Polar Bears and Aurora

Alaska’s Arctic

September 1 - 10, 2017
Cost: $9,950
Leader: Hugh Rose + 1
Group Size: 8
Days: 10

Safari Overview

Spend nights photographing the magical Aurora Borealis and days immersed in the Arctic autumn with wildlife and Polar Bears. Explore Arctic Alaska by car, boat, and plane with local photographer and naturalist Hugh Rose. Experience the dancing airbrushed colors painted across the night sky as you photograph and simply enjoy the ephemeral phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis. Cross the Arctic Circle and then travel through the picturesque Alaskan landscape of the Brooks Range, decorated in fall colors, to the stark vastness of the Arctic Coastal Plain. Experience an Inupiat island village where Polar Bears feed on whale carcasses, while they await the formation of the winter ice. Learn wildlife, landscape, and aurora photography techniques and see nature’s beauty at its finest under the guidance of one of Alaska’s best naturalists.

HIGHLIGHTS
• Photograph Polar Bear from land and small boat for close views as they forage on whale blubber.
• Experience the colorful dance of the Aurora Borealis and learn how to capture its brilliance.
• Learn about the culture of a native Inupiat village and potentially see a bowhead whale harvest.
• Search for iconic Alaskan wildlife such as Grizzly Bear, Caribou, Muskox, Arctic Fox, and Gray Wolf.
• Observe birds of prey as they hunt the arctic tundra and flocks of migratory birds as they head south.

Itinerary Updated: January 2017



FAQ
Date Description Lodge Meals
Sep 1 Arrive in Fairbanks, Alaska for welcome dinner River’s Edge Resort, Fairbanks D
Sep 2 Drive north across the Arctic Circle to Wiseman with stops en route, photograph Aurora Borealis Lodge in Wiseman B, L, D
Sep 3 Drive the Dalton Highway through the Brooks Range and Arctic Coastal Plains to Prudhoe Bay Lodge in Prudhoe Bay B, L, D
Sep 4 - 6 Fly from Prudhoe Bay to island village for Polar Bear, other arctic wildlife, and Inupiat culture Lodge in Inupiat village B, L, D
Sep 7 - 8 Fly to Prudhoe Bay, return to Wiseman for aurora photography, explore the gold-mining town of Wiseman and wildlife in the Brooks Range Lodge in Wiseman B, L, D
Sep 9 Drive south to Fairbanks, crossing the Arctic Circle with stops en route for wildlife River’s Edge Resort, Fairbanks B, L, D
Sep 10 Depart homeward from Fairbanks, Alaska B

Our Trip Leaders

Hugh Rose

Expedition and Trip Leader, Naturalist, Geologist, and Photographer, Hugh has over 20 years of professional guiding experience. The vast landscapes and incredible wildlife of Alaska and the Polar Regions are his subject and passion, evident in his inspired leadership and stunning professional photos. Hugh receives unending praise for his amazing knowledge, delightful and accommodating personality, and attention to every trip detail.

Berni Hicker

After living 30 years north of the Arctic Circle in the Brooks Range of Alaska, Berni has experienced the true arctic. He was born in Germany, but loved Alaska so much that he made it his home. He is an accomplished naturalist, wildlife spotter, and storyteller, drawing on his experience living off the grid. Berni and his family now run the best bed and breakfast north of the Arctic Circle!

Detailed Itinerary

A glimpse into our journey

Arrive in Fairbanks, Alaska

Sep 1

Arrive in Fairbanks by this evening for a welcome dinner with Hugh Rose. Transfer will be provided to our lodging at the River’s Edge Resort along the banks of the Chena River.

Drive to Wiseman for aurora photography

Sep 2

Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) by Hugh Rose

We’ll drive north to Wiseman on the scenic Dalton Highway, the only road in the United States that crosses the Arctic Circle. We’ll pass through the White Mountains, crossing the mighty Yukon River, and into the Brooks Range, searching for wildlife along the way and enjoying the hillsides carpeted in fall color. Our destination for the day is Wiseman, a gold mining town that offers a glimpse into the recent human history of Alaska. Wiseman is located approximately 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle at roughly 67°N latitude, an excellent location for aurora photography and perfect base for exploration of the Brooks Range. We’ll check in at Wiseman’s unique and historic bed and breakfast owned by Berni and Uta Hicker. Berni will join us to assist Hugh for the rest of our arctic journey, lending his great naturalist, spotting, and storytelling skills. Conditions permitting, we’ll end with nighttime aurora photography and learn techniques to obtain stunning images of this spectacular and ephemeral phenomenon.

