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Alaska's Arctic
Polar Bears and Aurora Photography
September 2 to 11, 2013

Polar Bears by Hugh Rose
Polar Bears ©Hugh Rose

On this truly unique photo safari, spend nights observing and photographing the magical, yet ephemeral phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis and days immersed in the magnificent wilderness and wildlife of the Brooks Range and the Arctic coastal plain. Visit an Inupiat village along the beautiful Beaufort Sea coastline for the chance to view and photograph Polar Bears. En route to this remote destination, we will cover great distances, traveling primarily along the amazing Dalton Highway, often called the most scenic road in North America! We'll search for Moose, Wolf, and Grizzly Bear surrounded by vibrant autumn colors and spectacular landscapes. This is the best time of year for this trip as foraging Polar Bears often feed on whale carcasses while they wait for the winter sea ice to form. It is also at this time of year, near the equinox, that the northern lights peak in activity. Temperatures are still moderate, allowing for comfortable photography and wildlife viewing. Days are long enough to provide light for plenty of wildlife photography with beautiful scenic backgrounds, while nights are long enough for the transitory Auroras to be enjoyed. See nature's beauty at its finest under the guidance of one of Alaska's best naturalists and professional photographers!

At a Glance

Cost: $7,100 per person, double occupancy, not including airfare to and from Fairbanks. Review cost details.

Leader: Hugh Rose.

Group Size: 8 participants, plus leader.

Number of Days: 10, including estimated travel time.

Conditions: A non-smoking safari for people who are very interested in wildlife (mammals, birds and reptiles) and spending the maximum time in the field.

Itinerary Updated: September 2012.

Synopsis:

September 2 Arrive in Fairbanks
September 3 Drive north to Wiseman
September 4 Drive north through Brooks Range to Prudhoe.
September 5 Fly to Inupiat village.
September 6 - 7 Enjoy wildlife viewing near village.
September 8 Fly to Prudhoe, return to Wiseman.
September 9 Explore around Wiseman.
September 10 Drive south to Fairbanks.
September 11 Fly homeward.

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Detailed Itinerary

September 2, Monday Arrive in Fairbanks
Arrive in Fairbanks after flights from lower 48 states or other destinations. Van transfer will be provided for you to our lodging at the comfortable River's Edge Resort. Please plan to arrive no later than 4:30pm on September 2 to attend our orientation dinner. See complete flight information. If you choose to arrive early, let us know so we can arrange additional nights at River's Edge in Fairbanks. Early arrivals will be responsible for their own airport transfers. The River's Edge Resort is in a tranquil scenic setting along the banks of the Chena River where you can relax and enjoy a cozy cottage atmosphere and fine onsite dining.

Polar Bear
Crossing the Arctic Circle ©Hugh Rose

September 3, Tuesday Drive north to Wiseman
After a hearty breakfast at the River's Edge, we will depart by van driving north on what some people describe as the most scenic road in North America, the Dalton Highway. The Dalton Highway, or "Haul Road" as Alaskan truckers call it, was completed in 1974, so trucks could haul equipment and supplies to the recently discovered Prudhoe Bay oil fields. The roughly 420-mile gravel road begins one hundred miles north of Fairbanks and is the only road that traverses the Arctic Circle in the United States. The Highway traverses the White Mountains and miles of the interior Alaska Boreal forest before crossing the mighty Yukon River at mile 58. Hillsides along these first one hundred miles of driving will still be carpeted with a blaze of fall color that we will see fade into early winter browns as we make our way north. From the Yukon River the Dalton climbs into the alpine country of the Caribou and Ray Mountains to cross scenic Finger Mountain. The epic wildfires of 2004 (featured in National Geographic) swept through this area, leaving a stark and eerie landscape for many miles, but providing new habitat for Moose and fertile ground for wildflowers. Shortly after Finger Mountain the road crosses the Arctic Circle and our crossing will be celebrated appropriately! Another hour of driving brings us to the south side of the Brooks Range, which will still be covered with a blanket of intense autumn color. The yellow of cottonwoods and birches, the red of blueberries and the orange of dwarf birch will be fading into the browns and whites of early winter in this spectacular landscape and provide for great scenic photography! As we enter the Brooks Range, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which parallels the haul road, becomes more apparent as it converges with the road corridor and stands on steel pillars adjacent to the road. Thirty miles further north, we will arrive at Coldfoot, the only truck stop on the five hundred miles of road between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay. This was a gold mining town at the turn of the last century and has the distinction of recording the greatest range of temperatures of anywhere in the United States. Basically a truck stop, diner and hotel, Coldfoot is a unique look into the hard driving life of the truckers who make this 1,000-mile trip all year, even in the throws of winter when the temperatures reach 70 below zero!

