Autumn Alaska Arctic

Alaska’s Arctic Autumn Landscapes, Northern Lights and Polar Bears

August 28 – September 7, 2017, $9250

Itinerary in Brief:

10 Nights/11 Days

Day 1: Arrival/ Welcome Dinner and Orientation/Overnight Fairbanks (D)

Day 2: Drive north to Brooks Range/Photograph stunning fall color/Overnight Wiseman/Aurora photography after dark/ (B,L,D)

Day 3: Photograph fall color, scenery and wildlife in Southern Brooks Range/Overnight Wiseman/Aurora Photography after dark/ (B,L,D)

Day 4: Drive North over Continental Divide to Prudhoe Bay/ Photograph wildlife, spectacular mountain scenery and arctic tundra/Overnight Prudhoe Bay/ (B,L,D)

Day 5: Fly to Kaktovik and Photograph polar bears by boat and vehicle/Overnight Kaktovik (B,L,D)

Day 6 and 7: Photograph polar bears by boat and vehicle/Overnights Kaktovik/ (B,L,D)

Day 8: AM photograph polar bears/PM fly back to Prudhoe Bay and drive to south to Wiseman/Photograph Aurora after dark/Overnight Wiseman/ (B,L,D)

Day 9: Photograph Wildlife, scenery and autumn foliage of Southern Brooks Range/Overnight Wiseman/Aurora photography after dark/ (B,L,D)

Day 10: Drive south to Fairbanks/Photograph scenery and fall foliage/Overnight Fairbanks/Aurora Photography after dark/ (B,L,D)

Day 11: After breakfast catch flights home or continue on Alaska Adventure! (B)

Trip participants limited to 6 people.

About your Guide Ron Niebrugge:

Me, Denali National Park, Alaska.In the mid 1970’s, at age 12, Ron’s family moved from San Diego to interior Alaska in the area now known as the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Their move to this vast wilderness developed two passions that have stayed with Ron to this day, his love of the outdoors and his desire to capture the beauty of the natural world in photographs. In the wilderness, pursuing inspiring natural light is where Alaska based photographer Ron Niebrugge is most at home. Taking the ordinary and using beautiful natural light to create the extraordinary has been a passion of Ron’s for many years. Ron’s images have caught the attention of many and he is pleased to have among his clients; National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Walt Disney World, Smithsonian, Continental Airlines, Alaska Airlines, National Park Service, and a number of large advertising agencies to list a few. Aside from Ron’s own stock photo agency, Niebrugge Images, he is also represented by seven other stock agencies in six countries.

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus)

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival Day

  • Travelers arrive in Fairbanks after flights from lower 48 states or other Alaska destinations.   A shuttle van from Rivers Edge Resort, the hotel where you will be spending your first night in Fairbanks, will meet travelers outside the airport. A quick 4 minute ride from baggage claim will take you to your private cabin on the banks of the Chena River.
  • Ron Niebrugge will meet you in the lobby of Rivers Edge Resort at 6:00 PM for a pre-trip briefing followed by a hearty Alaskan welcome dinner at a local favorite restaurant!
  • During dinner Ron will discuss the trip itinerary in detail and talk about northern lights photography techniques.  This first night in Fairbanks keep your eyes open for aurora borealis!  The Rivers Edge Resort offers a northern lights “Wakeup Call” and actually provides a decent place to practice aurora photography on the banks of the Chena River.

