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  • Wilderness Birding Adventures

    Arctic National Wildlife Refuge The Marsh Fork and Canning Rivers

    Trip Information Packet

    June 16-25, 2020


    1. Trip Description

    2. Packing List

    3. Frequently Asked Questions

    4. Recommended Reading List

    5. Fairbanks B&B List

    6. WBA Acknowledgment of Risks and Assumption of Risk and Responsibility

    Please print, sign and date the last page of this packet for each person on the trip.

    Scan and email this form to aaron@wildernessbirding.com or mail your signed form(s) to:

    Wilderness Birding Adventures 40208 Alpenglow Circle Homer, AK 99603

    Thanks for choosing Wilderness Birding Adventures. We'll be in touch with pertinent updates as your trip approaches. Please let us know if we can help with anything at all as you prepare for your travels with us!



  • The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Rafting the Marsh Fork and Canning Rivers

    The Brooks Range arcs across northern Alaska from the Bering Sea to the Canada border. The eastern end of the range bisects the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a spectacular wilderness of raw, towering mountains, drained by glacial rivers weaving their way north through softening foothills. The Canning River is the longest river in the Arctic Refuge and on this trip we travel its mountainous upper reaches, including the beautiful Marsh Fork. Against one of the most stunning backdrops on the planet, our itinerary allows for hiking, birding, photography, and other pursuits.

    This ten-day raft trip focuses on the upper stretches of the Marsh Fork and Canning Rivers and is set entirely in the Brooks Range. We begin our adventure high in the mountains, just north of the continental divide. This little traveled river lies in the heart of the designated wilderness area of the Arctic Refuge. Here an intricate chain of life maintains an exquisite balance in a land of extremes. It is home to caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, brown bears, red fox, and wolverine. A variety of birds sing throughout the 24 hours of daylight and a multitude of tiny flowers flourish in the brief summer. One of the smallest and most interesting members of the faunal community is the Gray-headed Chickadee, which nests sparingly throughout the Brooks Range. We may encounter this hard-to-find bird and many other species as we travel through various habitats. Floating northeast through the mountains, we paddle our way to the main stem of the Canning River. While still in the Brooks Range, here the landscape begins to expand and the vistas widen. Our raft trip ends near the last foothills, where the river continues out to the coastal plain and the Arctic Ocean.

    Day 0: Our trip begins in Fairbanks, Alaska. The day before the trip, we will get together to meet the group, talk over logistics, check personal gear, and answer last minute questions.

    Day 1: We’ll fly in a nine-passenger single engine plane from Fairbanks to Arctic Village, a small Gwich’in Indian village on the south side of the Brooks Range. There we meet our bush pilot who will shuttle us in two or three- person loads in a smaller single-engine plane to a tundra landing strip alongside the upper Marsh Fork. This scenic flight is worth the trip alone! We’ll set up camp at the put in.

    Day 2: This will be our first river day. We’ll pack up our dry bags, review paddling and boating safety, and load the boats before starting out. Usually a section of auf eis separates our first camp from the main channel of the river. Thus, our first full day typically involves shuttling all our gear about 1/3 mile to the river. On this trip we take a paddle raft and an oar raft. The oar raft is powered by one guide at the oars. The passengers relax,

  • bird, photograph, etc. The paddle raft is powered by five participants, with a guide in back ruddering and calling out commands. Paddlers get some exercise in that boat, but also have chances to take a photo or scan with binoculars. We’ll stop along the river to view wildlife, take an occasional short hike, and for lunch along the river.

    Days 3-9 Our approach to this trip is to enjoy a mix of hiking and floating days and our camp areas are not set in advance of the trip. Weather and water levels will likely factor into our pace and daily activities. At some camps we’ll stay two nights at that same spot. On the layover day, we generally plan a day hike. Those who prefer to relax may wish to stay near camp.

    Day 10: Weather permitting, our bush pilot will return for us and shuttle us back to Arctic Village for our scheduled flight back to Fairbanks, arriving around 6 p.m. Of course, these human plans are subject to revision by the forces of nature, such as weather and water levels—the essence of true wilderness travel.

