Evening at our first camp along the Marsh Fork. Photo Aaron Lang.
The quintessential trip for an adventure seeking naturalist, the Marsh Fork/Canning River is a true wilderness experience in a remote, wild and rugged corner of Alaska. We begin this adventure high in the mountains on the scenic Marsh Fork of the Canning River. Floating northeast through the mountains, we paddle our way to the confluence with the main stem of the Canning River six or seven days later where the landscape begins to expand and the vistas widen. The Canning River skirts the western boundary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), weaving between the Philip Smith, Franklin, Shublik and Sadlerochit Mountains on its way north to the Arctic Ocean. As we wind our way through the foothills, we gradually leave the mountains behind and enter the coastal plain, one of the ecologically richest areas of the Refuge. Just twenty miles short of the Arctic Ocean, at the top of the huge Canning River delta, our journey comes to an end.
Our course travels about 90 miles of river in 12 days. Most of the river is considered Class I and II, with a several mile stretch of Class III whitewater early in the trip. On a typical trip our schedule allows for three to four lay-over days, where we spend two nights at the same camp and take a day-hike on the day between.
Wildlife viewing opportunities on this trip are excellent. We often see wolves and almost always see grizzly bears. The Central Arctic and Porcupine caribou herds mix along the lower stretches of the river and we could encounter large groups of these mobile creatures with their young calves. This is also an excellent place to catch a glimpse of the refuge’s dwindling musk ox herd. Traveling through so much country, from the continental divide to the coastal plane, we have the opportunity to observe a large diversity of birds and this is typically our most bird rich trip in the Refuge.
This trip is very remote, adventurous and occasionally strenuous; outside help is days away. We will have about a quarter-mile portage from where the plane lands and drops off the gear to the river’s edge. Participants need to be in good health, pack a positive attitude, and be capable of handling a variety of conditions. Anytime one ventures into the wilderness, one has to be prepared to deal with unexpected challenges. After all, what would a true adventure be without some unknowns?
We’ll hold a pretrip meeting in Fairbanks in the afternoon the day before the trip. We’re scheduled to return to Fairbanks around 6 pm on Day 12, but due to the unknowns of wilderness travel and weather, it’s not uncommon to be delayed getting back to Fairbanks; plan some flexibility into your return ticket. The price of the trip includes all flights from Fairbanks to the Arctic Refuge and back, WBA guides, all group gear (rafting, kitchen, etc.), all meals during the trip, and all permits. You are responsible for your Fairbanks logistics and expenses (lodging, meals, etc.) and your personal gear. Upon signing up for the trip, we provide an information packet to help you plan and prepare for the trip, including recommended lodging in Fairbanks.