Day 2: Drive north to Wiseman

After breakfast depart in a large, comfortable, custom Mercedes Sprinter van, driving north on what some people describe as the most scenic road in North America, the Dalton Highway.  The Dalton Highway or “Haul Road” as it is known to Alaskan truckers was completed in 1974 so trucks could haul equipment and supplies to the recently discovered Prudhoe Bay oil fields.  The roughly 420 mile gravel road begins, one hundred miles north of Fairbanks and is the only road that traverses the Arctic Circle in the United States.   The Highway crosses the White Mountains and miles of the interior Alaska Boreal forest, before crossing the mighty Yukon River at mile 58. Hillsides along these first one hundred miles of driving will be carpeted with a blaze of fall color that will get more intense as you travel north.  From the Yukon River the Dalton climbs into the alpine country of the Caribou and Ray Mountains to cross scenic Finger Mountain.  Epic wildfires of 2004 (featured in National Geographic) swept through this area, leaving a stark and eerie landscape for many miles that now, a decade later provide fertile ground for a new growth of deciduous shrubs.  Willows, dwarf birch and blueberries are changing to a brilliant carpet of yellows, oranges and reds in this open and vast landscape.  This new growth also provides habitat for moose, caribou and other creatures of the boreal forest.  Shortly after Finger Mountain the road crosses the Arctic Circle and your crossing will be celebrated appropriately!  Another hour of driving brings you to the south side of the Brooks Range, which will be covered with a carpet of intense autumn color.  Stunted forests of cottonwoods and birches create a yellow canopy floored by brilliant reds of blueberries and provide for great scenic photography!  As you enter the Brooks Range the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which parallels the haul road becomes more apparent as it converges with the road corridor and stands on steel pillars adjacent to the road.  Thirty miles further driving and you will arrive at Coldfoot, the only truck stop on the five hundred miles of road between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay.  Coldfoot was a gold mining town at the turn of the last century and has the distinction of recording the greatest range of temperatures of anywhere in the United States.  Basically a truck stop, diner and hotel, Coldfoot is a unique look into the hard driving life of the truckers who make this 1,000 mile trip year round, even during the depths of winter when the temperatures reach 70 below zero!!  After a stop at the truckstop to enjoy a trucker’s meal in the diner, a final drive of 15 miles brings you to your destination for the night, the historic cold mining community of Wiseman.

Established at the turn of the 20th Century, Wiseman is a unique historic relic from the gold rush days and offers a glimpse into the recent human history of this region.  Located approximately 70 miles north of the Arctic Circle in the heart of the spectacular Brooks Range Wiseman is the perfect base for exploring and photographing the surrounding area.  Accommodations in Wiseman may be considered slightly rustic, but are cozy and comfortable.   The three main sleeping cabins where we stay feature cozy bedrooms and large living areas with kitchen facilities and two bathrooms each with a shower that are shared by all occupants.  It still amazes me that a hot shower can be had in this wilderness setting!  Breakfast is served in the dance hall of the old Wiseman community center, by your wonderful hosts, Berni and Uta Hicker.

Away from the light pollution of Fairbanks you will spend your first evening north of the Arctic Circle looking for and photographing northern lights (cloud cover permitting).  If sky conditions and the aurora cooperate you will stay up late this evening and get a hands-on northern lights photography lesson.  This will be the first opportunity for Ron to teach technique and composition of aurora photography in the field and he will make the most of the evening.

Day 3: Explore the South Side of the Brooks Range

This morning you will enjoy a more leisurely breakfast while you get to know your surroundings.  After breakfast you will set out for a day of exploring and photography on the south side of the Brooks Range.  Autumn foliage in this area is at its peak during these late days of August and Ron will determine whether you drive north from Wiseman to explore new territory or head south to take advantage of the many scenic vistas you passed the previous day.  If Ron chooses to drive north towards the continental divide of the Brooks Range you will watch the trees thin as the highway slowly climbs toward Chandalar Shelf and the northern edge of the boreal forest, some 60 miles north of Wiseman.   Atigun Pass, the highest road in Alaska is located a few miles north of Chandalar Shelf and is the continental divide, separating rivers that flow north toward the Arctic Ocean from rivers that drain south toward the Pacific Ocean.  Once the highway crosses Atigun Pass the “Northslope” lays beyond, a vast treeless expanse to be explored the next day!  As you ascend Atigun Pass you will enter the high alpine environment, home to Dall Sheep and soaring birds of prey such as golden eagle, gyrfalcon and peregrine falcon!  Snow may blanket the landscape at this time of year or you may be looking at vibrant fall colors, as late-August is a transition time of year.

Regardless of which direction you drive from Wiseman keep an eye out for some of the inhabitants of the boreal forest such as, moose, wolves, grizzly and black bears.  After a full day of photography and exploration you will return to the truck stop at Coldfoot for dinner in the restaurant and ultimately Wiseman to set up for a second night of Aurora photography and rest before the next day’s drive.