Drive through the Brooks Range and Arctic Coastal Plains to Prudhoe Bay

Sep 3

Arctic Coastal Plain in autumn by Hugh Rose

We’ll depart early for our 240-mile drive along the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay at the edge of the Arctic Ocean. As we climb the Brooks Range, we will scan the boreal forest for Gray Wolf, Moose, Grizzly Bear, and Black Bear. We’ll go over Atigun Pass, highest pass in Alaska at 4,800 feet and descend the north side of the Brooks Range into a world devoid of trees and home to many species of arctic wildlife, such as Muskox, Red Fox, Gray Wolf, and Caribou. Birds of prey, including Gyrfalcon, Snowy Owl, Short-eared Owl, and Rough-legged Hawk, hunt the open arctic tundra while other migratory birds, like Tundra Swans, Greater White-fronted Geese, and Pacific Loons, gather in flocks to migrate south ahead of the oncoming winter freeze. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline snakes over the open tundra parallel to the road, adding another component for our landscape photography. We’ll arrive in Prudhoe Bay in time to enjoy a hearty dinner.

Photograph Polar Bear and other arctic wildlife in Inupiat village

Sep 4 - 6

Polar Bear by Hugh Rose

Before our mid-day flight to the village, we’ll search the Prudhoe Bay area for Arctic Foxes, Snowy Owls, and other wildlife. Our flight takes us over the spectacular Arctic Coastal Plain and coast of the Arctic Ocean and we may see herds of Caribou, Muskoxen, Grizzly Bears, and Polar Bears. Our schedule while in the village 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 schedule meals around our photographic forays. Although bears can sometimes be seen prowling down streets early in the morning, we will drive to the shoreline to photograph in their natural environment. In addition to viewing the bears from land, we will also have the opportunity for small-boat excursions to observe and photograph bears on the islands near the village. Boat rides provide excellent photographic opportunities from a unique perspective because they put us at the bears’ level and they allow us better accessibility to the bears, many of which rest on low-lying barrier islands just offshore.

Polar Bears are the primary focus of this part of the safari since they are not found anywhere else during the trip, but we hope to see and photograph other wildlife as well, such as Grizzly Bear, Arctic Fox, Snowy Owl, and many species of shore birds and sea ducks. We may also have the privilege of witnessing (and maybe photographing) the Bowhead whale harvest, an amazing Inupiat tradition. This would be a unique opportunity to watch something that few get to see.

Fly to Prudhoe Bay, return to Wiseman for wildlife and aurora

Sep 7 - 8

Enjoy one last opportunity to observe Polar Bears before we fly back to Prudhoe Bay and drive south toward Wiseman. As we drive south across the Arctic Coastal Plain, we’ll search for iconic arctic wildlife such as the prehistoric-looking Muskox. With stops for lunch, photography, and simply to enjoy our surroundings, we will reach Wiseman late in the evening, hopefully after stopping to enjoy and photograph Northern Lights along the crest of the Brooks Range. The following morning allows for a relaxed breakfast before setting out to explore the area around Wiseman. Learn some of the mining history of the Koyukuk River Valley and also search the south side of the Brooks Range for wildlife.

Drive south to Fairbanks, crossing the Arctic Circle

Sep 9

Musk Ox by Hugh Rose

We’ll bid farewell to Berni and his family before we depart south toward Fairbanks. As usual, we will maximize wildlife viewing and photographic opportunities during this day of travel, searching the landscape for one last glimpse of Alaska’s wonderful wildlife. We’ll retrace our path south, crossing the Arctic Circle and Yukon River and returning to spectacular fall colors. Our journey back to Fairbanks takes us through the historic gold mining community of Fox, Alaska, where we will stop for a farewell dinner together.

Depart homeward from Fairbanks

Sep 10

Transfer to the Fairbanks Airport for your flights home or extend your stay.

Alaska's Arctic

Spend nights photographing the magical Aurora Borealis and days immersed in the Arctic autumn with wildlife and Polar Bears.

