News from the North Latitude Adjustment, May 2003 Outside Magazine

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May 2003 - Outside Magazine
News from the North Latitude Adjustment

Ten more ways to frolic in the far north's summer sun
By Tim Neville

Outside MagazineThis six-day multisport foray will give you a proper introduction to southwest Alaska's 8,000-square-mile Kenai Peninsula. Start with a day of rafting Class II rapids through the Kenai River Canyon, then bunk in the heart of the million-acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in a Yukon-style tent cabin at the Kenai Backcountry Lodge. On subsequent days you'll hike six miles round-trip through alpine tundra along the Cottonwood Creek Trail, overlooking glacier-carved Skilak Lake, and head to Kenai Fjords National Park, where you'll search for whales, puffins, and sea lions from a 43-foot boat and stay in the solar-powered cabins of Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge on Fox Island. Finish with a 12-mile mountain-bike ride on the serpentine Forest Service roads of the Chugach National Forest, near Girdwood. Six-day trips with Alaska Wildland Adventures (800-334-8730,

It may be known as the nexus of extreme winter sports, but when summer rolls around, the change of season just means more time to play. Start your Valdez bonanza with a ten-minute helicopter ride to Wortmanns Glacier, where you can explore ice caves and climb the vertical faces of the glacier's snout. Next up, paddle a sea kayak up a tidal river to a 200-foot-tall face of the Shoup Glacier. Encircled by peaks soaring over 5,000 feet, you'll be greeted by an abundance of sea life, wolverines, and bears. Round out the day soaking in a hot tub on a 38-foot sailboat—your home for the night. Later in the week, explore Prince William Sound on a specially designed 17-foot exploratory boat, encountering orca and humpback whales and penetrating the countless fjords, back bays, and lagoons inaccessible to larger craft. Dean Cummings' H2O Heli-Guides (800-578-4354, runs weeklong customized trips for about $3,000 per person (includes flight from Valdez).

McCarthy, a tiny southeastern Alaska hamlet, is at the end of a 60-mile dirt track that has the dubious distinction of being the worst road in North America. Why risk the stress on your CV joints? So you can get to Ma Johnson's Hotel (doubles $149, including breakfast; 907-544-4402,, a renovated historic inn, and a surrounding wilderness the size of Switzerland. First, kick back on Ma's porch, which overlooks the 6,300-foot Bonanza Ridge, then go play in the backyard: 13.2-million-acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Still feel too civilized? Pay an outfitter to fly you to a backcountry base camp, like Skolai Pass, the start of 28-mile Goat Trail, which offers views of the 16,000-foot University Range, including the jagged Twa Harpies. Round-trip flights on McCarthy Air (907-554-4440.

There isn't a single road into or out of the 2.5-million-acre Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, one of Alaska's least visited parks, but there is an utterly wild river—the key ingredient for a do-it-yourself canoe trip. Drive to Eagle, about 379 miles east of Fairbanks, rent a boat, and paddle the calm waters of the Yukon River for five days and 160 miles through spruce and birch forests and beneath thousand-foot bluffs, looking for grizzlies and waterfowl. You'll find several public-use cabins (each sleeping four people), maintained by the National Park Service, scattered at intervals along the shore. Haul out at Circle, on the northwest edge of the park, and hit the Arctic Circle Hot Springs, 50 miles away, before catching the floatplane back to Eagle. For $175, Eagle Canoe Rentals (907-547-2203,

There's no time like the present to raft through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Fly from Arctic Village to the headwaters of the Kongakut River and float 50 miles through the 19.8-million-acre reserve, bopping down Class III rapids toward the Beaufort Sea. Bundles of wildflowers bloom in the 24-hour sun. Also be sure to keep an eye out for the 129,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd that migrates through here. You'll camp along the river near places like Caribou Pass, a stopover on the migration route. Ten-day trips from Backcountry Safaris (907-222-1632,

Deep in the glacier-scoured valleys of the western Northwest Territories stands a crop of sheer granite so formidable that 1950s explorers dubbed it the Cirque of the Unclimbables. But they were wimps. Take, for example, the Lotus Flower Tower, a 2,200-foot wall akin to Yosemite's El Capitan. A floatplane will drop you and your guide off at Glacier Lake, at the base of the Cirque and about 400 miles east of Whitehorse, where a nine-hour hike will take you up to Fairy Meadows, a patch of alpine grass surrounded by a rock amphitheater. Spend two days working your way up the 22 pitches of the Lotus Flower Tower, bivouacking alongside a sea of granite after the first ten pitches. When you reach the top, it takes about four hours to rappel back to earth. For the best shot at a clear weather window, pencil in a two-week block. Gravity Adventures (877-772-5462,, based in Nelson, British Columbia, leads climbers up the Lotus Flower Tower in July and August, starting at $2,320 per person (including flight from Watson Lake in the Yukon).

Established in 1992, Aulavik National Park is one of Canada's newest wilderness areas and one of the most wildlife-dense places on the planet. Covering nearly one-fifth of Banks Island, the westernmost point in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the park covers 4,739 square miles of windswept tundra that fosters more than 150 plant species, arctic fox, and some 80,000 musk oxen. Spend 15 days paddling collapsible kayaks 90 miles north on the Thomsen River to the Arctic Ocean, camping on the riverbanks, and hiking to scattered Inuit sites. Whitney and Smith Legendary Expeditions (403-678-3052,

There's no hyperbole in the name High Arctic Lodge. Three hundred miles above the Arctic Circle on Victoria Island, the bright-red cabin has room for only 12 people, guaranteeing a low-impact, high-solitude vacation. Spend your days looking for polar bears and seals or hiking through the fragile tundra to ancient tent rings and food caches left by the Inuit. Bring a rod and fish nearby Hadley Bay, where many a guest has landed a 25-pound silver char. Since you've traveled this far, a flightseeing tour over the Arctic Ocean is a must: Watch icebergs slough off the edge of the polar ice cap and splash into water so pure it tastes like Perrier. Take a closer look by canoeing the Nanook River, a calm, shallow ribbon of fresh water. Seven-day packages at High Arctic Lodge (800-661-3880,

More than 1,000 miles north of Montreal you'll find Ungava Bay, home to some of the fiercest arctic char in Canada. After flying to Kuujjuaq, board a Twin Otter for the one-hour flight to the Payne River Fishing Camp, a four-cabin spread with a main lodge overlooking the tundra. Your Inuit guides will show you to Payne Bay Fjord, where low tides improve your chances of landing a lunker. Nearby Payne River is the ideal spot to paddle out in the lodge's 24-foot freighter canoe and test your angling skills against the native brookies. Spend your sun-filled nights watching herds of caribou before crashing in an oil-heated cabin. Arctic Adventures (800-465-9474,

Last year, veteran polar explorers Paul Landry and Matty McNair (leader of the first all-women team to reach the geographic North Pole, in 1997) decided to fling wide the Arctic gates by opening a training camp on Baffin Island's south shore. Sign up for NorthWinds' two-week course, offered in the bitter cold of February near Iqaluit, on Frobisher Bay, and they'll teach you first about navigation (your shadow points due north—or south—at noon local time), how to sleep in minus-35-degree weather (use a vapor-barrier liner and two sleeping bags), and how to double your daily ski mileage (fly a power kite). You'll camp out on the ice near Iqaluit for the first six nights, then head out across Frobisher Bay for a six-day, 75-mile shakedown expedition. The two-week course with NorthWinds (867-979-0551.

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