Day 4: Drive north through Brooks Range to Prudhoe Bay

Today you will drive north, crossing Atigun Pass and traversing the treeless coastal plain to arrive in Prudhoe Bay or “Deadhorse” located at the north end of the Dalton Highway. Descending onto the north side of the Brooks Range from Atigun Pass you enter a different world devoid of trees, and home too many species of arctic wildlife, such as musk-oxen, caribou, grizzly bear, fox, and wolf. If you are lucky, you may see some of the 65,000 members of the Central Arctic Caribou herd as they begin their migration south off the flat coastal plain. Many birds of prey can be found in the open tundra landscape of the north slope, such as rough-legged hawk, gyrfalcon, peregrine falcon, snowy and short-eared owl. Additionally, many other late departing migratory birds and residents such as greater white-fronted geese and willow ptarmigan are found along this section of road.   Ron will budget your time to allow for numerous stops to photograph the scenery, wildlife and birds of this dramatic landscape while making the journey north.   The Trans-Alaska Pipeline snakes over the open tundra parallel to the road and is a constant reminder of what lies at the end of the road on the coast of the Beaufort Sea in Prudhoe Bay. Your destination for this night is “Deadhorse” or Prudhoe Bay the hub of oilfield activity and the location of the airport where you will board the flight to Kaktovik the following day. This night you will stay at one of the oilfield hotels that provide food and housing to visiting oilfield workers. This provides a unique view into the life of workers at North America’s northernmost industrial complex, and the place where roughly 20% of the US’s domestic oil supply originates from.

Day 5, Part One:  Deadhorse

After an oilfield worker’s breakfast at the hotel you will set out to explore the area around the Prudhoe Bay oilfields.  Many of the species of migrant waterfowl that rear their young in this area can be found on the myriad of lakes and ponds that dot the landscape.  Birds such as pacific loon, tundra swan and red-throated loon will soon be departing on their journey south and can be found staging on ponds.  Short-eared and snowy owls hunt the open tundra for voles and shrews, while arctic and red fox stalk ptarmigan and lemmings in the dense low growing willows along streams.  The abundance of both bird and mammal life in this area is truly amazing and a photographers dream.  You will spend the morning exploring and photographing this area before returning to Deadhorse to catch your flight.

Day 5, Part Two: Fly to Native Village and Polar Bears

Mid-day you will proceed to the bustling Prudhoe Bay Airport and get checked in for the flight to the native village. Luggage weight and size will be restricted on this flight to 60 pounds total per person (including camera gear) so everyone will consolidate their gear and take only what is needed for the next three nights on the arctic coast. Gear should consist of necessary camera equipment and small duffel with tooth brush, change of clothing and cold weather gear (appropriate sized duffels bags can be provided for anyone needing them). Arctic weather conditions will be encountered, so suitable clothing and gear will be needed, please see the gear list at the end of this itinerary for what is necessary.

The short (40 minute) flight takes you over the spectacular arctic coastal plain and the well known if not controversial “1002” area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).   Depending on the altitude flown at, you may see caribou, muskoxen, grizzly bears and polar bears. Upon arrival in the Native Village in early afternoon you will be transported from the village airstrip to the accommodations for the next three nights. Although our lodgings are not luxury, what they lack in appearance is made up for in hospitality and a certain charm. Built from modular oilfield camp buildings the Inn is basic yet comfortable. Accommodations are in double rooms with twin beds, bathrooms with showers are located down a short hall. All meals are prepared and eaten in the café located on site and are always hearty and tasty! The schedule will depend on weather and individual interests, but the best photography tends to be early in the morning and later in the evening, so meals will be scheduled around photographic forays!   Polar bear viewing and photography will be both land and water based with six 3-hour boat rides included in the trip. For the water based forays you will be boating with Ron and a local guide on the sheltered lagoons that surround the village in a 24 foot aluminum motorboat. For land based activities we have a large and comfortable bus with many opening windows, which provides a safe and convenient platform to observe and photograph the bears from. After lunch you will set out on our first boat ride to the barrier islands just offshore where bears tend to lounge during the daylight before swimming to the island to feed on whale remains in the evening.