Carribou in the Brooks Range by Hugh Rose
Aurora Borealis ©Hugh Rose

Our destination for the day is Wiseman, a turn of the 20th Century gold mining town that offers a glimpse into the recent human history of this region. Wiseman is located approximately 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle in the heart of the spectacular Brooks Range and is the perfect base for exploration and photography in the area. Accommodations in Wiseman may be considered slightly rustic, but are certainly cozy and comfortable. There is a main sleeping cabin that has three bedrooms, a large living area with kitchen facilities, and a single bathroom with shower that is shared by all occupants. A second sleeping cabin features two bedrooms with queen beds, a sitting area, and bathroom with shower shared by the occupants of this building. It still amazes us that a hot shower can be had in this wilderness setting! Meals are served family style in the dance hall of the old Wiseman community center.

About the aurora borealis: The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is an ephemeral phenomenon that occurs in a band at extreme north and south latitudes (Southern Lights or Aurora Australealis). The northern sky lights up when streams of electrons that are emitted from the sun in the form of solar flares impact molecules of gas found in the atmosphere of the earth. The impact of these electrons against gas molecules causes the gas to go into an unbalanced state of energy and the only way for the gas to become stable again is to give off energy in the form of light. The Auroral Band (an area from roughly 60 to 70 degrees north latitude in Alaska, where aurora is concentrated) is formed because the earth acts as a huge magnet and attracts the charged electrons to this specific location. Wiseman is located at roughly 67 degrees north latitude inside the Auroral Band and makes an ideal location for the lights, despite being fickle and transitory. Aurora can occur at any time of year, but tends to peak around the equinoxes, making this an ideal time of year to visit this area. In addition, nights are just getting dark and long enough to allow viewing of the Aurora.

September 4, Wednesday Drive North beyond the treeline and Continental Divide, to the Arctic Coast
This morning we will enjoy a leisurely breakfast, before departing on the 240-mile drive to Prudhoe Bay (otherwise known as Deadhorse) and the Arctic Ocean. After a walk around Wiseman to stretch our legs, we will set out to explore the northern limits of the boreal forest, as we travel towards the tree-line. While we drive north from Wiseman, we will be scanning for some of the inhabitants of the boreal forest such as Wolf, Moose, and Grizzly and Black Bear. Approaching the crest of the Brooks Range, we will watch the boreal forest thin, until eventually reaching the far northern edge of the forest at Chandalar Shelf, some 60 miles north of Wiseman. Scenic Atigun Pass, the highest road pass in Alaska at 4,800 feet and the continental divide of the most remote mountain range in the United States, lies only 10 miles beyond the last spruce tree and is a scenic highlight of this day's drive. Traces of the dazzling fall color will still be evident here on the southern flanks of some of the highest peaks of the Brooks Range as we ascend the pass. Descending onto the north side of the Brooks Range, we enter a different world devoid of trees and home to many species of Arctic wildlife, such as, musk-oxen, fox, wolves, grizzly bear, caribou and moose. Many birds of prey that hunt the open arctic tundra can be seen including, gyrfalcon, snowy owl, short-eared owl, golden eagle, and rough-legged hawk, while other migratory birds will be seen, like tundra swans, greater white-fronted geese and pacific loons gathering in flocks to migrate south ahead of the oncoming winter freeze. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline snakes over the open tundra parallel to the road and is a constant reminder of what lies at the end of the road on the coast of the Beaufort Sea, "Deadhorse" or Prudhoe Bay, the industrial camp and hub of oilfield activity located on Prudhoe Bay. We spend a full day on this drive with time to stop and photograph wildlife and birds that we happen upon, as well as the endless scenic photo opportunities. We plan on arriving at Prudhoe Bay in time to enjoy the hearty dinner prepared at our accommodations for the night. We will be staying at a hotel that caters to oilfield workers and support staff, and as such may be simple, but comfortable.

