Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve Trip

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Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve Trip

Postby Mocs123 » Wed Sep 09, 2015 6:54 pm

I just got back from a 11 day backpacking/packrafting trip in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. We spent 9 days backpacking and two days packrafting.

I used a Unaweep 4800 with X21RC and it performed admirably in the dense dwarf birch, alder, and willow, as well as in the talus. At the end of the trip there were no holes and only some light abrasion on the water bottle pockets.

I carried almost 40 pounds after taking some of my hiking companions gear and the pack handled it exceptionally well.

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Mocs123
 
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Re: Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve Trip

Postby swisski » Wed Sep 09, 2015 8:45 pm

absolutely amazing pictures and country
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Re: Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve Trip

Postby kevin_t » Thu Sep 10, 2015 5:49 am

Yes amazing country. You should tell us more about planning a trip in there ? How did you go about it ? Travel


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Re: Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve Trip

Postby Mocs123 » Thu Sep 10, 2015 6:27 am

logistics can be daunting. I actually had a local guide (Carl Donahue - Epeditions Alaska) coordinate the logistics and he did a fantastic job. After going the logistics wouldn't be terrible to set up yourself, but what I would have done is vastly over estimate my ability to grind out miles in that terrain. Looking at topo maps and even satellite imagery the terrain looks easily traversed. In reality it is Muskeg - a spungy-boggy marsh that sinks six inches on every step. Then you have the tussocks when are 12" diameter balls of grass 12-24" high that are ankle breakers when stepped on and extremely muddy when stepped around. The brush is tedious too but at least it's not thorny so it is compatible with thick brush elsewhere.

As far as logistics go, I flew into Fairbanks then drove the Dalton Highway to Pump Station 5 and the Prospect Creek Airstrip. There are two air services that operate out of Bettles, AK (no road access); the one ran by Bettles Lodge and Brooks Range Aviation. We had coordinated with Bettles Lodge and they picked us up in their Cessna 180 with Tundra Tires. Once we got to Bettles we transfered to their float plane a Beaver and flew into Circle Lake (about a 45 min flight).

On the return trip they picked us up at a different lake, Takahula Lake, and flew us back to Bettles where we spent the night (the sunset photo is looking right out the lodge door onto the airstrip), had a great meal, and flew back to Pump Station 5 on the Cessna the next morning. We drove back to Fairbanks that night (the aurora pic was taken in Fairbanks) and flew out the next morning.
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Re: Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve Trip

Postby kevin_t » Thu Sep 10, 2015 7:04 am

What did you use as a rental on the dalton ? Yes the tundra is much harder to walk than it appears. I wasn't fortunate enough to glimps any aurora on my trip.


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Re: Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve Trip

Postby Mocs123 » Thu Sep 10, 2015 7:59 am

Carl provided a van but any car would probably do. The Dalton Highyway is paved in some areas and not in others. On our way up the road was in really good shape and not much different than a older paved highway. On the way back the road wasn't in as good of shape and had quite a few potholes and washboard areas typical of a Forrest service type road. If you drive a rental on it be prepared to replace a windshield as the many trucks spray you with rocks as they rocket by and plan on spending some time at a car wash to get the grime off.

You can also fly directly from Fairbanks to Bettles as there are daily commercial flights by Wright Air Service using 15 passenger Cessna Grand Caravans. Bettles Lodge also often has a plane in Fairbanks so they could possibly fly you directly from there too.

If you are interested in just backpacking or paddling and don't want to deal with the logistics yourself I recomend calling Carl at Expeditions Alaska. If hunting is your thing I would call Bettles Lodge direct. They do a large portion of their business with Moose and Caribou hunters.
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Re: Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve Trip

Postby kevin_t » Thu Sep 10, 2015 10:00 am

Well , I just did a trip up close to the Arctic Ocean , and while I had friends that drove the Dalton, I have also met people that paid a lot to rent vehicles for the Dalton. I was just curious the logistics for those that don't have friends in Fairbanks
Thanks


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Re: Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve Trip

Postby Mocs123 » Thu Sep 10, 2015 2:42 pm

Here is my thoughts on some of the gear I carried:

Hiking Clothing:

Shirt: REI Sahara button up shirt - (9.9oz in Men’s M) - I got this shirt specifically for this trip as I wanted a bug proof shirt (tight woven nylon) and my normal nylon hiking shirt by Railriders has lots of mesh which I didn’t want at those cooler temperatures. I had this shirt Permethrin treated prior to the trip, but it wasn’t necessary this time of year. The shirt was 95% Nylon and had a nice cotton soft feel, unlike many nylon shirts. It proved sufficiently durable and comfortable for the trip.

Pants: Patagonia Rock Guides - (10.2oz in Men’s 34) - I have had these pants a few years and they are always comfortable. My favorite hiking pants (Railriders Eco Mesh) came all the way to Fairbanks with me before I decided to go with the Patagonia’s. I figured the zippered mesh panels in the Railriders, wouldn’t be much use with temps below 50*F.