A few words about the native village

You will be visiting a native village inhabited by approximately 250 Inupiat “Eskimo” people who are endemic to this region of arctic Alaska.  The village is located on a small 3 mile by 2 mile island just off the arctic coastline. This Island was an important stop for whalers at the turn of the last century, but did not become a permanent settlement for the semi-nomadic Inupiat people until 1923 with the establishment of a fur trading post by a Nantucket whaler who married an Inupiat woman. The island is characterized by a large saltwater lagoon that is located on the east side of the island and provides a sheltered anchorage for the village fishing boats.  The downtown consists of a cluster of homes built on the barren tundra approximately one mile from the village airport.   There are limited roads and vehicles located in this village, but a vehicle is necessary for travel and photography of the polar bears.  We will have the only rental bus available and although it may not be pretty it will be sufficient for the purpose.   Keep in mind that we are visitors from a different culture to this village, and our sense of time and schedule may be different than the resident’s.  Experiencing the culture of the Inupiat is as much of an experience as watching the polar bears!  Please keep in mind that you must respect the native people and their property.  This means only taking photos of people or property after asking permission.

Why are Polar bears (Nanook) here?

The circumpolar indigenous people of the world have been hunting marine mammals and whales for thousands of years and the Inupiat of Alaska are no different. In a very tightly controlled hunt, arctic coastal villages of Alaska are allowed to hunt the bowhead whale, which frequent the waters of the adjacent Beaufort Sea/Arctic Ocean. A whale harvest quota is awarded to each village according to number of residents and the historic harvest.

The Inupiat name for the polar bear is “Nanook” and the domain of Nanook is not the beaches and tundra of the arctic coast, but the pack ice that covers the sea surface for 9 months of the year.   Polar bears feed mainly on seals that live on and under the arctic ice, hunting them using a number of different techniques. Like their cousins the brown bears from which they evolved, during times of hunger, polar bears can be opportunistic and will feed on whatever food opportunities are present. Other food sources can include vegetation such as grass, small rodents, bird eggs, other marine mammals and scavenging on carrion.   Polar bears are attracted to this area to scavenge on the carcasses of butchered whales, and begin to arrive here before the annual whale hunt begins on Labor Day each year. In mid summer when the arctic pack ice moves off shore, Beaufort Sea polar bears are often marooned on shore where there is little to eat. These bears enter the fall season hungry from lack of readily available food and have keyed in, to the presence of whale carcasses in this area starting in September. A bear’s memory is so good they will remember the time and place where food was available and return to that same spot the next year at the same time. The bears typically arrive in late august before the whale hunt begins, and will scavenge on the remains of whale carcasses from previous year’s hunts. You will be visiting this area during the annual hunt and if we are fortunate we may witness the community event that surrounds the harvesting of a whale.


Days 6 and 7: Photography and bear viewing

While in Kaktovik and participating in boat rides you will be entering the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), and as such you will be on refuge lands.  We operate under a USFWS special use permit for polar bear viewing.  As part of our permit we agree to abide by certain safety standards and to not harass polar bears in any way.  As part of our permit we have a polar bear safety plan, which Ron will review with you and we ask for your cooperation in abiding by these common sense rules.

The next two days will be spent viewing and photographing bears and other wildlife that inhabit this area, both from a boat and from the bus on land.  Some bears wander into the village and can be seen prowling down streets early in the morning, however, we will drive to beaches and the tundra where bears can be photographed more in their natural environment. You are scheduled for a total of six boat rides during your stay, to view bears that are resting and playing on a barrier island just off shore.  The boat excursions are scheduled as 3 hour trips every morning and evening (including the trip on the afternoon of your arrival day on September 1 and departure day September 4). Boat trips are weather dependent, but if wind or fog does not allow the boats to operate Ron has the bus to take you out for bear photography on land.

Between boat rides you will have opportunities to explore all the roads on the island during the search for bears and other wildlife and you may see snowy owl, arctic fox, and even grizzly bear.  If you are fortunate, you may have the privilege of witnessing the bowhead whale harvest.  If this is the case you will be allowed to watch this amazing Inupiat tradition (if the whaling captain gives permission), but photography is not allowed. This would be a unique opportunity to witness something that few have ever seen.  You will have to exercise cultural awareness on this subject and may not be able to photograph the people involved.  It is important that you ask if photos are permissible.