September 5, Thursda Drive from Brooks Range to Prudhoe Bay; Fly to Native Village
After breakfast, we will depart for a drive around the oilfields to look for some of the common wildlife found around Prudhoe Bay. As we drive this morning looking for arctic foxes and snowy owls you can learn some of the fascinating history of oil exploration and extraction in this remote arctic region, and how it is a testament to human's ingenuity and folly! We will catch a mid day charter flight to the Native Village, where we will be watching Polar Bears for the next few days.

Upon arrival at the Prudhoe Bay airport, we will check in for our flight. Luggage weight and size will be restricted on this flight to 70 pounds total (including camera gear), so everyone will consolidate their gear and take only what is needed for the next three nights in the Arctic. Gear should consist of necessary camera equipment and a small duffel with toothbrush, change of underwear and cold weather gear. Arctic weather conditions will be encountered, so suitable clothing and gear will be needed. A detailed packing list will be provided to all participants upon registration.

Polar Bears
Muskoxen in ANWR
©Hugh Rose

The 40-minute flight takes us over the spectacular Arctic coastal plain and the well known, if not controversial, "1002" area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Depending on the plane's altitude, we may see herds of Caribou, Muskoxen, Grizzly Bears, and Polar Bears. Upon arrival in the Native Village in late afternoon, we will be transported from the village airstrip to our accommodations for the next three nights. Although our lodging is not luxurious, what it lacks in appearance is made up for in hospitality and a certain charm. Built from modular oilfield camp buildings, the Inn is basic yet comfortable. Accommodations are in double rooms with twin beds; bathrooms with showers are located down a short hall. All of our meals are prepared and eaten in the cafe located on site and are always hearty and tasty! Our schedule will depend on weather and individual interests, but the best photography tends to be early in the morning and later in the evening, so we will try and schedule meals around our photographic forays! In the remainder of the day, we will settle in and get oriented with our surroundings and hopefully see and photograph bears!

About the native village: We will be visiting a native village inhabited by approximately 250 Inupiat "Eskimo" people who are endemic to this region of arctic Alaska. The village is located on a small island just off the arctic coastline. This island was an important stop for whalers at the turn of the last century, but did not become a permanent settlement for the semi-nomadic Inupiat people until 1923 with the establishment of a fur trading post. The island is characterized by a large saltwater lagoon that is located on the east side and provides a sheltered anchorage for the village fishing boats. The downtown consists of a cluster of homes built on the barren tundra approximately one mile from the village airport. There are limited roads and vehicles located in this village, but a vehicle is important for travel and photography of the Polar Bears. We will have the only rental vehicle available and although it may not be pretty, it will be sufficient for the purpose. Keep in mind that we are visitors from a different culture and our sense of time and schedule may be different than the Inuit's. Experiencing the culture of the Inupiat is as much of an experience as watching the Polar Bears!