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Cost & Payments

Costs (in US$)

Type Cost Per Person
Trip cost, double occupancy $9,950
Single supplement $995

We reserve the right to charge for cost increases that occur between when we set tour prices and the date of travel, for example, changes due to the cost of lodging and transportation. If you are a single traveler and you desire, we will find a roommate for you. If we cannot find you a roommate, we may charge you a single supplement fee. Single rooms are subject to availability.


Payment Schedule

Payment Due Date Amount Per Person
Deposit Due now to reserve your space $500
Second payment November 1, 2016 $1,000
Final payment April 1, 2017 Remaining balance

Payments will be due based on the following schedule. All reservations require a deposit to confirm reservation of your space. For reservations made after a due date, all past payments will be due with registration. By sending your initial deposit, you agree to accept our payment schedule and cancellation policy as a contract. If payments are still outstanding two weeks after the due date, your space may be forfeited.


Cancellations

Until the Final Payment due date, deposits are refundable except for a cancellation fee of $150 per person, which can be applied toward another tour if reserved within six months of the cancelled trip’s departure date. No refunds are given after the Final Payment due date.

Included

  • All leaders, transport, park entry fees, landing fees, and permits for all activities unless described as optional.
  • Round-trip flights between Prudhoe Bay and the native village.
  • Boat rides to see and photograph Polar Bear on islands near the village.
  • Airport transfers to/from the River’s Edge Resort in Fairbanks.
  • Accommodations for the nights of September 1 through 9.
  • Meals from dinner on September 1 through breakfast on September 10, including premium beer and wine in Wiseman.
  • Gratuities to lodge personnel and for meal service.
  • Trip Materials – information about flights, packing, entry and departure requirements, airport transfers, gratuities, etc.

Not Included

  • Airfare (except flights listed as included), airport and departure taxes, and excess baggage fees.
  • Separate airport transfers if booking extra nights somewhere other than River’s Edge in Fairbanks.
  • Emergency medical and evacuation insurance and trip cancellation insurance. Read more about travel insurance.
  • Gratuity for Berni Hicker. Gratuities are highly personal in nature and are earned, not expected. As a guideline, we suggest budgeting about $65 to $75 per participant.
  • Alcoholic beverages, except in Wiseman (not available in Prudhoe Bay or the native village).
  • Items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone calls, medical costs or hospitalization, room service, alcoholic and other beverages, items not on the regular menu, etc. If you have special dietary needs, please indicate them on your Reservation/Release Form.
  • Important Disclaimer – Weather-related Travel Delays: If necessary due to travel delays, cost of lodging and transportation of about $500 per person per additional night in the native village. In the unlikely event that our return flight from the native village back to Prudhoe Bay is cancelled due to weather or other circumstances beyond our control, an additional fee of about $500 (estimated November 2016 and subject to change) per person will be charged 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 relative to Wiseman or Prudhoe Bay) 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. We apologize in advance if it becomes necessary to collect this additional fee, but weather in the Arctic can be unpredictable.

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. Expect daytime temperatures in the 40’s °F (5–10 °C), though perhaps as high as the 60’s °F (15–20 °C), with nights below freezing. Both rain and snow are possible as well. Dressing in layers with a waterproof outer shell is best and you can remove or add layers as the temperature dictates.

Fitness Level

This tour covers a great deal of ground, so photography from or near the vehicle is quite common. Walks are generally under a mile and are at a slow pace with stops for observation and photography. Peak aurora activity is statistically around solar midnight (2:00 am, Alaska time); this means staying up late into the night, which may lead to sleep deprivation.

Flights

Airfare (except flights listed as included) is not included in trip costs. Detailed logistical information and the contact information for our recommended flight-ticketing agent are included in the Trip Materials we will send you. Please let us know if you are arriving earlier or staying later as we are happy to assist you with any extra overnights that you might want to arrange.

Flights you (or a travel agent) book: Arrive in Fairbanks, Alaska (FAI) by 4:30 pm on September 1. (Later arrivals on this night are possible but you may miss the welcome dinner.) Depart from Fairbanks anytime on September 10, or later if you wish to extend your stay.

Flights we book for you: The round-trip flights between Prudhoe Bay and the native village are included in the tour price and will be booked by Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris.

FAQ

Does this safari emphasize photography?

Photography of the wildlife, scenery, and aurora will be key parts of the tour, so come prepared to take advantage of Hugh’s experience as a professional photographer and knowledge of Alaska. Hugh will offer instruction on winter and arctic wildlife photography as well as aurora photography throughout the trip and is happy to answer questions about gear before the tour.