Day 8: Return to Prudhoe and Wiseman

This will be a long day of travel and your last opportunity to observe and photograph the bears.  You will head out early on the last bear viewing boat foray, staying out on the water until just before breakfast.  You will board the airplane for the flight back to Prudhoe Bay at 11:30 AM and arrive in Prudhoe in late morning (see special travel note in the information section at the end of this itinerary).  Upon arrival in Prudhoe Ron will pick up a picnic lunch and start the drive south towards Wiseman.  The goal is to spend time exploring the area of coastal plain that you had to pass by earlier in the trip on the way to Prudhoe Bay.  This will be the best opportunity to photograph muskoxen and Ron will make sure that there is time to spend with these amazing prehistoric creatures if they can be found.  In addition he will be watching for other wildlife in this stunning landscape, such as caribou, grizzly bear, moose, fox, and wolf.  This time of year the sunset light is endless and the day lingers late into the evening hours.  You still have a long drive ahead and with photography stops will not reach Wiseman until late in the evening.   After the sun sets Ron will keep his eyes peeled for the aurora, as this may be an excellent opportunity for aurora photography with different foregrounds!  Dinner will be whenever you arrive in Wiseman after photographing the aurora!

Day 9: Explore Around Wiseman

The beginning of this day will be marked by a leisurely morning in order to give everyone an opportunity to rest after the previous long day of travel and aurora viewing.  After breakfast you will set out to explore the environs around Wiseman and on the south side of the Brooks Range.  Ron will focus on whatever interests you, whether it is the mining history of the Wiseman area or looking for mammals on the south side of the Brooks Range!  This evening will be spent searching the night skies for aurora and finding the ideal locations to photograph aurora from.

Day 10: Drive Haul Road South, Return to Fairbanks

After a last breakfast in Wiseman a “local” will take you on a walking tour of Wiseman.  Bring your camera to photograph some of the historic gold-rush era cabins and antique steam-powered gold mining equipment.   After the tour and final photos you will bid your Wiseman hosts goodbye and depart for the drive south to Fairbanks.  As with the drive north, Ron will maximize wildlife viewing and photographic opportunities during this day of travel.  Upon arrival in Fairbanks you will stop at a local’s favorite restaurant for a farewell dinner.  After dinner Ron will take you to Rivers Edge Resort where you can get cleaned up after a day on the road and enjoy a relaxing night, or try to photograph aurora one last time!

Day 11: Flights home

After breakfast this morning Rivers Edge Resort will transport you to the Fairbanks airport for your flight home.

Information about Alaska

Special Travel Note About the arctic:

In the unlikely event that our return flight from the native village back to Prudhoe Bay is cancelled due to weather or any other circumstance, an additional fee of $450 per person will be collected from each trip participant for each additional night we have to stay in the village.  This is to cover the extra cost of staying in the village and the cost of a rental vehicle so that we are still able to view and photograph polar bears, even while weathered in.  I apologize in advance if it becomes necessary to collect this additional fee, but weather in the arctic can be unpredictable, and when aircraft are involved you need to be ready for any situation.  We have only been forced to stay an extra night(s) in the village a few times during the over 50 trips I have done.

Documentation:

  • A valid US ID is required for travel to and from Alaska via commercial airline

Arriving in Alaska:

  • Please have your flights arrive in Fairbanks no later than 4:30 PM on Aug 28 in order to arrive in time for our welcome/orientation dinner.  A van from Rivers Edge Lodge will  transfer passengers from the Fairbanks airport to the hotel on Aug 28 .  If anyone plans to arrive in Fairbanks before Aug 28 please contact me to arrange additional nights in Fairbanks.
  • Please have your departure flight leave from Fairbanks on the 7th of September or later if you plan on staying afterwards.  It is possible to depart on a red eye flight on the evening of the 6th (really early morning the 7th), and not spend this night in Fairbanks.

Safety and Security:

  • Your safety while on the trip is my top concern! Most activities will be dictated to some degree by the weather and safety is always paramount, however, it is important to remember that a good part of this trip takes place in the wilderness of the Brooks Range, far from hospital services.   Although I will take great care to ensure your safety, accidents do happen.  For this reason I require that you have insurance to cover you while traveling. There are many insurance companies offering travel insurance these days so a good way to find the right policy for you at the right price, is to visit a website such as www.insuremytrip.com.  This service will match the right policy to your needs and price.  They offer insurance from companies such as MEDEX, American Express, Global underwriters, AIG and many more.  Travel insurance will also cover a number of other potential problems with your trip, for instance, if you must unexpectedly cancel or interrupt your trip the cost of your trip will be refunded, lost baggage protection, and medical bills incurred while traveling are all usually included in an insurance policy.   Make sure you purchase a travel insurance policy that does include evacuation coverage in the unlikely event that you do need to be medi-vacced from a remote location.
  • Remember, hiking and exploring in a wilderness environment does contain inherent risk, so use common sense!  Please think before engaging in any “risky” behavior and know that Ron will be giving safety briefings throughout the trip
  • We will be watching and photographing polar bears as part of this trip. We operate under a special use permit with US Fish and Wildlife Service in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Under our permit we are required to brief you on safe and appropriate behavior around polar bears and to maintain a “Polar bear safety plan”.   Polar bears are potentially dangerous animals and I ask that you listen to all of Ron’s safety instructions when around these magnificent creatures!

