Gates of the Arctic National Park

Gates of the Arctic National Park is over 7.5 million acres

Gates of the Arctic National Park protects an expanse of pure wilderness in Alaska’s Brooks Range and has no park facilities. The land is home to Alaska Natives who have relied on the land and caribou for 11,000 years.

Geology

Gates of the Arctic has an amazing geological history

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park, and Noatak National Preserve are contiguous stretching from the central Brooks Range westward.

Gates of the Arctic is the largest park in the group and encompasses a large portion of the central Brooks Range.
Kobuk Valley protects the central valley of the Kobuk River.
Noatak contains the largest virtually untouched mountain-ringed river basin in the nation.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/articles/nps-geodiversity-atlas-gates-of-the-arctic-national-park-alaska.htm

Native American History

Home of Athapaskan, Eskimo and various Non-Native Alaskan peoples

People have lived in the central Brooks Range for at least 12,000 years and Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve contains rich archaeological and historic. Today the region is inhabited by Athapaskan, Eskimo and various Non-Native Alaskan peoples who have made the area their home. Traditionally, people harvested the area’s natural resources for their livelihood. Populations were relatively small and mobile, moving throughout the year among a series of camps. Not until last century did people settle in permanent, year-round villages. Today there are eleven resident zone communities directly associated with the Park. Much like their predecessors, the modern day residents of these communities conduct subsistence activities within and around the park and preserve.

NPS researchers continue to study the physical and historical record of past human activities and the ecological context within which people lived. Gates of the Arctic has a long and, exceptionally well-preserved archaeological record of human adaptations to changing arctic environments. Climate, plants, animals, and even the landscapes they inhabit have changed over the 12,000 years since the end of the last ice age. Against this backdrop people have responded to those changes in various ways – in how they organized their daily and seasonal movements, the kinds of tools they used, the foods they targeted, and means by which they harvested them. These changes are evident in the plant and animal remains and discarded tools and equipment found in archaeological sites, as well as the changing patterns of site distribution across the landscape.

The historical record of people in the region begins late in the 1800s when Europeans and Alaska Natives encountered each other for the first time. Military explorers assigned to map this previously uncharted territory struggled up rivers and over mountain passes. Prospectors followed, searching for signs of placer gold and struggling through long winters in rough mining camps. Government scientists came to examine and record the intricacies of the natural and cultural history of this previously undocumented place. More recently the introduction of recreational adventurers seeking untamed places has added a new page to the history of the region.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/gaar/learn/nature/people.htm

Park History

How Gates of the Arctic became a National Park

People have lived in the Brooks Range for more than 13,000 years and thousands of archeological sites in Gates of the Arctic document this history and people’s strong connections to the land. Today Athapaskan and Inupiat descendants and various Non-Native Alaskan peoples call the area home. Traditionally, populations were small and mobile, moving throughout the year among a series of camps to harvest seasonally available foods. It was not until last century that people settled in permanent, year-round villages. Today there are eleven resident zone communities directly associated with the Park, and many people continue to conduct subsistence activities within and around the park and preserve.

People of European descent first began to visit the Central Brooks Range in the 1880s. Military explorers assigned to map this previously uncharted territory struggled up rivers and over mountain passes. Prospectors followed, searching for signs of placer gold and struggling through long winters in rough mining camps. Government scientists came to examine and record the intricacies of the natural and cultural history of this previously undocumented place. More recently the introduction of recreational adventurers seeking untamed places has added a new page to the history of the region.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/gaar/learn/historyculture/index.htm

Attractions

The best things to do at Gates of the Arctic National Park

The floatplane disappears, leaving you on the lakeshore. For the next two weeks you must survive using the knowledge, skills and gear you bring with you. Gates of the Arctic is one of the last truly wild places on earth. Here you can take a journey of adventure, discovery and solitude through vast valleys and gaunt mountains of rugged beauty, and experience intact ecosystems where people have lived with the land for thousands of years.

Visitors to the park must have the knowledge and skills to be truly self-sufficient in the remote location and demanding climate and terrain of the Brooks Range. Those who come will find that opportunities for recreation and for natural quiet, solitude and wilderness enjoyment abound.

There are numerous rivers to float; six of them designated Wild Rivers. Backpackers have 8.4 million acres of spectacular wilderness in which they can wander at will. Lakes and gravel bars provide camping spots surrounded by unparalleled natural beauty.

For those visitors who don’t have the time or the backcountry skills to mount an expedition into the park, there are other options.

Local air taxis provide flight-seeing trips, day trips or overnight camp-outs at remote locations. Air taxis will also take visitors into neighboring Kobuk Valley National Park to see the sand dunes, or into the Noatak Preserve. Visitors can get their NPS passport stamps for those locations at the Bettles Visitor Center for Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and at the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot.

Spend the day fishing at an alpine lake, watching the caribou pass through northern valleys, or picnicking by a wild river while listening to the wind in the boreal forest.

Whatever trip option you choose, be prepared for the experience of a lifetime.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/gaar/planyourvisit/things2do.htm

Vegetation

There are two main vegetation communities: tundra and boreal

A vegetation community is the plants that grow in a certain area, which depends on the kind of soil, climate, and disturbance processes like fire and animal grazing. Vegetation is the basis for wildlife habitat, and the source of all ecosystem productivity, which provides food resources for people and animals in the ecosystem. In the Park there are two main types of vegetation communities: tundra and boreal forest. Within each of these communities, there are important vegetation types like shrub thickets and wetlands.