Footwear: Salomon XA Pro 3D Trailrunners -(28.6oz in Mens 9) - I have been using these breathable trail runners pretty much exclusively since 2007 so I am very happy with they way they fit my feet. My hiking partners were wearing boots (Lowa or Asolo) and laughed that I was just going to get my feet wet. I knew of course my feet would be wet, and by the end of the day, all three of my companions wearing heavy boots had wet feet too, only heavy wet feet in boots that wouldn’t dry.

Socks: Darn Tough Vermont no cushin crew (1.65oz in Mens M) - I used one pair the whole trip, putting on wet (or frozen if I forgot to put them under my sleeping pad) socks almost every day. They would dry after a few hours of “dry” hiking, but that rarely happened - there was no shortage of water here. They held up well especially considering the amount of grit and sand and the fact they stayed wet almost the entire time. They practically look brand new.

Supplemental Clothing:

Rain Shell: Haglofs Ozo Pullover (7.5oz for Mens L) - I really like this simple pullover made of Gore Tex Packlite. It has a fantastic hood, with a nice drop tail, and long arms with thumb loops. I have used this for several seasons already and this trip it got subjected to plenty of rain, snow, and wintery mix. It also had to deal with wet brush. The jacket kept me quite dry, though after all the brush, the DWR on the sleaves is in rough shape.

Rain Pants: Golite Reed (5.5oz for Mens M) - The Reeds have long been my go to rain pants but this trip did them in. The brush put several holes in the legs and all of the DWR has been removed. The legs now have a fuzzy feel on the face fabric due to all of the abrasion. The pants did do a reasonable job of keeping my dry despite the loss of DWR, but they didn’t dry very quickly at all. The biggest problem was my hiking pants wicking water up from the bottom underneath them. I am now on the search for some replacement rain pants under 6oz.

Windshirt: Patagonia Houdini (4oz for Mens M) - I have been using the Houdini since 2011 and I have found it to be a valuable piece on most of my trips out west. I didn’t use it as much on this trip for one reason or another, perhaps due to the fact that my tight weaved nylon shirt with few vents performed almost the same function.

Midlayer: Lands End 100wt Fleece (8.8oz in Mens L) - I don’t normally take a midlayer, but I wanted something on this trip that I could hike in if needed and would handle wet nasty weather and fleece fits the bill. I am a big fan of 100wt Fleece and this cheap fleece from Lands End fit the bill and was even made from Polartec brand fleece.

Insulating Jacket: Bozman Mountain Works Cocoon Hoody (9.6oz in Mens M) - I normally use a down piece from Mont-Bell and I think I would go that route if I was doing this trip again, but I thought this synthetic piece might be of value in this wet environment. This piece is 80g/sqyd Climashield Apex and has a nice hood but no handwarmer pockets, which I missed a time or two.

Sleeping Shirt: Patagoinia Capaline 4 (5.1oz in Mens M) - Cap 4 has a lot of warmth for the weight so long as you cover it with a windproof layer. I have found it makes a good active layer at really cold temps, and a nice clean baselayer with some insulating properties while in camp all while being as light (or lighter) than just about any other baselayer top out there.

Sleeping Pants: Patagoinga R1 (8.1oz in Mens M) - I normally use Cap 4 for this role, but I thought I might spend some more time around camp than usual and therefore it would be nice to have something a bit warmer. It turns out I just wore my hiking pants around camp most of the time, but I was still glad to have them in case I needed them. There were a few days I didn’t even wear them to sleep in. I would like to find a nice pair of form fitting 100wt fleece pants as I think they would be lighter than the R1’s, but plain fleece seems to have fallen out of favor as a “technical” fabric.

Warm Hat: Mountain Hardwear Micro Dome (0.9oz) - A 100wt fleece hat is one of the most versatile items you can bring on a trip. I can hike in in on a cold day or a cool morning, wear it around camp, sleep in it, the whole 9 yards. I have had this one for a long time and its still one of my favorite pieces of gear.

Gloves: Mountain Hardwear Powersteach Gloves (1.4oz) - Another favorite of mine that I have used for years.

Sleep System:

Shelter: MLD Solomid XL Cuben (11.5oz) - This is a relatively new shelter to me and has replaced my 2008 vintage Gossamer Gear Spinshelter as my primary solo backpacking shelter. It held up fine in the wind and kept me dry which is what I ask for from a shelter. I also used the MLD Solomid XL Innernet in Silnylon (12.5oz) because I thought bugs could be an issue, but as it turned out I probably could have used just a groundsheet.

Sleeping Pad: Thermarest Neoair XTherm (15.2oz) - It only got down to 20*F one night so I didn’t really get to push this new addition to the limits, but it seemed warm enough and inflated easier than the Exped pad it replaced. I didn’t find it noisy as some others have found the Neoair, but I think that is more of a problem with the early versions. I do prefer the rectangle shape of the Exped though and they do have that in the XTherm now sold as the XTherm Max.