Money:

  • This trip has been designed to be all inclusive, meaning the only things you would need money for are “extras” (souvenirs etc.). Credit cards work many places in Alaska; however, in the more remote parts of Alaska (that we visit) credit cards are rarely accepted! If you want to buy any kind of native art work or other souvenirs to take home I would recommend carrying some amount of cash for these purchases. A local artist makes scrimshaw artwork on whale baleen and offers it for sale. Typical prices are $300-$400 for a 5-7 foot piece of baleen filled with scrimshaw artwork of arctic animals.

Telephone Service:

  • There is standard phone and cellular phone communication-service in Fairbanks, Prudhoe Bay and the native village we visit; however, in Wiseman phone service is limited to a coin less pay phone.  Talk to Hugh for emergency contact numbers.

Laundry:

  • Laundry is available on days 1 and 10 in Fairbanks, Day 4 in Prudhoe Bay and may be available in the Native Village

Climate:

  • You are traveling to the high arctic in fall!! Keep in mind the arctic has ever changing weather with temperatures that can swing from below freezing to warm in a matter of hours at this time of year.  Expect daytime temperatures in the 30’s and 40’s (perhaps as high as the 60’s) with nights below freezing.  Both rain and/or snow are possible as well so think layers when packing starting with a waterproof and windproof outer shell with layers of wool or fleece underneath.  Warm hat and gloves are essential as are liner gloves for photography!   Be prepared for rainy cool weather.  Dressing in layers is very helpful as you can remove or add as the temperature dictates.

Luggage:

  • Please take into consideration that you will be traveling by van and be living in a small space.  Please use soft-sided duffel bags and limit your bags to one medium sized bag, one small computer bag, and a camera bag per person. On the flight to and from the Native village you will be limited on your luggage weight! If you are visiting other parts of Alaska before and/or after this trip and have clothes and gear that you are using on the rest of your vacation, but do not need on our trip north, it is possible to leave bags at the Rivers Edge until our return. In addition if you are traveling with large hard-sided bags that are not appropriate for this trip, we will lend you soft sided duffel bags to use as we travel north and your large bags can be left in Fairbanks

Food:

  • All meals are included in the cost of the trip.   I try to supply high quality, nutritious and healthy meals.  In some remote locations we can be limited by whether an airplane arrived with fresh food or weather kept the plane from landing.  Please keep this in mind and try to be flexible.  Please notify me of any special dietary requests, food allergies or food preferences.  I will do my best to make sure that all special dietary needs are met, but in some cases we may be limited due to the remoteness of our location.   I provide good quality beer and wine with meals in Fairbanks and Wiseman, but alcohol is neither supplied nor legal while in the arctic.  A local ordinance makes it illegal to posses or consume alcohol while in the arctic, so for nights 4, 5, 6 and 7 alcohol will neither be provided nor accessible.

Please notify me of any special dietary requests, food allergies or food preferences

What to Bring:

  • Depending on your own needs, the following is a suggested packing list:

Clothing:

Being prepared for all weather conditions by dressing in layers is the key to comfort, and packing smart is the key to being prepared.  Starting with a thin base layer of either capilene or merino wool works best.  Products such as Patagonia capilene base layer and/or Icebreaker or Ibex merino wool work great.  I prefer the merino wool products, as the merino wool is soft on the skin and takes on no body odors.  This allows for wearing these garments longer between washes.  On top of your base layer you want a medium weight polar fleece or merino pullover, and a heavier weight zip-up fleece to go over that.  People who suffer more from the cold should consider a lightweight down sweater or jacket to put over these layers.  The final “top” layer should be a waterproof (either Gore-Tex or equivalent), breathable jacket that acts as both a rain coat and windproof layer.  You can finish your layering with some kind of warm hat and gloves.  For those doing photography a pair of thin fleece gloves work best so you can operate all your camera controls with gloves on!  If you have any questions on the gear to bring or on the gear list please contact me!

