Where are the Animals?

Many people come to Coldfoot and the Brooks Range and one of their first questions is, “Where are the animals?”   We don’t see them every day as they rarely come into camp.   But they are out there.   Take your camera and take a walk around Coldfoot.  If you keep your eyes open you will see signs of many different types of animals that inhabit this area.   Take a walk along the creek and see what footprints are in the mud.  The other evening I walked to Slate Creek and there were raven prints.  I also saw grizzly footprints following both a large and a small set of moose prints…a cow and a calf most certainly!   Wolf prints were in the mix as well, and there were boot prints!   A human!!

While I had my head down I came upon some moose scat…a large pile (the cow) and a tiny pile (the calf).  An lo and behold what else did I see but a pile of wolf scat.  All this in about 15 minutes!!  Scat and prints…two very interesting things to find.   If you find scat don’t let it put you off.  Go get a stick and prod around in it to see who or what that critter has been eating.   Do you see lots of fur?   Perhaps they dined on the hares that are a popular tidbit for many local animals.   Piles of moose scat might make you wonder why the nuggets all come out same size and perfectly shaped!  Has the scat been there long?  Is it dry?  Or is it still steaming?  I might leave the area if a big pile of bear scat is still steaming!!!  Try to guess how long it has been since the animal passed by.

If you get tired of looking down, look up.   You’d be surprised at what you might see….a lynx sitting on top of a structure, a great horned owl sitting in a tree, or maybe a bald or golden eagle looking for a meal.   Look at the vegetation…can you see where a moose nibbled on the willows?  Do you see the scratches left by a bear?

If you aren’t used to identifying footprints, scat, or other signs of animals there are field guides available to help you identify the evidence of their presence.  If you aren’t sure, take photos and ask others to help identify them.  Also, it is a good idea to make some noise when you are out looking around so as not to surprise any of our forest friends.

Good hunting!

Hiking Shockpoint

Around Coldfoot there are plenty of mountains to hike, but no trails. It makes for slow, arduous going, but reaching your destination is very rewarding.

If you’re standing in Coldfoot and looking north, the mountain you see is called Slate Mountain, though coworkers and locals call it “Shockpoint.” It’s a moderately difficult hike and can take about six hours for a round trip.

To start, walk about 1.5-2 miles North on the Dalton. You’ll see a gravel road that goes east from the highway. From this point, the mountain looks closer than it actually is. The rough terrain will make the hike longer than you think. Turn right onto the road and head into the woods. If you’re hiking in the middle of summer (like we did), you’ll run into a ton of mosquitoes—bring repellent.

Keep following the gravel road and before long you’ll have to splash across a creek. Your boots will most likely get wet. (I’ve come to expect wet feet when hiking in Alaska.)

The road quickly disappears and then you just bushwhack east for a while. You’ll feel like a moose, lumbering through the trees and bushes, taking long strides across mushy ground.

Recently a few hikers saw a fresh moose kill around here, so they hurried along for fear of the bear that killed it. It’s always good to hike with others. Safety in numbers, just in case.

As the trees thin, you can start to see the terrain sloping upwards. Just keep going uphill.  Use your own best judgment as you pick a route up the slope. The trees end and there’s more rock the further up you get. Once you’re on the ridge, you’re golden. There’s certainly still plenty of climbing to do, but there’s no more tussocks, and not much spongy wet ground. It’s easy walking compared to what you just did. And now you have views the rest of the way!

Just keep heading east and up, higher and higher. At times it will look like you’re almost done, but then you crest that slope and another slope reveals itself.  Don’t let the false summits fool you. You’re done when you can’t go any higher.

It’s easy to get boxed in by the mountains when you’re down in the valley in Coldfoot. But once you’re on top of a mountain, you realize the expanse of the range all around us. It’s awesome.

If you’re ambitious you can keep walking the ridge, which starts to curve North and makes a big circle, which you can see from the summit of Shockpoint. Make sure to pack plenty of water if you plan to do that, though.

When you’re ready to make the return trip, just head back the way you came as best you can. Down the ridge, down the slope, bushwhack to the creek and follow it back to the gravel road, or cross it and head straight West until you run into the highway.

Hiking around here can be tough and sometimes discouraging. Just keep pushing forward and you’ll be glad you did it.

And maybe you’ll get lucky like we did. We saw a lynx!

