiker however, less leg-more stomach. Beautiful big tree country up there. That will be another great trip for you, I'm sure.

    I always enjoy viewing your trips and adventures, thanks for sharing them with all of us. You are a very unique and exceptional person Buck. Thanks also for taking the time to answer the many questions you get on your site. Especially in such a laid-back and friendly manner. We can all learn something from the way you handle yourself, while hiking and otherwise.

    Take care, and best of luck to you, Buck.

    Mike in NM

  10. Hi Mike,

    I'm glad you enjoyed the new video!

    I hadn't heard the news about the trouble in the Palomas area. I'll stear clear of it, and will likely just put a foot across the border.

    I hear the Gila is really nice and I look forward to checking it out.

    Thanks for all the kind words and best of luck to you!


  11. Anonymous1:01 AM

    Just want you to know that, as someone who loves the Brooks Range, I appreciate that you have not outlined your exact route. That is the joy of the range--finding your own way.

  12. Just want you to know that, as someone who loves the Brooks Range, I appreciate that you have not outlined your exact route. That is the joy of the range--finding your own way.

    Thank you. I agree.

  13. Hi Buck,

    How come you did not attempt to fish at all before the Noatak River? Would it have been possible to fish east of the Dalton Highway in the ANWR and reduce the dependency on the food caches?

    Have ordered your DVD's - looking forward to their arrival!


  14. Hi Pete,

    I did some fishing before the Noatak as you'll see in the DVD. My fishing gear during the hike portion of my trip consisted of some flyline, flies, and my tent pole. Caught a few fish that way, too! I did eat some fish to supplement my diet on the trip. That was more practical on the Noatak where I had better fishing gear and the fish were many times bigger.

    I hope you like the DVDs!



  15. Plannig to go on adventure in Alaska can't wait.