The hike is a combination of varied terrains and landscapes, including tundra, alpine and subalpine, boreal forest, and all the transitional landscape zones along the way. Gates of the Arctic National Park is a fantastically diverse area.
Starting out on the Alatna River, a designated Wild and Scenic River, we traverse through the boreal forest, mixed black and white spruce forest, interspersed with a few small groves of hardwoods here and there.
Ascend through the transition zone where we backpack through dwarf birch and brushy willow to reach the high subalpine country. Here you enjoy those amazing views of this special landscape; simply jaw-dropping granite peaks towering above our camp that we move beneath in amazement.
Endless talus and moraine tell the story of the harsh arctic climate here. The hiking is not always easy. It is, however, incredibly rewarding and you’ll snap your camera incessantly. This landscape is simply beyond description. Browse the slideshow of Arrigetch Peaks Trip Photos below and see for yourself.
Massive granite spires and craggy pinnacles soar skyward around us. We’ll be sure to have a grand time walking the alpine valleys and passes, the basins and the meadows.
This area includes the three drainages of the high Arrigetch Peaks valley. You’ll also take a nice ridge hike for that bird’s eye perspective.
Is This A Match?
Who’s It For?
Some backpacking experience is required for this trip. The walking can be a little intimidating for novice hikers.
This is a longer backpacking tour with a minimum 8-10 days of backcountry time so you carry a heavy load. We basecamp in the peaks area itself, which helps mitigate that slightly. It’s still quite a slog to get you and your gear and food up there. And back down again.
You’ll want to have some tolerance for discomfort. Heavy loads, bugs, (at times) uneven footing, and lots and lots of boulder hopping up in the peaks area aren’t for everyone. But if this stuffsomething you’re comfortable with the Arrigetch Peaks backpacking trip offers you a remarkable experience.
Getting there. It takes time. Just getting to the Arrigetch Peaks involves quite a bit of travel even once you’re in Alaska. This is the primary driver of the trip cost.
Bushwhacking through muskeg. Most Alaskans I know rate muskeg the toughest of the various terrain challenges we experience here (followed immediately by sidehilling). Muskeg is slow going. And hard.
Boulder hopping in the high country. Hiking over rocks isn’t for everyone either. The talus and boulders in the valley known as Aquarius are pretty tough going even without your backpack on. Prepare yourself for a challenge.
Packrafting Trip Extension
The best way to get around the arctic backcountry is by river. Rivers have been known as the highways of the arctic for years here in Alaska for both summer and wintertime travel. Packrafts have recently really opened up non-winter travel in the Alaska wilderness like few other pieces of non-motorized equipment ever have. It’s now perfectly feasible to do a trip over 4 days and cover 60-80 miles of terrain. Even further in some places.
What I suggest for most folks on our Arrigetch Peaks trip is to combine the backpacking and hiking trip with a packraft trip down the Alatna River. We’ll store the packrafts and boating gear at our landing zone area when we first fly in to the backcountry. This way we’re not carrying all that equipment on the hikes. When we come back down from the mountains we pick up our packrafting gear and then float the river.
The Alatna River is a very easy Class I river. Flatwater paddling. The options include a 20 mile float to Takahula Lake where we exit the river and make a short portage to the lake for our pickup. The other is a longer 45 mile float to the confluence with Malamute Fork. My suggestion for most inexperienced boaters is the shorter trip. Neither trips involve any tricky water at all and both options are fine for beginning boaters.
All packrafting gear, paddling equipment, dry bags, paddling clothes, PFDs (Personal Floatation Devices) are supplied by Expeditions Alaska.
Take a look at the Alatna River Packrafting Video below.
Alatna River Packrafting
We meet in Fairbanks and then travel to Bettles Lodge. We fly in to the Brooks Range, landing near the Alatna River. The hike up to the Arrigetch Peaks involves some bushwhacking.
Then we hit the subalpine and spend our time in this amazing granite range. We either run this as a backpacking trip or as a combination backpack/basecamp and exploratory dayhike trip. Usually (and my recommendation is) the former.
It’s best done spending at least a couple of days in the alpine region. Hiking and scrambling up the ridge lines and valleys for some of these great views. The options really do go on forever up here.
We then hike back down below treeline and back toward the Alatna. We’ll meet our pilot for the air taxi ride back to Bettles. We’ll spend another night in Bettles, then fly back to Fairbanks the following day.
Where Are We?