A disclaimer from the editor: The Brooks Range is the definition of true wilderness. Trails are nonexistent, and rescue support is largely unavailable. Make sure to employ bear & wildlife safety measures when appropriate. Exercise caution and common sense in planning any and all hikes in the area.

Coldfoot is the Best (and Most Underrated) Place to See the Northern Lights

 Photo of the aurora borealis over the South Inn by Kenji Sato. 

Photo of the aurora borealis over the South Inn by Kenji Sato. 

Be honest with us for a moment: what comes to mind first when you think of ‘taking a trip to see the Northern Lights’?

For lots of folks, that’s “Oh, right, where is my passport?” or, if you’re in much of the U.S., “Would it really be worth taking that international flight?” The good news is, that totally doesn’t have to be the case. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already clued in-–but lots of Americans don’t even realize they have the option to see the aurora borealis right here in the United States.

In short: Coldfoot has stellar auroras. (Get it?) This isn’t just seeing the aurora, either, like it’s possible to do in the northern parts of some states in the Lower 48. It’s world-class aurora-viewing. Cool, right?

Here's why. 

For one, Coldfoot is located above the Arctic Circle. As you may already know, our Arctic location means that we have twenty-four hours of daylight in the summer and almost twenty-four hours of darkness in the winter (which, up here, is most of the year). Skies are dark all the way from the 21st of August to the 21st of April, meaning that aurora hunters can catch excellent Northern Lights displays for almost eight months.

Another perk of being in the Arctic is that Coldfoot is located directly underneath the Aurora Oval. The northern Aurora Oval is a band encircling the north pole where solar flares collide with atmospheric particles and emit photons (light energy). As the name implies, the northern Aurora Oval is also the zone where the aurora borealis is most visible to us on the ground. This means that any night where the weather is clear enough, you’ll be able to see the aurora from Coldfoot or Wiseman.

In addition to a perfect location, we also have near-perfect weather. By the time that the very brightest and most colorful auroras are out, eighty percent of nights are totally clear--cloudless, and without precipitation--making for incredible views almost every night.

Finally, we have little to no light pollution! Often, in the Lower 48, even if the aurora is visible, it appears dimmer due to the amount of light pollution from nearby neighborhoods or urban areas. At our cabin in the nearby village of Wiseman, Alaska, there is absolutely no light contamination; here in Coldfoot, there are some outdoor lighting fixtures, but they’re very easy to get away from. In both cases, the nearest towns are 240 miles away in either direction-–meaning darkness and great displays no matter where you choose to watch.

For all these reasons, we like to think Coldfoot is one of the best (and most underrated) destinations for aurora hunters and travelers alike. If seeing the Northern Lights is on your bucket list, forget about your passport, take that long weekend, and come on up to Coldfoot!

 Colorful aurora borealis over Slate Mountain by Kenji Sato.

Colorful aurora borealis over Slate Mountain by Kenji Sato.

The Onset of Fall

 Photo by Jackie Veats

Photo by Jackie Veats

Fall is my favorite season. Here in the Brooks Range the heat of summer will suddenly shift overnight to cooler nights, days have a sharp edge to them, the smell of coming winter is faint. I look around and notice suddenly that the migratory birds have all vanished, the summer flowers have gone to seed. I see one willow bush with a yellow leaf, the next few days there are many more, another week later Fall colors are putting on a vibrant show. The tundra showcases red, cranberry, yellow, pink, purple, and multiple shades of green. The leaves continue to turn vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow. The berries are ripe for the picking and my thoughts turn to preserving them.

I walk the same path every day and look for changes in the rivers and creeks. The edges of the creeks start to freeze and the frozen water slowly takes over for the free flow as it creeps towards center. Soon the rivers will follow suit. I now listen to my steps crunching over the frozen mud. The young bull moose I’ve been watching all summer has grown antlers covered in velvet and his color is shiny mahogany.

Coffee is best brewed on a Fall morning down by the river. I love sitting in the mist doing nothing but watching a lynx peruse the opposite band or listening to the deafening silence that only the Brooks Range can offer. My senses sharpen at this time of year. I can feel the softness of a Fall breeze running over my cheek or the mist of low clouds dampening my hair. All of this happens at lightning speed as the freight train of Fall thunders through the Koyukuk River valley. I wait all year for its beauty and, sadly, it is gone within a few weeks. But, oh! the joy of those few weeks!!