  • Sneakers one pair for light walking and travel days
  • Waterproof boots A good comfortable and waterproof boot is mandatory.  The ground we walk on can be wet and if you want to hike across the tundra to see muskoxen etc your feet will stay warm if they are dry!  Boots such as Muck Boots (Arctic sport) and Sorrels work great, but gore-tex insulated hiking boots will also work
  • A pair of light slippers, clogs or sandals For wearing in the lodge in Wiseman and Native Village
  • Gore-Tex (or equivalent) jacket Lightweight Gore-Tex jacket for wind and rain protection (outer layer)
  • Gore-Tex (or equivalent) Rain pants
  • Lightweight down jacket Layered under your Gore-tex jacket this keeps you warm on the cool nights and during the day if we are waiting for bears
  • Sweater or fleece jacket for the third layer and cool nights
  • long-sleeved shirt or midweight fleece pullover for the second layer, 2 of these are nice if you get one wet or dirty you have a backup
  • Base layer shirts 2 or 3 base layer light weight capilene or merino wool shirts either short or long sleeve
  • Base layer underwear You will want one base layer of long underwear (capilene or merino wool) in case we get a really cold day.  These do not take up much room!
  • Long pants 2 pair of lightweight long pants.  Some of the new lightweight quick drying material pants are fantastic for this.  They are light enough to hike in yet provide a windbreak and some insulation
  • Socks 5 pair of medium to light weight merino wool socks
  • Underwear I’ll leave this to you to decide how many pair you need!
  • Warm Hat Ski hat
  • Warm Gloves Warm ski gloves
  • Thin fleece gloves For photography
  • Dress is always casual, so no dressy clothes are required!

OTHER GEAR:

  • Walking-stick  great for walking on the tundra
  • Base ball cap
  • Small day pack Useful for carrying extra clothes, water, binoculars, camera etc. on hikes and for keeping these items together in the van on travel days
  • Sunglasses A must for Alaska this time of year
  • Binoculars I do have a few pairs to loan out, but if you have your own that you are used to bring them.
  • Water bottle I provide bottled water, but encourage people to use refillable water bottles to reduce our waste.  You can use one of the bottled water bottles and just refill it
  • Small battery operated alarm Clock This is important if you want to rise early for good light etc, plus we have some early morning departures!
  • Sunscreen Hopefully you will need this!
  • zip-lock plastic bags Good for carrying dirty or wet clothes or keeping things dry in your back pack
  • A Headlamp  A headlamp is important for night time activities such as photographing the aurora.  The headlamp leaves your hands free for working a camera while you photograph aurora borealis.  Please get a headlamp that comes with a fold down RED lens.  Many  headlamps today such as Petzl, come with a fold down red lens, this is to preserve your night time vision when you need to use the light and so you don’t blind your neighbor!
  • Your regular toiletry kit
  • All personal prescription meds and favorite remedies. Whatever you usually need (Consult your physician.).  Remember we will be isolated from stores and pharmacies most of the trip, so stock up on your usual meds for headache, insect bites etc.
  • Small basic First Aid Kit I carry a more comprehensive First Aid Kit in the van, but I recommend that you carry a small kit with your basic needs in it.  This would go along with favorite remedies and prescription meds.
  • extra pair of prescription glasses,
  • Earplugs Most every place we stay is quiet, but just in case there is an annoying noise, this is not a bad idea!