Sleeping Bag: Javon Dempsey Quilt (20.25oz) This is a custom made quilt I had done five years ago after a cold night I had in a Katabatic Quilt (due to the narrow width). Soon thereafter Katabatic started offering wide widths for side sleepers such as myself, but in the meantime Javon made me a nice quilt with 12oz of 850 fill power down and I have been very happy with it. I was toasty warm at 20*F.

Cook Tent: Carl brought a big Sierra Designs Mid to use as a cook tent and although it wouldn’t have made a good shelter to sleep in, it was so nice to have a big mid to get out of the weather to cook/eat in. The mid was a little fiddly to me to set up possibly because it had a sod skirt. It also had guy out points on the inside (good) and loops on the inside (not used - but also good), but they used the same webbing and would drip through in a rain. Carl said he had tried all kinds of ways to seam seal them but can’t 100% stop the leaks. Overall its not that big of deal for a cooktent, but I wouldn’t want to sleep in a drippy mid.

Packing:

Backpack: Paradox Unaweep 4800 X21RC (51oz including 2- Zimmerbuilt hipbelt pockets @ 1.2oz each) I bought this pack specifically for this trip as none of my normal packs could handle the volume I needed for this trip. My starting weight including all food and water should have been about 32 pounds, but I volunteered to carry some “group” gear since my pack was lighter than everyone else’s. I carried two additional 220g Fuel Canisters, a “group” inreach, as well as the pole and the stakes for the cook tent, so I was probably pushing 40 pounds when it was all said and done. The pack carried that weight effortlessly. I didn’t use a talon to save weight so I folded the roll top down and attached to the bottom buckles to make a roll top dry bag type closure. I used the middle buckles to attach to and hold up the load shelf. The X21RC fabric held up quite well to all the dwarf birch, alder, willow, black spruce, and talus I saw on the trip. The light gray color is fairly stained up (which doesn’t bother me) and the water bottle pockets have some slight fuzzing on the fabric face, but nothing bad considering all the abuse they received. On a side note the water bottle pockets worked fine. I am a picky person when it comes to water bottle pockets and use 32oz Gatorade/Powerade bottles. The Unaweep pockets are nothing fancy and are very basic, but they worked great as I could get a bottle in or out with the pack on, something that if I can’t do-quickly eliminates packs from my gear closet. I seamsealed the pack prior to taking it to Alaska and although it might not have been 100% waterproof, it was pretty close. It was hard to tell after a HEET leak inside the pack (Note: the Stock Yellow HEET container is not water tight once opened ). I did have all my important gear in a trash compactor bag, which keep it away from the HEET. I am impressed enough that I am seriously considering ordering a 3900 pack bag to fit to the same frame for the rest of my trips.

Cooking:

Stove: Caldera Cone (2.9oz - including stove, windscreen, measuring cup, and mini BIC) - I have been using this same stove since 2008 and it works very well for the way I cook. I boil just ~12oz of water per day for dinner and don’t do a hot breakfast or coffee. For this trip I calculated that I needed 5.7oz of fuel for this trip but at the last minute I was asked to cook for another member so I took the whole bottle of HEET (12oz) instead of repackaging which later proved a mistake.

Bear Canister: Bearikade Expedition (37.2oz) - This is another item purchased for this trip. I have a Bearikade Weekender and a Bearvalt Solo, both of which were too small for this trip. The three other members of my group used Bearvault 500’s and an UrSack for their additional food, but I was able to fit everything inside the Expedition.

Packrafting Gear:

Boat: Alpacka Dali Llama : All the packrafting gear was provided by Expeditions Alaska and this was my first time packrafting. We didn’t have to carry them more than a mile or two as we stashed them when we landed and looped around to where the float plane dropped us off on our 9th day backpacking and picked them up. I don’t really have anything to compare it to but it seemed like a capable and stable boat. It was plenty big (I probably would have been OK with the smaller Yak) and we just lashed our packs on the bow and went down the river. Inflating them was a bit of a hassle, but I can’t think of a better lightweight solution.
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Re: Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve Trip

Postby kevin_t » Thu Sep 10, 2015 3:36 pm

Tremendous scenery. Thanks for the detailed information on the logistics. The ability to rent many of those items is certainly a plus.


I only had bugs in one location in the arctic, I did not have any darkness though. Yes , boots are not worth it there. I should have brought a trail runner, but instead had Tevas and neoprene socks and then boots. The boots were always wet. A trail runner would have worked for both ..sort of like slot canyons.

I used our Cimarron tent. We had 3 days of rain followed by a day of snow. It got used with the wood stove for drying gear, although the only available wood was willow and it was hard to get going. Cook tent, we used a mix mash of tarps. Clothes were pretty much standard fair late season / wet weather. I used our throwback sleeping bag which is not UL, but it's tough and performed well, and I was always warm.

Great trip and thanks for sharing
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Re: Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve Trip

Postby ScottH » Thu Sep 10, 2015 7:59 pm

Sounds like a great trip. Thanks for the pics of some beautiful country and the gear review.
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