 

 Photo by Jackie Veats.

Photo by Jackie Veats.

Three Hikes Around Coldfoot (for Hikers of All Levels)

One of the greatest parts of coming to Coldfoot is that, well, there's nothing to do. Your phone doesn't work, there's no reliable internet, and the nearest town is 240 miles away.  You're in the middle of nowhere. There's really only three buildings that are a part of the Camp. So: you made it. What now?

Well, we'd argue that much of the real beauty of Coldfoot--and the best parts of the area--aren't necessarily in camp. They're around camp. Just start walking!

The best way to discover Coldfoot and the surrounding areas is on foot. However, because there aren't too many paths or trails, the terrain can be intimidating for novice hikers and experienced hikers alike. This isn't a bad thing, though, it just gives you a chance to blaze your own trail!

If you're feeling overwhelmed: this guide is for you. Check out our picks for the three best hikes around Coldfoot for hikers of all levels.

1) Visitor's Center Trails

The beautiful Alaska Interagency Visitor's Center is located just across the street from Coldfoot Camp. In addition to an array of awesome exhibits on local flora and fauna, as well as a series of fun, informative presentations on the Arctic region, the Visitor's Center also maintains a series of short trails behind the building. Visitors in the mood for a shorter walk or those who would feel safer sticking to a trail can experience a measured taste of Alaskan wilderness, landscape, and wildlife here.

2) The Coldfoot-Chandalar Lake Trail

While the entire Coldfoot-Chandalar Lake Trail is 60 miles long, making it more fit for a backpacking or camping trip than a day-hike, visitors wanting a more rigorous day trip hike can easily tackle a few miles of the Chandalar trail post-breakfast and turn around in time to make it back to camp for the dinner buffet. No sweat! (Well, maybe some sweat.)

3) Hiker's Choice!

Seriously. Most of the mid-level hikes (without trails) will be best found by driving or walking along the highway and scouting a mountain or hill out for yourself. See a hill that looks perfect for a midday picnic? Order a sack lunch from the Cafe, drive on down, then pull over (without blocking the highway or any access roads) and climb it! Part of the magic of the Arctic is that there are very few hiking and camping regulations--so you can experience it exactly how you'd like. Talk about choosing your own adventure!

4) Bonus

If nothing on this list sounds like your thing, don't worry. Come on in to the Cafe and chat with a Camp Host about finding a hike (or walk) to suit you. The great majority of us love hiking and exploring around the Brooks Range--it's a big part of the reason many  of us live here--so we may be able to give you personalized recommendations for hikes that would suit your specific interests and needs. Just ask!

Hello, world!

Hey, everyone! Welcome to Coldfoot Camp–thanks for stopping in! As you may have seen on one of our social media accounts, today’s the big launch for our new project…this blog! 🎉

This whole blogging thing is pretty new for us, and we will definitely be learning as we go. But, we’re really excited to start building the virtual Coldfoot Camp space! All of us who live and work at Coldfoot are passionate about our love for the Arctic, for Camp, and for the Brooks Range, so we’re thrilled to get to share it whenever and wherever we can.

To cut to the chase–we’re hoping this blog will be the ultimate scoop on Coldfoot, informed by all of our time living here and falling in love with this place. We know that planning your first trip up to Coldfoot can be daunting; but that doesn’t have to be the case. So, we’ll be talking all kinds of things here: from what to do once you get to Coldfoot, to plant life and wildlife in the area, to where to hike, to what to pack based on the season–even what to listen to on your road trip up from Fairbanks!

In addition to a helpful guide, we sincerely hope this blog becomes a place to have a conversation. If you were to walk into the Coldfoot Truckers’ Cafe at any time of day or night, a coworker would be around to help find an answer to your question: it’s just a core part of how we operate.

Even if you can’t come on in just yet, if you have a question or topic you'd like us to cover–no matter how weird or mundane–drop a comment, shoot us an email, DM us, Tweet us, or message us on Facebook. We’ll do our best to reply and write a post on it so others can benefit, too.

So, whether you’re just following us for fun, adding us to your bucket list, or already midway through planning a visit this year or next, we hope you’ll find something here! 

We’ll be back soon with our first “real” post, so stay tuned. 

x

Cheers,

Audrey & Coldfoot Camp