Swimming Caribou and Sand Dunes in Autumn Glory, Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska
- Explore the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes
- Visit Onion Portage, the ancient caribou crossing site
- Enjoy fall colors on the tundra
- Bush flights from Kotzebue
- River transportation
- Permits and fees
|Dates||Aug 24–30, 2014|
|Difficulty||3 (out of 5)|
Some of us dream of experiencing a place that is so pristine that there are no signs of civilization as far as the eye can see. Kobuk Valley National Park is one of those places. It is our least visited national park. This area is home to the Western Arctic Caribou herd, a herd nearly twice the size of the more famous Porcupine Caribou herd in eastern Alaska.
We plan on starting our trip right in the traditional migration route of this magnificent herd. Caribou have been migrating at a point on the Kobuk River called Onion Portage for thousands of years. The archaeological record of native hunters dates back more than 9,000 years. We have timed the trip to coincide with the usual times for that migration. We will spend over two days at Onion Portage, observing and exploring.
On Wednesday we will be taken downriver to a spot close to the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes. The hike to the dunes is about four miles and we will make camp on the dunes. We will then spend the better part of two days exploring these dunes that lie well above the Arctic Circle. At this time of year we will lose several minutes a day of daylight. It will be dark enough to possibly see the Aurora.
The bush pilot will then pick us up on the dunes and take us back to Kotzebue.
Beside the dunes and the caribou, the fall colors, the berries, the remoteness, and the quality of the light are something to experience.
Day 1: We begin the trip in Kotzebue, an old trading town on the coast of the Chukchi Sea. On the morning of August 24th, we will take a bush flight over the Noatak wilderness to a landing spot near the historic Onion Portage. You may want to have your camera ready for these spectacular flights.
Days 2-3: We will have two day hikes from our campsite. There is an archaeological site at Onion Portage that we will explore. We also hope to catch a glimpse of the caribou swimming across the Kobuk River.
Day 4: A motorboat will ferry us downriver to a spot near the Great Sand Dunes.
Day 5: This day we will hike from the river to a spot on the Great Sand Dunes. There we will set up camp and explore our surroundings.
Day 6: We will take a long day hike to get a real feel for these dunes.
Day 7: On our last day together, the bush pilot will pick us up on the dunes and take us back to Kotzebue.
Our trip officially begins in the town of Kotzebue, in western Alaska, on August 24th. To allow for weather or baggage delays -- which, in the Arctic, is unlikely but possible -- trip members are advised to arrive in Kotzebue by the evening of August 22nd. Similarly, don't make flight reservations to leave Kotzebue before August 31st.
Accommodations and Food
All meals and snacks, from lunch on day one to lunch on day seven, are included in the trip price. Our vegetarian-friendly meals will be lightweight backpacking food. As usual on Sierra Club trips, all members help with cooking and cleanup chores with each person assisting for two or three days.
This trip is rated with a trip difficulty of 1 (out of 5). Although most of the trip will be in camp or on the river, we will have to hike into a campsite. The hike from the river to the dunes is 4 miles. Group gear and food may weigh 20 pounds each beyond the personal gear you will carry. With no trails and often uncertain footing, the difficulty of the hiking should not be underestimated. Good physical condition will allow participants to enjoy the trip with more comfort. Because the weather in the Arctic is unpredictable, previous backpacking experience with field-tested gear is essential. Temperatures in August can range from well below freezing to T-shirt weather. Rain is likely for some portion of the trip. If you are prepared and can greet adverse weather as part of the adventure -- not as an ordeal -- you will enjoy this trip.
Equipment and Clothing
Trip participants are expected to furnish their own personal gear. The leaders will mail out a detailed equipment list. The Sierra Club provides group equipment, including pots, cooking utensils, stoves, fuel, cooking tarp, satellite phone, bear repellant spray, repair kit, and first-aid kit.
- Pielou, E.C., A Naturalist's Guide to the Arctic. (Highly recommended)
- Calef, George, Caribou and the Barren Lands.
- Banerjee, Subhankar, Seasons of Life and Land.
- Murie, Margaret, Two in the Far North.
- Berton, Pierre, The Arctic Grail.
- Miller, Debbie, Midnight Wilderness.
- Lopez, Barry, Arctic Dreams.
- Hensley, William L. Iggiagruk, Fifty Miles from Tomorrow.
This area has been a tradition migration point for the Western Arctic Caribou Herd. The herd migrates from the mountains in the south in winter to well into the National Petroleum Reserve in summer. Mineral extraction poses the biggest threat to the delicate balance of this arctic ecosystem. Bird species from several continents come to this land to breed and nurture the next generation. What happens to this ecosystem affects ecosystems in other parts of the world. We will explore and discuss the issues involved in the land, the wildlife, and the people of this special area.
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.
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Alaska National Parks.
Notes for Sierra Club Outings
- Carbon Offsets
- Electronic Billing and Forms
- Electronic Devices
- How to Apply for a Trip
- Leader Gratuities
- Liability Release and Assumption of Risk
- Medical Issues
- Non-discrimination Statement
- Participant Approval
- Reservation and Cancellation Policy
- Seller of Travel Disclosure
- Travel Insurance
- Trip Feedback
- Trip Price
- Wilderness Manners