Polar Bear by Hugh Rose
Polar Bear ©Hugh Rose

Why are Polar Bears (Nanook) here? The Inupiat name for the polar bear is "Nanook" and the domain of Nanook is not the beaches and tundra of the arctic coast, but the pack ice that covers the sea surface for 9 months of the year. Polar Bears feed mainly on seals that live on and under the arctic ice, hunting them with a number of different techniques. Like their cousins the brown bears from whom they evolved, during times of hunger, Polar Bears can be opportunistic and will feed on whatever food opportunities appear. Other food sources can include vegetation, small rodents, bird eggs, other marine mammals, and scavenging on carrion. Polar Bears are attracted to this area to scavenge on the carcasses of butchered whales, and begin to arrive here before the whale hunt begins on Labor Day each year. In mid summer when the arctic pack ice moves off shore, Beaufort Sea Polar Bears are often marooned on shore where there is little to eat. These bears enter the fall season hungry from lack of readily available food and have keyed into the presence of whale carcasses in this area starting in September. A bear's memory is so good they will remember the time and place where food was available and return to that same spot the next year at the same time. The bears typically arrive in late August before the whale hunt begins, and will scavenge on the remains of whale carcasses from previous year's hunts. We will be visiting this area during the annual hunt and if we are fortunate, we may witness the community event that surrounds the harvesting of a whale. The circumpolar indigenous people of the world have been hunting marine mammals and whales for thousands of years and the Inupiat of Alaska are no different. In a very tightly controlled hunt, arctic coastal villages are allowed to hunt the Bowhead Whale, which frequent the waters of the adjacent Beaufort Sea/Arctic Ocean. A whale harvest quota is awarded to each village according to number of residents and the historic harvest.

Tundra Swan over ANWR by Hugh Rose
Tundra Swan over ANWR ©Hugh Rose

September 6 - 7, Friday - Saturday Photography and Bear Viewing
These two days will be spent viewing and photographing bears and other wildlife that inhabits this area. Some bears wander into the village and can be seen prowling down streets early in the morning, however we will drive to beaches where bears can be photographed in their natural environment. If we are fortunate, we may see other animals and birds such as Snowy Owl, Arctic Fox, and even Grizzly Bear! We will have opportunities to explore all the roads in this area during our search for bears and other wildlife. We may even have the privilege of witnessing the Bowhead Whale harvest. If this is the case, we will be allowed to watch and photograph this amazing Inupiat tradition. Observing and photographing this cultural event will be completely up to you as the travelers, but this would be a unique opportunity to watch something that few have ever seen. We will have to exercise cultural awareness on this subject and may not be able to photograph all the people involved, but we can ask where photos are permissible.

September 8, Sunday Return to Prudhoe and Wiseman
This will be a long day of travel and our last opportunity to observe and photograph the bears. After breakfast, we will head out on our last bear-viewing foray, spending until mid-morning out on the tundra. We board our airplane for the flight back to Prudhoe Bay at 10:30am and arrive in Prudhoe in time for lunch. Please see important travel note about weather-related delays in the information section at the end of this itinerary. Upon arrival in Prudhoe, we will pick up a picnic lunch and start our drive south toward Wiseman. Our goal is to spend time exploring the area of coastal plain that we had to pass by on the drive north. This will be one of our best opportunities to photograph Muskoxen and we will make sure that we leave time to spend with these amazing, prehistoric-looking creatures. In addition, we will be watching for other wildlife in this stunning landscape such as Caribou, Grizzly Bear, Moose, Arctic Fox, Red Fox, and Wolf. This time of year, the sunset light is endless and the day lingers late into the evening hours. We still have a long drive ahead and with stops for photography, we will not reach Wiseman until late in the evening. After the sun sets, we will keep our eyes peeled for the Aurora, as this may be an excellent opportunity for Aurora photography!

September 9, Monday Explore Around Wiseman
Today we will have a leisurely morning in order to give everyone an opportunity to rest after the previous long day of travel and Aurora viewing. After breakfast, we will set out to explore the environs around Wiseman and on the south side of the Brooks Range. We can focus on whatever interests you, whether it is the mining history of the Wiseman area or looking for large mammals on the south side of the Brooks Range! This evening will be spent searching the night skies for Aurora and finding the ideal locations from which to photograph this beautiful phenomenon.

September 10, Tuesday Drive South to Fairbanks
Enjoy a hearty breakfast after which we will have some time to wander around Wiseman and take any final photos of the historic town, before we depart south for Fairbanks. As usual, we will maximize wildlife viewing and photographic opportunities during this day of travel. Upon arrival in Fairbanks, we will check in at the River's Edge Resort, get cleaned up from a day on the road, and head out to our farewell dinner at a fine local restaurant.

