16 Days in the Gates of the Arctic

The Gates of the Arctic is the most remote national park in the United States. It is situated within the Arctic Circle and has no roads or any sort of infrastructure.

Just raw wilderness.

Our plan consisted of a 10-day loop backpacking in the Arrigetch Peaks, finishing with packrafting down the Alatna River for 6 days to our pickup point. We would get dropped off and picked up from the park via bush plane.

Our trip started in Coldfoot, right off the Dalton Highway where we would fly out of with Coyote Air. We got an early start our first day loading up all our gear into the Beaver, and shortly after we were in the air headed into the heart of the Gates of the Arctic. The views were absolutely mind-blowing. Huge peaks towering everywhere you looked.

After roughly an hour, we finally got to the confluence of the Alatna River with the Arrigetch creek where Dirk, our pilot, landed on a gravel bar. We unloaded our gear and he took off. We are officially in the heart of the Gates of the Arctic. 

We set up a cache with our supplies for the last 6 days of the trip, as well as the 2 Packrafts, Drysuit, paddles, etc.

We start out our first day of hiking and cut brought the thick brush, making our way towards the Arrigetch Creek. From day one the views were absolutely stunning, and after a few hours of hiking, we found one of the most gorgeous camp spots of the whole trip, with running water on both sides, and the dramatic towering peaks of the Arrigetch in the distance.

On our second day, we set out on the way towards Aquarius Valley. The sun was shining and the colors of the valley were vibrant. We could see the dramatic Arrigetch peaks get closer and closer in the distance. We stopped on a hill overlooking the creek for lunch. The plan was to camp somewhere near the base of The Maidens. Mosquitoes were out for blood and we made fun of each other’s heads being covered by them.

We made it to the valley and decided to go higher and closer to the base, past a boulder field. As we are going up, it starts to rain mildly and as we make it to the top of the field, the clouds break and the sun shines beautiful rays of light illuminating the peaks. It was a magical moment that lasted about 10 minutes. Enough to get us really excited!

The first week the mosquitoes were fierce. We had to keep all parts of our bodies covered at all times.  At one point we had a tarp over our bodies. 

One of our favorite day hikes was up one of the creeks with 5 consecutive lakes upstream. Their color was simply unreal. Towards the end, we reach a steep field with huge boulders, probably the most fun part of this hike. When we make it to the top: an epic view of the lake next to us and 2 below.

We climb down and head back to camp. We are exhausted after a very long day of hiking, but by the time we get to camp, the magic is about to start again. The sun starts rising and lights up the peaks right in front of us.

On our fourth day, we decided to hike to the next valley and spend a couple of days exploring that area.

On our fifth day, we got what was probably the best sunrise of the trip. The light turned the valley golden. It was also the last time we would see the sun for the next 3 days. 

Shortly after, the weather quickly turned to rain and fog. We hiked to the end of the valley, and up the top of the ridge. We were happy to find wildflowers decorating the sides of the hills! Not long after we were completely soaked in and we decided to hike down to camp.

One of the many creek crossing. This day it one of the coldest. Fog covered the valleys, and its movement revealed the silhouettes and peaks in the distance. The rain turned the creeks into raging monsters, and sometimes just plain scary. Luckily we didn’t have any issues on the crossings. 

We found many blueberry bushes in this area. They were delicious!

On our ninth day, we finally saw the sunshine again. So we decided to stop by the lake, lay all our stuff to dry, and have a day to rest.

On the tenth day, we hiked out of the Arrigetch area, back to the gravel bar where we had set up our cache. In the last few days we were rationing fuel for cooking, so we were happy to have fresh fuel cans and a hot dinner.

The day after, we pulled out the rafts and began the packrafting section down the Alatna River. The views from the water were unreal. The mountains, clouds, forest, just a grand landscape.

The camp spots on the Alatna were really good. Solid gravel bars and sandy beaches. Sometimes they were really silty and you’d just sink.

On our sixteenth day, we got picked up by Dirk at the Malamute Fork. It was a bittersweet moment.

What I loved the most about rafting in the park, was that the weather would drastically change with every corner we would take. It would be sunny one section, then we’d paddle into a wall of rain, then back to sunny. It was always exciting. 

Being able to navigate through the wilderness on rafts was an incredible experience and allowed us to see places we wouldn’t have been able to explore otherwise.