Tundra is the vegetation of places too cold for trees. It occurs over most of the Park, with dry tundra on higher mountain slopes and boggy tundra in valley floors. Many tundra plants are small and slow-growing; they take a long time to recover if they are harmed. Boreal forest, also known as taiga, is made up of spruce, birch, aspen, and poplar trees with a variety of shrubs and low-growing lichens, mosses, and herbs.

Within both vegetation communities, shrub thickets and wetlands occur. Shrub thickets are common along rivers, creeks, and sometimes they can be found at tree-line. The birch, willow, and alder that crowd shrub thickets never grow to tree size. Wetlands typically occur around lakes and in other lowland areas. Wetlands are common in both the tundra and taiga, thanks to the presence of permafrost, which does not allow water to soak into the ground.

Arctic vegetation is very sensitive to climate change and disturbance such as fire, grazing, as well as human and animal traffic. Research has documented an increase in shrubs and, to a lesser extent, trees in the arctic over recent decades, probably related to climate change. While human activity in arctic regions may cause localized changes in vegetation and soils, the impact of global climate change may have regional consequences.

Vegetation is being monitored using plots that can re relocated exactly and re-measured. Measurements emphasize vegetation structure (the height and density of different kinds of plants, such as sedges and shrubs), and the species composition of lichens. Vegetation is a “Vital Sign” for the Arctic Network Inventory and Monitoring Program (ACRN).

Information gathered from research and monitoring will be used to:

Determine changes in habitats.
Determine long-term changes in lichen abundance and diversity.
Determine long-term changes in plant structure – the height and density of plants – using ground plots in ways that can be tied to remotely sensed imagery, such as aerial photographs and satellite images, for extrapolation over large areas.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/gaar/learn/nature/vegetation.htm

Animal Life

Animal life thrives in Gates of the Arctic

The story of summer in the Central Brooks Range is one of spectacular abundance—millions of insects, lush new plant growth, prey for the predators.
In fact, the availability of food is so great that birds undertake long migrations to arrive here in time to breed and to raise their chicks on a protein-rich diet of mosquitoes and other prolific insects. Some birds have come unimaginable distances, like the arctic terns that fly all the way from Antarctic waters—the longest migration of any bird in the world.

Caribou trek from their boreal forest wintering grounds to their calving areas on the coastal plain, sustaining themselves on lichens along the way. Grizzly and black bears leave their dens with cubs born the previous winter. Small mammals like arctic ground squirrels, lemmings and voles, emerge from their winter homes to feed and frolic once again in the open air. Whitefish, northern pike and grayling feast in the rivers and lakes.

For all of the abundance of summer, it is a fleeting season…and for eight months each year the deep cold and scarcity of winter prevails.

Insects and seeds suddenly become scarce, so most of the birds are forced to migrate—or starve. The few species that remain have made special and often surprising adaptations. Ptarmigan for example, have feathered feet that act like snowshoes allowing them to walk and forage atop the powdery surface. And they’ve learned to dive or burrow down into the snow, which insulates them from the much colder air above.

Caribou and moose move to the boreal forest, sheltering among the trees, eating twigs and scratching for browse under the snow. Voles and lemmings live in chambers tunneled through the snow, spending their winters active and in relative warmth, eating food cached in summer.

Some animals fatten up before winter and do not have to eat. Ground squirrels go fully into hibernation, while black and grizzly bears spend many months in a lighter, sleeplike dormancy inside their dens. Some fish become inactive after retreating to deep still waters under the ice of rivers and lakes. Beavers keep snug within their lodges and live mostly on stored food.

Winter survival for animals of the central Brooks Range means adaptation to scarcity and bitter cold.

But for those that make it—the lavish riches of summer await.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/gaar/learn/nature/animals.htm

Hiking Trails

The best hiking trails in Gates of the Arctic National Park

Traveling through the park on foot affords opportunities of exploration and discovery. Mountain ridges and passes reveal splendid vistas and can take you to the most remote and least traveled areas of the Park and Preserve.

Experienced hikers in the Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve consider six miles a good day’s travel. There are no established trails, and the dense vegetation, tussocks, boggy ground and frequent stream and river crossings significantly slow your progress. You will find easiest walking above the tree line or in the streambeds, if the water level is low. There are so many rivers in this area that you are likely to have to cross one or more during your trip. The water levels fluctuate continuously due to weather conditions, but the highest levels are generally in the spring during the run-off.

Topographic maps are essential in planning your course of travel. Carry your maps and a good compass (and GPS unit if you have access to one) with you in the field.

Group size limit is 10 people, to minimize impacts to the environment. There are no official trails in Gates of the Arctic, but there are countless ‘game trails’ established by animals. When feasible, use game trails as much as possible, not only for minimizing your impacts on the vegetation, but also for ease of travel. When hiking where no game trails exist, walk in a fan formation, rather than a single file straight line, to avoid creating social trails. Trekking poles are very useful on the uneven and tussock-covered terrain.

Climbing

The most popular climbing areas in the park and preserve are in the Arrigetch Peaks, Mount Doonerak and Mount Igikpak areas. Long-term impacts tend to be greater in these locations. Access to these areas is primarily by float-equipped aircraft and most peaks are considered technical climbs. A good source of climbing information for this area is the American Alpine Club journals.

We currently have no regulations specific to rock climbing, with the exception of installation of fixed anchors, but we do require that climbers follow all park regulations that apply to backpackers and canoeists. This includes cleaning your climbing route and avoiding use of bolts or fixed anchors, as the area is designated wilderness.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/gaar/planyourvisit/backpackingandhiking.htm