Journey through Untamed Wilderness, Alaska Dogsled
- Mush your own sled team of Huskies over vast wilderness distances
- See the northern lights and hear the dogs howl with wolves in the distance
- Experience Alaska at its most wild and powerful: midwinter
- Lodging and meals at a remote homestead and in bush cabins
- Expert training on running your dog team, and specialized equipment and clothing
- Bush flight between Fairbanks and the small settlement of Eagle
|Dates||Mar 9–15, 2014|
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Journey through the Alaskan wilderness on the runners of your own dog sled, urging your team of huskies on before you. Each day, you hear the crisp crunch of the snow at zero degrees as you travel 30 or more miles across the vastness of the white wilderness landscapes; distances unthinkable in the summer months. At night, from the comfort of a cabin, you hear the howling of wolves in the distance. Peeking outside, you see Nature’s most spectacular light show, the shimmering northern lights.
This trip offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the Alaskan winter wilderness as Alaskan pioneers did over a hundred years ago as they searched for gold and trapped for fur in the Yukon.
We will forgo the prepared trails or support teams of ‘tourist’ operators, as we embark on a true Alaskan adventure. After a thorough introduction on dog mushing at our guide’s remote homestead, you will be ready to mush your own dogs throughout our journey, as each trip member will have his or her own sled and dog team. Your will be responsible for your team of huskies, and under the guidance of our experienced guide, you will harness, feed, and care for your dogs. Each day will be filled with the daily chores of living in wild Alaska: after unpacking our gear from our sleds at each new bush cabin, we will be hauling water, melting snow, and caring for the spirited Alaskan huskies that will quickly become our friends.
During our dog mushing travels as well as over traditional Alaskan dinners in the rustic wilderness cabins, our dog musher guide will be there to educate us in topics that range from mushing to wilderness conservation to how to stay warm in -70F weather! He will share with us his in-depth knowledge of raising and racing sled dogs as we journey through the frozen wilderness.
Our journey’s backdrop is one of unique, serene stillness and breathtaking natural beauty, with opportunities to observe the wildlife of the Alaskan interior, including moose, Dall sheep, wolves, and possibly even caribou, which sometimes winter in the area.
Day 1: The adventure begins with a 75-minute bush flight from Fairbanks to Eagle, a remote wilderness outpost only reached by plane during the long Alaskan winter. At the airstrip, our trusted dogmushers will be waiting to outfit the group with arctic mid-winter gear before our travels continue via a 45-minute, seven-mile dogsled run to their family homestead on the banks of the frozen Yukon River.
After settling in, we will venture outdoors, where we will begin learning how to handle the dogs and sleds, starting with the names of the dogs, their positions, and basic commands and trail-finding skills.
Day 2: Today you will learn to care for and handle your own sled and team of 4-5 dogs. Harnessing and unharnessing dogs will become second nature. An initial trip from the homestead will help us learn to travel up and down hills and over broad pathways before moving on to more challenging terrain.
Day 3: The journey through untamed wilderness truly begins as we harness our dog teams, unhook our sleds from the frozen ground, and set out. We'll each mush our own dog team to a backcountry cabin some 30 miles into the white landscape.
Days 4-6: As our expedition continues, we will travel up to 50 more miles. We will pass through extraordinary and varied landscapes that may include sections of tight, twisting, tree-lined trails, canyons, frozen rivers, summit crossings above treeline and descents into boreal forests. Evenings will be spent in rustic cabins, or in large heated arctic winter tents if weather and travel conditions allow it. On any given day, routes and distances will be decided based on weather and snow conditions. At the end of each day, when we have settled our dog teams for the night, dinners will provide a welcome opportunity to recount stories from the day. With the help of our guide, we will attend to the needs of each of our dog teams on a daily basis. We will have numerous opportunities to encounter the wildlife that endure this harsh, cold season. Our return to the comfort of the homestead will be on the evening of day six.
Day 7: In the morning, we will fly from Eagle back to Fairbanks. Trip members should allow some time for weather delays and are advised to not plan their departures from Fairbanks until the early evening. Although the trip will officially end on arrival in Fairbanks, members are invited to join the trip leader for a final meal and reflection.
This seven-day trip begins with our bush flight to Eagle. You are advised to arrive two days prior in Fairbanks so as to be able to recover from missed connections and give any lost luggage time to catch up with you. The days of rest in Fairbanks will be important as we prepare for total immersion into the Alaskan dog-mushing lifestyle the following day. While jet lag and time changes pose their own challenges, be comforted that the approach of spring has lengthened the daylight to over 12 hours.