    This trip is for those in reasonably good physical condition as we will be traveling under our own power and out of contact with “civilization” for our entire ten days. The trip is not especially strenuous, although we sometimes get challenging weather in the form of windstorms, rain, and snow. If the river is low, the first day of rafting often involves the need to get out of the rafts from time to time to ease them over gravel bars. Temperatures typically range between the 40s and upper 60s (Fahrenheit), with swings possible in either direction to freezing and/or the 70s. In spite of, or even because of these challenges, the trip offers countless experiential rewards for those who travel through this amazing refuge.

    Participants provide their own sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and other personal outdoor gear. WBA provides all tents, rafting gear, food, kitchen gear, and eating utensils. We carry a ground-to-air radio and a satellite phone, for use in emergencies. Participants are also responsible for their pre- and post-trip Fairbanks costs (lodging, meals, etc.).


    Our trip involves travel in small aircraft where weight becomes a major safety and expense consideration. It is therefore necessary to limit your personal gear to a maximum of 50 pounds.

    To help you understand how to package all this stuff, here’s how our raft trips generally work. You will be provided with a large river dry bag into which you will pack most of your gear. On paddling days, these bags get tied down in the cargo load and are not accessible. Therefore, what works well is to have a mid-sized or large day-hike backpack (lined with a trash bag) to keep extra layers if the weather changes during the day. This is where you will also keep your camera, binoculars, water bottle, and anything else you might want to access throughout the day. Your pack then gets clipped to the raft in such a way as to be easily accessible. You will use the backpack for day hikes as well. Tents do not need to be packed in your river dry bag.

    About insulation: Many fine wool and synthetic products are available these days. They come in different weights and many brands. It is important to have a layer of wool or synthetic which you can tolerate wearing next to your skin for both the upper and lower body. Cotton will not keep you warm in cool, damp weather.


    Don't leave town without it!! These items are essential to your safety and comfort.

    HEAD: 1ea Warm hat - balaclavas or bomber hats are especially warm.

    1ea Rain hat if you don’t have a hood on your rain jacket.

    UPPER BODY: 2ea Layers of wool or synthetic long underwear, one light and one heavy.

    1ea Heavy wool sweater or insulating synthetic jacket

    1ea Light wool sweater, insulating synthetic layer, or vest.

    1ea A GOOD rain jacket. Make sure the seams are sealed.

    1ea Pair of insulating wool or synthetic gloves.

    1pr Waterproof gloves - e.g., neoprene fishing gloves, or rubber gloves that may fit over your wool or synthetic gloves. Make sure you can still grip a paddle while wearing them. Neoprene gloves are sold in the fishing departments of many stores in Alaska.

    LOWER BODY: 2pr Long underwear, wool or synthetic, one light and one heavy.

    1pr Insulating outer layer (e.g., wool or synthetic pants).

    Wilderness Birding Adventures Raft Trip Equipment List - Page 1

  • 1pr GOOD rain pants. Any rain pants must be roomy enough to fit over hip boots (if using those). Make sure you can get your booted foot through the leg opening. High-waisted (possibly bibbed type) is preferable. When sitting on a raft’s tube, the waistline can lower uncomfortably close to the splash line making you susceptible to getting wet, unless your rain pants are fairly high- waisted or bibbed.

    FEET: 4pr Warm socks.

    1pr Hip boots or chest waders. Hip boots are two separate boots, crotch-high. They are readily available in Alaska for around $30. Chest waders or stockingfoot waders are an excellent option as long as you wear a snug belt at your waist and do not wear felt-soled boots.

    1pr Hiking boots. Hiking boots are the most problematic piece of equipment due to variable personal preference and some damp hiking conditions. Options:  All leather hiking boots (waterproofed). Pro: good ankle support. Con: heavy; dry slowly if

    wet.  Goretex & leather hiking boots that resemble fortified hightop athletic shoes. Pros:

    lightweight; waterproof. Con: Goretex fails to work over time; can dry slowly.  Synthetic (nylon with leather) models that resemble fortified hightop athletic shoes. Pros:

    lightweight; dry m

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