September 11, Wednesday Flights Home
After breakfast this morning, transfer to the Fairbanks Airport for your flights home.

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Costs

Payments and Cancellations: All reservations require a deposit due at the time of making the reservation. Upon receiving your deposit and reservation form, we will send trip materials with additional information to help you prepare for your safari. Until the final payment due date, deposits are refundable except for a cancellation fee of $150 per person. This fee may go toward another tour if reserved within six months of the cancelled trip's departure date. There are no refunds given after the final payment due date. We reserve the right to charge for cost increases that occur between now and the date of travel.

Cost per Person
Trip cost, double occupancy $7,100
Single supplement $600
Payment Schedule
Deposit - to reserve your space $750
Second payment - December 1, 2012 $750
Final payment - June 1, 2013 remaining balance
• For reservations made after the Second Payment date, the Deposit and Second Payment will be due with registration.

Included:

  • Airport transfers in Fairbanks on the afternoon of arrival day and after breakfast on departure day.
  • Accommodations as listed in the detailed itinerary and all meals from dinner on September 2 to breakfast on September 11.
  • Ground transportation only as described in the detailed itinerary, including flights to and from the Native Village.
  • Gratuities.

Not Included:

  • Flights to and from Fairbanks, Alaska, please let us know if you need help arranging these flights. Round trip to Fairbanks is approximately $800-$1000 from the lower 48 states, depending on departure point (quoted April 2011).
  • Alcoholic beverages are not included and will not be served in Prudhoe Bay or the Native Village.
  • Travel insurance.
  • Items of a personal nature, room service, alcoholic beverages, and items not on the regular menu (if you have special dietary needs, please indicate them on your reservation form).
  • Extra hotel nights and separate airport transfers.

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Sign-up

To Make a Reservation: Please contact us (there are many methods of contacting us) to assure space availability and to let us answer your questions. Then, print our reservation form, fill out one form per person, and post it to us in the mail with your deposit. Or fill out our handy online information request and we will send you more information.

Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris
20800 Kittredge Road
Saratoga, CA 95070
Toll Free: (800) 527-5330
Fax: (408) 741-0358
Skype: CheesemansEcologySafaris
Email: info@cheesemans.com

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Other Details

Hugh Rose of Cheeemans' Ecology Safaris
Hugh Rose

Leader: Hugh Rose is an exceptional resident naturalist and has a wonderful personality. Hugh has led Alaska trips since 1991 receiving unending praise for his amazing knowledge and attention to details, including attention to everyone's needs. He has extensive knowledge of all aspects of Alaskan natural history from in-depth bird behavior to geology. Hugh is a professional photographer and also a member of our Antarctica expedition staff.

Flights: Arrive in Fairbanks no later than 4:30pm on September 2. Round trip airfare to Fairbanks (FAI) is approximately $650-$800 from the lower 48 states, depending on departure point (quoted September 2010, subject to change). Depart from Fairbanks around midday on September 11, or later if you decide to extend your trip. Please contact us if you would like us to arrange additional nights in Fairbanks before or after your safari. If arriving early or departing late, please plan to handle your own airport transfer. Internal flights, round trip from Prudhoe to the Native Village, will be arranged by Hugh Rose and are included in the tour price.

Important Disclaimer about weather-related travel delays: In the unlikely event that our return flight from the Native Village back to Prudhoe Bay is cancelled due to weather, an additional fee of $250 per person will be collected from each trip participant for each additional night that we have to stay in the village. This is to cover the extra cost of staying in the village (higher cost relative to Wiseman or Prudhoe) and the cost of a rental vehicle so that we can make the most of the situation and continue to view and photograph Polar Bears. Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris and Hugh Rose would absorb some of the additional cost caused by any such delay, but cannot absorb all of it. We apologize in advance if it becomes necessary to collect this additional fee, but weather in the Arctic can be unpredictable.

Travel Insurance: Emergency Medical Insurance is optional, but encouraged, for this tour. Read about travel insurance and our recommendations and requirements.