“Arrigetch” is an Inupiat word that translates in English to, approximately, “fingers of the outstretched hand”, an apt phrase to outline the almost lifelike, clawing scrapes of rock here. The Arrigetch Peaks, part of the Endicott Mountains in the central Brooks range, are a designated National Natural Landmark, recognized as an “outstanding example of natural history both biological and geological features in the US”; all this means is that the Arrigetch Peaks are amazing.
Will we see critters?
Wildlife aren’t prominent up here. The arctic mountains are a hash world. A short growing season with a long cold winter means population densities are low.
Yes, grizzly and black bear reside here, as do wolves and coyote, fox, moose, caribou, Dall sheep and more. I’ve seen (and heard) most of these creatures here at one time or another, but we typically don’t see all of these on any one trip.
Will we see other people on this trip?
Gates of the Arctic National Park is a big area, and receives very small tourist numbers. But Arrigetch Peaks is definitely the most popular backcountry destination in the park, and draws a pretty good crowd.
Expect to see at least one or two other groups of hikers or climbers while you’re out here.
Are the bugs bad?
Well, they can be pretty gnarly. Later in summer towards fall is better, as their numbers drop. late June and July sees the highest numbers.
Bring a headnet.
How's the weather here?
Well, this is Gates of theNational Park. Don’t be surprised if it snows. Or rains. Or blows hard. Or all three. Or all three at once.
Don’t be surprised if you get some gorgeous clear, dry sunny days,as well. The arctic can be like that.
Expect weather in fall (late Aug-early Sept) to be chilly, down to (and below) freezing. By contrast, it can also be warm and even mildly hot in summer.
How high are the peaks?
Most of the peaks here are around 6000-7000′ ASL. Not terribly high by Alaska standards. But oh so grand.
How tough is this trip?
This is a tough walk.
Yes, we’ll have easier times and mild days. But the trip is rated 5 boots, so expect sections of it to challenge you. They challenge me, and I do a lot of this.
You’ll need to be in good shape, strong and athletic and capable of carrying a heavy load over difficult terrain.
What’s Included – Gates trips?
All multi-day trips (backpacking, basecamping, packrafting, photo tours) out of Fairbanks include transport to/from Fairbanks/Bettles, 1 night accommodations in Bettles, air taxi flights Bettles/The Backcountry, group gear such as cook tents, stoves, fuel, BRFCs, bear spray, etc. Hiking poles are included if you don’t have your own.
We include a satellite phone for emergencies and one backup emergency contact device, such as PLB or Garmin InReach. First aid kits, map and compass included. All guides are Wilderness First Responder Certified.
Storage of your overnight travel gear is limited but available (keep it simple, one small overnight bag).
Outfitting of equipment such as tents is available. Expeditions Alaska can either fully outfit your trip (all food, tents, etc) or adjust things a la carte if needed.
Guide gratuities are not included but most appreciated. Trip insurance is not included but I urge you to purchase it on your own.
For a full outline of What’s included/not included, please see this page
What’s A Fully Outfitted Trip Involve?
That is trip dependent.
For backpacking trips, a fully outfitted option includes your tent (one or two person tent), stove, all your kitchenware, food and cooking by Expeditions Alaska. A typical trip, up to ten days long, costs an additional $250.00 per person for the fully outfitted option.
Available “á la carte” options are (per person)
For personal items such as a backpack, or sleeping pad, talk to me prior to your trip and we’ll see what we can arrange. If you need a pack I recommend you rent a backpack from a reputable local outfitter. They can find and fit a pack to you rather than “making do” with one of mine that may or may not be a good fit for you.
Items such as BRFC, bear spray, stove, fuel, hiking poles are included gratis with Expeditions Alaska trips. See What’s Included? for more info.
I Have More Questions
I know you do. I do as well.
I recommend starting with the General Trip FAQ page
Upon your reservation I’ll also send out a comprehensive trip information packet that covers just about everything and more you might imagine about your trip.
