A fantastic flight into the backcountry of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park marks the start of this awesome adventure. We fly over the Nizina glacier and check out the icebergs floating in the lake at its terminus before dropping into beautiful Skolai Pass to begin our backpacking adventure.
We made a change to the itinerary this year to allow more time to explore Skolai Pass before heading on to the Chitistone valley. This gives us time to get up close and personal with the dramatic Russell Glacier. From here we head up to stuning Chitistone Pass where we have a very good chance of spotting Dall sheep and caribou. We continue on following the old route of the Goat Trail through dramatic terrain that will have you snapping pictures at every turn. The Goat Trail was built by miners to gain access to the gold fields in the Chisana region. In many places the path is hard to follow but we will be glad to have it as we travel through a section of steep scree slopes.
The traditional route on this backpacking trek is to drop down to the river after the scree slopes and then hike to Glacier Creek. But instead of descending to the Chitistone River, we remain in the high country for the entire trek.
This option also avoids the more difficult stream crossings of the lower route and allows us to hike through the Hasen Creek basin where you can almost count on seeing some of the many mountain goats that inhabit the area.
From here we will have two options depending on how much time and energy we have. We can either take a two day loop around the huge mesa or the more direct route that takes the short way around. The longer route is well worth it if we have the time.
Finding a place to camp will not be a problem, though we might have a hard time selecting from the numerous scenic spots all around. People who take this trip are stunned by the drama of the country through which this route traverses. This is a great alaska trekking adventure through awesome wilderness.
The Adventure at a Glance
9 days total - Anchorage to Anchorage
2 nights in McCarthy, Alaska
7 days/6 nights trekking in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Type: Backpacking trek
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Duration: 7 day trek, 2 days travel, 1 layover day McCarthy
Day 1 - Drive Anchorage to McCarthy , overnight McCarthy
Day 2 - Day 1 of 7 day Skolai Pass to Wolverine Trek
Day 8 - Last day of trek, overnight McCarthy
Day 9 - Return to Anchorage
The Skolai to Wolverine trek is a variation on the classic Goat Trail route. The difference is that this trip, rather than descending to the Chitistone River, remains in the high country for the entire trek. One of the bonuses of this option is that we pass through some prime sheep and mountain goat terrain and these wary creatures are almost always spotted along the way. This Alaskan adventure is unique in the park. At times challenging and always breathtaking.
Drive Anchorage to McCarthy
Skolai Pass is our landing strip for the start of this adventure. Once our entire group is reassembled at the pass we hike through this delightful are that is home to caribou, bear, wolves and other critters. our first day we spend in the pass and hike to the Russell Glacier to set up our camp. After dinner we head down to get a closer look at this dramatic glacier.
Today we shoulder our packs for the hike up to beautiful Chitistone Pass, exploring some seldom travelled spots along the way. I like to think of this route as the back door to Chitistone Pass. Our campsite tonight is surrounded by stunning peaks and hanging glaciers all around. The sunsets here are especially nice and offer plenty of photo opportunities. This is a great area for wildlife spotting.
Today we have some interesting hiking as we follow the Goat Trail down the lush Chitistone valley. We have one stream crossing in this section that can sometimes be a bit challenging. Then we cross the infamous scree slopes - which are not as bad as they look from a distance. The trail is a narrow footpath originally made by miners to get to the northern gold fields. But you’ll feel like a goat as we traverse the red and brown slopes. Soon we turn up a new valley and the scree gives way to the lush green of the Hasen Creek bowl. There is a very good chance of seeing sheep or mountain goats in this area, as there is plenty of grass for them to feed on as well as nearby rocks for escaping predators. We will set up camp somewhere just before entering the Hasen Creek bowl.
Day four of our wilderness adventure is a shorter day and we get a bit of rest. We can do some exploring of the bowl or take a short hike up the ridge to peak over the other side for a view down into the Nizina River valley and glacier. This is the day that we are most likely to spot goats. Previous groups have spotted as many as 40-50 goats out grazing on the summer grass. Then we do about a half-day of very pleasant hiking through the basin to arrive at a high perch of a campsite. From here we have a gorgeous view back into Hasen Creek basin including some awesome waterfalls.
From our campsite went don't have far to go to reach the pass above us where we have a view of the headwaters of Doubtful Creek. Our route takes on a moraine crossing. We stop for lunch at a small lake created by rockslides that cut off the flow of water. Newly fortified we keep hiking over the next small pass and down the other side along the edge of a moraine field. After a hike up a gully we arrive on top of a ridge where we make our camp after a tough day of backpacking. But the views of the nearby peaks make it all worthwhile. If the visibility is good we can see the Dragon’s Back.
This day looks like it’s all downhill but it's rather deceptive. It’s actually a bit of up and down as we travel across some rolling terrain and pick the easiest path. We set camp on this, our final night in the Alaskan wilderness, just a mile away from the Wolverine airstrip. From our camp we have great views of the Chitistone valley almost 3000 feet below.
This is a high elevation airstrip and it has a tendency to get windy later in the day, making landings difficult. We get up early and after our morning coffee, make the short hike to the airstrip and await our pilot for the flights back to McCarthy
Return to Anchorage