Utukok Basecamp

The incongruously named “Natl. Petroleum Reserve-Alaska” (NPRA) is an area that we feel is of great importance. Encompassing the largest single unit of public land in our nation, this vast tract of land in the Western Arctic, lying between the Brooks Range and the Arctic Ocean, is one of the wildest and most remote areas on the continent. Designated as a speculative “petroleum reserve” in 1923, and containing rich deposits of natural gas, coal and hard rock minerals, this vast wilderness is also the summer home of millions of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, and the 450,000 caribou of the Western Arctic herd.

Drawn by our desire to raise awareness about the potential development threats to the most critical habitat areas of this wild land—as well as our own personal excitement to explore “farther out there” than we’d ever been—we’ve led several custom trips in this rarely visited land, and now want to offer these trip options to others.

The Utukok Uplands, north of the far western Brooks Range, is a vast expanse of rolling tundra foothills, plateaus and mesas, with uninhibited views to every horizon. It’s also the calving grounds for the Western Arctic caribou herd, and we’ve timed this Basecamp trip to hopefully intersect the migration of this immense herd as the caribou move through this area after calving.

This remote, timeless land also offers a one-of a kind opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the oldest inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere—Paleoindians who hunted giant Pleistocene bison, mammoths, caribou and musk ox 12,000 years ago—or find archeological evidence of more “modern” Stone Age hunters as we stroll the plateau tops.

Because of the extremely remote location and complicated air logistics, we need a group size of 5-6 to run this trip.

Trip Details

We don’t have set “daily itineraries” since all of our trips are true wilderness expedition-style trips, where we build in flexibility to respond to weather and other conditions, animal sightings, etc. Here is a sense of the general flow of the trip:

Each trip leaves Fairbanks in the early morning of the trip start date, so you need to be in Fairbanks by at least the day before that. We’re scheduled to be back in Fairbanks by late afternoon/early evening of the trip end date. We recommend leaving at least a day’s leeway at the end of the trip in scheduling other travel plans, since there’s always a chance of getting weathered in at the pickup point.

Since a basecamp trip means that we don’t have to move camp or travel from one place to another, these trips have the most flexibility and are the easiest physically. While the guide will generally lead a day hike every day, not everyone has to do the same thing, or hike the same distance—and just relaxing in camp and enjoying the beauty and quiet of the wilderness is a great option!

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“Not only have we had a pretty close look at a fantastic corner of this great state, but we also have learned a great deal about rafting and minimum impact camping.”

—George & Lucy Cutting