Accommodations and Food
On this trip you will experience firsthand many aspects of life in a remote area of Alaska. At our dog mushers' homestead on the Yukon River, we'll be housed in a rustic cabin, sleeping in sleeping bags on bunks, and reading by propane or Coleman lamps. As our dog-sledding journey begins, we'll be sheltered in even more remote, one-room cabins heated by wood-burning stoves. Sleep will come easily at the end of a long day in the cold as we make nests on a sleeping pad on the floor and climb into our sleeping bags.
As is fitting on a self-sufficient trip into the Alaskan wilderness, you'll enjoy the bounty of the land with hearty meals that include berry pancakes, seven-grain cereal, moose and caribou meat, and wild Alaska salmon. Although the meals will generally feature wild game, vegetarians can be accommodated with advance notice. Trip meals begin with lunch on day one in Eagle, and end with breakfast on day seven. A hearty breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be provided for each day.
Although showers are not possible every day, a sauna at the homestead and at one of the distant cabins will be available for a delightful treat. A battery-operated shower at the homestead can also provide a chance to clean up.
Strength and agility will be necessary on this trip and you must be in good-to-excellent physical condition and ready for a full, active day outdoors in sub-zero temperatures. Breakfasts will usually be served at 7:30 a.m. and you should be ready for a long travel day that is both physically and mentally demanding. By day two, most daylight hours will be spent riding the runners of your own sled as you explore the depth of your relationship with your own team of dogs. Some days will be spent traveling from camp to camp at distances of up to 50 miles, which will take most of the available daylight hours.
The exhilaration of traveling by dog-powered sled through the Alaskan wilderness can be tempered by the cold weather conditions. The trip leader and dog musher guide will help you prepare for the extremely cold temperatures we will experience.
Equipment and Clothing
Winters in the interior of Alaska are extreme. Temperatures in mid March can range from +20° F to -70° F. Layered clothing is essential to accommodate indoor and outdoor activities and varying levels of exertion. Thin underlayers of silk, capiline, and/or polypro form the necessary base layer. Polar fleece or tightly woven wool pants and a shirt can be worn comfortably over the base layer, followed by windbreaking and heavily insulated outerwear in the form of ski pants and a hooded jacket.
In this extreme climate, special care must be given to the selection of gloves, hat, boots, and face mask, as the extremities are most susceptible to the effects of cold. One thinner layer of gloves is necessary so that you can quickly perform duties requiring manual dexterity under cold conditions. Our guides will provide each trip member with outer mitts, face masks, and, if necessary, outerwear that is appropriate for use in an arctic environment.
Personal toiletries, a small duffle or backpack for extra gear, your one change of clothes, and a camera (with extra batteries) round out the list of necessary items. Small digital cameras that can stay tucked inside your parka (to stay warm) work well in the frozen north. A complete list of clothing and equipment will be provided prior to the start of the trip. The trip leader will help each trip member develop his/her own personal set of clothing.
Specialized equipment needed for dog sledding will be provided. Trip members may bring their own sleeping bag (if rated as a four-season bag) or borrow one from our guides.
- Balzaar, John, Yukon Alone. Wayne, our host, was the guide for the author.
- McPhee, John, Coming Into the Country. The third section in this classic book is about living in bush Alaska in the Eagle area. This book can give you a real feel for the country that you will be traveling in.
- Shore, Evelyn B., Born on Snowshoes. Evelyn was born and raised near Eagle and has traveled extensively by dog sled.
- O'Neil, Dan, A Land Gone Lonesome. This book describes the history of the area and current issues, a great read that provides insight for discussions.
Most of the conservation issues in this region of Alaska concern the balancing of fish, moose, and caribou populations while still providing for the needs of people, as well as predators such as wolves, bears, and eagles. Most of the people in this region live a subsistence lifestyle and are dependent on wild game and fish populations. Many are intimately involved in decisions made by local, statewide, or national entities that manage these resources. Our dog musher guides live off the land at their homestead, and they are very concerned and politically active in all conservation issues to ensure that the wilderness remains wild and unspoiled while providing a way of life that blends with the environment. Our guides will be happy to discuss all of the conservation issues that affect their subsistence lifestyle and give us the chance to experience their lifestyle for ourselves as we travel with them.
Sierra Club outings in Alaska are special experiences in true wilderness, but they also carry an element of risk. Trip locales are often remote, away from the amenities of civilization, including sophisticated medical care and immediate evacuation possibilities. All of our Alaska trips now carry satellite phones, but even with this technology, communication with the outside world can be difficult and emergency assistance is at least a day away. Weather in Alaska is unpredictable, and inclement weather can be severe or serene and beautiful.
In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.