Vehicles: Distances are large in Alaska and a significant amount of time will be spent in vehicles searching for wildlife and driving to destinations. We will make our journey in a custom Dodge "Sprinter" van, specially modified for doing these trips. The Sprinter is outfitted with tall, untinted, sliding windows for superior viewing and it is tall enough to allow people to stand up inside. These features make wildlife viewing and photography possible from the van, which often acts as a blind for animals and birds we see along the roadway.

Climate: Even though it is early September, weather can be winter-like and temperatures could range significantly. Keep in mind the Arctic has ever changing weather with temperatures that can swing from below freezing to warm in a matter of hours at this time of year. Expect daytime temperatures in the 40's (perhaps as high as the 60's) with nights below freezing. Both rain and snow are possible as well, so think layers when packing starting with a waterproof and windproof outer shell with layers of wool or fleece underneath. Warm hat and gloves are essential, as are liner gloves for photography. Be prepared for rainy cool weather. Dressing in layers is best, as you can remove or add as the temperature dictates.

Equipment: Advice on suitable camera gear and personal gear for traveling and photographing in the Arctic will be given to all trip participants. Instruction on winter and Arctic wildlife photography as well as Aurora photography will be provided throughout the trip.

Trip Materials
Detailed information about your specific tour will be sent to you after you make your reservation with us. These trip materials include information about flights, packing, entry and departure requirements, airport transfers, gratuities, etc. Please take a moment to read this important informtation upon receipt.

Conditions

  • Non-smoking policy: We have a strict non-smoking policy. Smoking is not permitted at any time or any place during our tours.
  • Maximum time in the field: We try to spend as much time in the field as possible, sometimes resulting in long days but giving you a more in-depth experience.
  • Itinerary route: The itinerary route, stops and plans are subject to change by unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, such as weather, wildlife sightings, or road conditions.
  • Additional forms: For some of our tours, you may be asked to fill out additional forms (e.g., medical questionnaire).
  • Medical conditions and travel risks: Travel to remote places is exciting, but understanding and accepting the risks, both medical and logistical, are important. Minor medical problems can usually be treated, but due to the fact that we often travel to locations far from medical facilities, there can be no expectation for immediate medical treatment or evacuation, even in cases of trauma. Anyone with health problems needing close medical supervision should not consider going on this trip. Bring enough medication for the duration of the trip for any chronic medical needs, since pharmacies are usually not available. When you send your tour deposit and signed reservation form, you certify to us that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions that would create a risk for yourself or for other trip participants.

Mailing List
If you would like to be on our mailing list or request information, please use our online information request form or contact us to give us your name, address, email address and phone number. Please note we will never share your personal information with anybody!

Responsibility
Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris, Saratoga, California, act only as agents and shall not be responsible or become liable for any delay incurred by any person in connection with any means of transportation, nor for the loss, damage, or injury to person or property by reason of any event beyond the control of the agency or default of such agency suppliers. We reserve the right to cancel the tour prior to departure in which case full refund will constitute full settlement to the passenger. No refund will be made for any unused portion of the tour unless arrangements are made at the time of booking. All rates are based on current tariffs, exchange rates and fuel prices and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein. By sending your initial deposit, you agree to accept our payment schedule as a contract. If payments are still outstanding two weeks after the due date, your space may be forfeited. Baggage is at the owner's risk.

Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris is registered as California Seller of Travel #2063050-40. Registration as a seller of travel does not constitute approval by the State of California. Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris is a participant in the Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation (TCRC). In event of a client canceling where a refund is applicable in accordance with the schedule above, or in the event that CES needs to cancel the trip, all payments for transportation or travel service not provided to the client shall be promptly refunded, unless the client instructs us otherwise in writing. All client payments are deposited into a trust account in accordance with California law. If for any reason a valid refund is not forthcoming, the client may request reimbursement from the TCRC within six months of the scheduled end of the tour. Please feel free to ask us for more information.

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All material © Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris.
All photos © Doug or Ted Cheeseman, unless otherwise credited.

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