What is the Aurora Borealis?

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is an ephemeral phenomenon that occurs at extreme northern latitudes (along with the Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, that occurs in southern latitudes). The sky lights up when streams of charged particles emitted from the sun impact atoms of oxygen and nitrogen gas in the earth’s atmosphere. The gas then goes into an unbalanced state and stabilizes itself by giving off energy in the form of light. The charged particles impact all over the earth, but the earth’s magnetic field attracts the particles into a halo around the magnetic poles. The “Auroral Zone,” where aurora is concentrated, is a ring or band centered approximately around the earth’s magnetic pole. Auroral displays vary in brightness from barely visible to bright enough to read by and vary in color based on type and altitude of the gas, with green being the most common color.

When is aurora observation best?

Peak aurora activity is statistically around solar midnight (2:00am, Alaska time), so aurora photography means staying up late into the night. Aurorae can occur at any time of year and are often fickle and transitory, but activity tends to peak around the equinox when Alaskan nights are just getting dark long enough to allow viewing, making September an ideal time of year to photograph the Northern Lights.

Why are Polar Bears near this village?

The Inupiat village is on a small island just off the arctic coastline. The Polar Bear domain is not the beaches and tundra of the arctic coast, but the pack ice that covers the sea surface for nine months of the year. Polar Bears feed mainly on seals that live on and under the arctic ice, hunting them using a number of different techniques. When food is scarce, Polar Bears are opportunistic and will feed on whatever food sources are available, including vegetation, small rodents, bird eggs, other marine mammals, and carrion. Polar Bears come to the area around the village to scavenge on the carcasses of butchered whales. 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 and have keyed into the presence of whale carcasses from Inupiat hunts in this area.

Does this safari have a cultural aspect?

The Inupiat village we visit is inhabited by approximately 250 people native to this region of arctic Alaska. We look forward to experiencing the culture of the Inupiat as much as observing Polar Bear. We will be visiting this area during the annual whale hunt and, if we are fortunate, we may witness the community event that surrounds the harvesting of a whale. Keep in mind that we are visitors from a different culture; we will take care to exercise cultural awareness and may not be able to photograph all the people involved, but we can ask where photos are permissible. The circumpolar indigenous people of the world, including the Inupiat of Alaska, have been hunting marine mammals for thousands of years. Under tight regulation to sustain resources, arctic coastal villages are allowed to hunt the Bowhead Whale that frequent the waters of the adjacent Beaufort Sea/Arctic Ocean.

Accommodations

Lodging throughout the safari is clean and comfortable albeit basic. Options are very limited in these remote locations, but we have found the best options and enjoy the rustic Alaskan experience. Good food and a personal touch can also be expected, especially in Wiseman where we’ll enjoy home-cooked meals with our hosts. Most lodges have shared baths, except in Fairbanks, where every room has its own bathroom. Accommodations in Prudhoe Bay cater primarily to oilfield workers and feel more like dorms but are clean, comfortable, and serve hearty meals. Hugh has built good relationships with these lodges and we’re happy to have the opportunity to continue coming here for unique wildlife experiences. Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns about our accommodations during the safari.

Seasickness

Transportation

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 to the Arctic in Hugh’s custom Dodge Sprinter van, specially modified for these photo safaris. The Sprinter is outfitted with tall, un-tinted, sliding windows for superior viewing and it is tall enough to allow people to stand inside. These features make wildlife viewing and photography possible from the van, which also acts as a blind for animals and birds we see along the roadway. Additionally, we will travel in two vehicles from Wiseman to Prudhoe Bay in order to give participants more space. There are limited roads and vehicles in the native village, but a vehicle is important for travel and photography of Polar Bear. We will have the only rental vehicle available and, although it may not be pretty, it will be sufficient for our purpose. While visiting the native village we will also photograph Polar Bear from a small boat, roughly 26 feet long, aluminum-hulled and with a small cabin for protection from the wind.

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 to observe wildlife behavior, 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 or road conditions.
  • Additional forms: For some of our tours, you may be asked to fill out additional forms (e.g., medical questionnaire).
  • Travel to remote places is exciting, but it is important to understand and accept the risks, both medical and logistical. Minor medical problems can usually be treated, but because we are often 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 tour. Bring enough medication for the duration of the trip for any chronic medical needs, since pharmacies are usually not available. When you send your deposit and signed Reservation/Release 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.