Camera Gear:

  • The Camera gear you chose to bring is dependent on what you own.  If you have any questions about the most appropriate gear please contact me.  I use Canon equipment and I keep a few lenses on hand to rent to trip participants, including a 500mm f/4.0 IS (with matching 1.4X and 2.0X extenders) and a 400mm f/4.0 DO IS.  I also have wide angle lenses for Northern Lights photography (Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 and Zeiss 21mm f/2.8).  In addition I have a few high quality carbon fiber tripods with RRS ball heads for rent.  Please contact me in advance to discuss availability and price. 
  • A tripod is an absolute must for aurora photography.
  • A tripod head: A ball head such as a RRS BH55 or BH 40 is perfect, gimble heads such as whimberlies do not work well for this trip, because they are too bulky and heavy
  • RRS or Equivalent “L” bracket is important for photographing the aurora.  Often vertical compositions are the best for aurora, in order to capture more sky.  I have watched too many people struggle while trying to orient their camera in the vertical position by rotating the camera on their ball head to find the slot where the ball drops into the vertical.  An “L” bracket alleviates this problem and allows you to compose a vertical composition much more easily and efficiently especially in the dark!  A bonus is that “L” bracket also acts as protection for your expensive digital SLR!
  • Telephoto lens 300mm or longer for wildlife and birds
  • Tele extenders Preferably matched with the lens
  • Spare camera body If you own one.  I’ve seen many cameras come to grief on trips and I hate to see anyone on a trip without a camera, who wants to photograph!
  • Longer range zoom For wildlife and landscapes (70-200mm)
  • Medium range zoom For people and landscape (24-105mm)
  • A fast (f/2.8) Wide angle zoom For landscapes and aurora (16-35mm)
  • Lots of extra memory cards
  • A digital storage device Such as a laptop computer. If you plan on shooting more than you have card space for this is important. We will be looking at photos periodically during the trip to assess sharpness composition etc., so a device to view photos is very helpful.
  • Battery charger and spare battery
  • Polarizing Filter
  • Cable release for aurora photography
  • A camera back pack to carry all this gear I recommend the Kiboko bag made by Gura Gear .  These bags come in different sizes, are light weight, very durable and weatherproof and will fit all the above mentioned gear
  • A telephoto lens camera pouch I recommend the Kinesis line of telephoto lens pouches; see the L511, L522, L611 and L622 at: www.kgear.com

REMEMBER, this list is only a general recommendation and that personalization of the list should be considered by each individual according to her/his own needs.

In addition I recommend that you DO NOT PACK the following items in your checked luggage:

  • All airline tickets and travel documents
  • Credit cards, money
  • Anything of any value 
  • Luggage keys
  • Sunglasses
  • Prescription glasses
  • Camera gear
  • Prescription medications
  • A light change of clothing
  • Your light hiking boots
  • Rain jacket

Books on this region of Alaska:

  • Arctic Village, Robert Marshall
  • Arctic Wilderness, Robert Marshall
  • Shopping for Porcupine, Seth Kantnor
  • Ordinary Wolves, Seth Kantnor
  • Two in the Far North, Margaret E. Murie

INCLUDED IN THE TRIP PRICE: $9250*

  • Airport transfer in Fairbanks on day one and day 11
  • All accommodations in Alaska from night one to night 10, including; Fairbanks, Wiseman and Native village.
  • All meals from dinner on day one to breakfast on day 11
  • All transportation on the trip including airline flight to Native Village
  • Beer and wine at Wiseman
  • 13 Hours of boat rides for viewing and photographing polar bears (weather permitting)
  • Bus rides for viewing and photographing polar bears

* In the unlikely event that our flight from Kaktovik is altered or cancelled due to weather, an additional fee of $450 per person will be charged for each additional night we spend in Kaktovik. This fee covers our accommodations and allows us, in spite of the uncontrolled circumstances, to continue photographing. We apologize in advance if this additional fee becomes necessary, but travel in Alaska’s Arctic can involve extreme weather. 

Not Included:

  • Single supplement is not included, but may be available for $750, please inquire
  • Flights to and from Fairbanks to your home in the lower 48.
  • Alcoholic beverages are neither included nor served in Native Villages or Prudhoe Bay
  • Money for purchases of souvenir items
  • Scenic flight seeing if you choose to do this activity
  • Tip to guide Ron Niebrugge: Gratuities are highly personal in nature and are earned not expected

Payment Schedule:

  • Non refundable deposit of $500 per person is due on booking trip
  • Half of the trip price minus the $500 deposit ($4375) is due by March 15th
  • The remaining half of the trip ($4375) is due by June 15th
  • Cancellations are refundable until May 15th minus the $500 deposit, after this date payments are refundable dependent on your space being filled by another traveler
  • If cancellations are made after Aug 15th I will make every effort to get your money back, but rely on filling your space.  For this reason I would recommend trip insurance if you believe that there is any chance you may have to make a last minute cancellation.

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