Tim Block, Rochester MN
My wife and I just completed a two week trip with Carl In June 2017. One week of kayaking at Icy Bay, “ice-breaking” in our kayaks, moose, wolverine, seal and sea lion watching, glacier calving, good conversation around the camp stove, all at the foot of Mt St Elias. A second week, exploring the tundra […]
Laura H., Houston, Texas
I did the Aurora trip with Carl in March 2017, and I had an excellent experience and came away with some shots that I was really happy with. We were lucky and were able to see the Aurora every night of the 6-night trip. And while luck played a part, I know that Carl’s careful […]
Julien F, NYC
I’m just back from the bald eagles november photo trip with Carl and it was amazing. Thousands of eagles right here, posing for the camera, in the charming and quiet town of Haines. Carl was a wonderful guide and photography teacher. I learnt a lot about eagles, Alaska, and photography, notably improving my skills and […]
Hank S, GA
“Carl — just wanted to say hi and thank you for the awesome trip to Katmai! My pictures are fantastic!! – If you will be offering the trip again in 2013 I am very interested. Thank you again for fantastic trip last year”. – Hank S, GA Related Articles
Bob Schlatter, CA
“Carl, I think you have raised the bar for photographing bears with your tour. The experience of being with those magnificent creatures will last a lifetime. Everyday brought new and exciting opportunities, being in the water or on the river bank made it so much better. …. Mark was fantastic, his meals were varied and […]
David Campbell, Australia
“Carl really made sure I had the best possible shooting opportunities and drove out to numerous different sites. Most nights we traveled hundreds of miles in search of good foreground interest (Carl knows all the great spots) I could not recommend Expeditions Alaska higher!” — Dave C Related Articles
George Kelly, CA
In my opinion, there is no other wilderness guiding company out there that can match what Carl Donohue provides to his clients….professionalism, fun, excitement, and his services are worth ever dime spent to experience the wilds of Alaska. Thank you Carl. Related Articles
Carl did such an amazing and conscientious job of putting us in position for the killer shot. His experience photographing really showed and I could not be more pleased with the result. Related Articles
Alex V, VA
Amazing trip as someone who visited Alaska on a tour with my family 10+ years ago. I chose this trip because I wanted to hike into the wilds of Alaska and see what we saw and of course take pictures. This trip will not disappoint if that is your motive. Make sure you are fit […]
Dan Lind, AZ
Trip could not have been any better! Related Articles
I’ve put a series of trip itineraries online here to give visitors to the site a more detailed look at some of our trips and what options they include. I can’t over-emphasize that this is simply an example.
What I work hardest on is tailoring trips to the specific interests and abilities and experience of the people who hike with us. No 2 trips are the same. Where possible we don’t use the same campsites trip to trip. We often even vary the route as possible.
I try to be flexible with how far we hike each day, with how many days we spend in the backcountry. What time we get up in the morning for example, is largely up to the trip participants (unless for some reason I feel we need to be up and on the trail by a particular time – this rarely happens).
The Arrigetch Peaks trekking trip in Gates of the Arctic National Park is awesome, but challenging. The itinerary is somewhat fluid and I’m open to suggestions on alternatives. Weather, hiker experience and many other factors determine the actual trip.
Assume your dates are Aug 1 – Aug 10 for this itinerary.
Trip participants should arrive in Fairbanks no later than the evening before our schedule trip departure date. For our example, the Trip would require all participants arrive in Fairbanks sometime on July 31. I highly recommend you try to arrive even a day earlier is at all possible, to allow for flight delays resulting from weather. Expeditions Alaska does not provide, but can recommend, accommodation in Fairbanks.
I’ll shuttle us to the airport, where we travel to Bettles, Alaska, drop our overnight gear at the Lodge and then fly on in to the backcountry. We do NOT plan to overnight in Bettles the first night. Via floatplane, we’ll land near the Alatna River and hike to our first campsite.
Some bushwhacking. Hit a small game trail and begin the trek up towards the alpine area. We’ll likely camp again in the forested area here.
Scoot on up to the alpine areas of the Arrigetch Peaks. We’ll make camp and spend a few days exploring the various valleys of the area, including my favorite, Aquarius. Be prepared for some adventurous and challenging boulder hopping and scrambling. And some jaw-dropping scenery.
A good day to climb up over the main ridge near Ariel (a peak) and view north toward the Alatna headwaters. Hike back down to the forest and camp.
Hike to the lake for our pickup and flight back to Bettles. Stay the night at the Lodge. Day 10 we fly back to Fairbanks.
No extra gear required. Standard 3 season backpacking gear for Alaska is fine. One night accomodation provided in Bettles at the end of the trip. We’ll arrive back in Fairbanks mid-morning on Day 10. Accomodation is NOT provided in Fairbanks.
Return travel include Fairbanks <–> Bettles, and then backcountry bush flight Bettles to Alatna River and back.
Packraft the Alatna River back to Bettles – add 3 days. Packraft gear provided.