Brooks Range is one of the most majestic places I’ve been to. I put all my hiking experience together over the last couple of years and pushed myself to the limit. Without doing my previous hikes, I’m not sure if I would of been able to do the Brooks Range 2 years in a row. It’s like forgetting to put yeast in bread. Skipping one step can make things messy.
The Brooks Range is my type of a massive mountainous playground. The range is roughly 60 – 90 miles wide and 1000 miles long. Recently, I have enjoyed planning new routes and ideas. There are a ton of different ways to make it thru. Alaska is a mammoth of a state and the animals follow suite. Venturing near and witnessing massive animals in their natural habitat is surreal. Muskox, moose, caribou, grizzlies, and wolves roam the tough arctic terrain. The Brooks Range is also attractive because you are far far away from help. Running into people is usually pretty rare if you avoid a couple of the hot spots.
Prep & Expectations…
Preparation and planning are big for anything you’re trying to accomplish. Like Trama said, “Preparation prevents piss poor performance.” Personally found out on my first section to focus on a single goal. The state is massive and trying to summit epic nearby peaks is extremely difficult. Carrying enough food from village to village is already pretty difficult. So I usually stuck to the main goal of walking thru the range. Expectations can be dangerous. Village hours were pretty good at the general stores and post offices. It is safe to expect an “ish” on the open hours. Due to weather, bush pilots can get socked in for a couple of days. Carrying extra food definitely needs to be considered. I like to say, “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.”
Personal Experience and Difficulty
The Brooks Range definitely offers some of the hardest hiking in the United States. I had wet feet for almost everyday and animal paths can disappear after just ten feet. Basically, I had a week of dry shoes floating down the Kobuk River. I’ve dropped into tussocks that have knocked me down to 1 mph for a full day. If you add a white wave of rain tracking you down from the other side of the valley, it quickly becomes more mental than physical. Time to layer up and get put back in your place by mother nature. I’m not going to lie, more than one element at a time and it can be difficult to still enjoy the journey. The swings of weather, terrain, and mood become more vivid than hiking on a trail. Things can change quite fast and staying positive till things get easier is crucial in enjoying even the difficult miles. Thankfully, my second hike involved less tussocks and shwacking.
The Rogue Lite is absolutely perfect for walking/floating thru the Brooks Range. This boat comes in under 5 lbs and includes a Ti-Zip. This lightweight boat allows me to carry more food and therefore go deeper into the backcountry. I was even able to go a tad lighter with using my Thermarest Neo-Air as my seat. But whenever the rivers got shallow, I had to be careful with breaking my tailbone. The Rogue Lite was clutch for river crossings and floating down the East Fork Chandalar, John, and the legendary Noatak.
The boat I took my first year was over 2.5 pounds heavier and didn’t include a Ti-Zip. It did have a removable whitewater deck which helped shed some water. Looking back on it, having an open deck shaves quite a bit of weight. You may have to empty the boat a handful of times, but carrying less weight is key while going thru the Brooks Range. The other bad thing is that it didn’t have a Ti-Zip. With 240 miles of food strapped to the front of the boat, it became unbalanced and a little sketchy on the John River.
People are still using sectional hardboats. I ran into 2 german guys dropping into the Noatak River with a sectional they rented from Fairbanks. But once they saw how small my inflatable raft was they said that’s definitely the route they are going to take next time. It’s a beautiful thing how small you can compress these boats. Being able to carry them in your pack is great for international travel. Hardshells and inflatables have their pros and cons. Packrafts aren’t as efficient as a canoe on flatwater, but for any river flowing faster than 2 mph I would highly encourage taking a packraft.
The Kokopelli Rogue Lite glided down Class 2.5 ~ 3 rapids comfortably, but I wouldn’t suggest pushing it much more. This is why the Kokopelli Rogue Lite is perfect for the Brooks Range and those middle ranged rivers. Using the Ti-Zip was smooth. I would keep 5 days of food in my pack up front and put the rest of my food in the boat. Keeping the weight low helps with stability and lessens your chance of capsizing. The durability was sensational. I bounced off tons of rocks and even got held up on a handful. This durable and lightweight boat can go the distance. The Kokopelli Rogue Lite excites me for future trips.