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
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
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
What's Not Included
Meals: What To Expect
All of our hiking and backpacking tours include a diversity of tasty meals packed full of critical carbohydrates, proteins and fats. We carry foods that travel well in the backcountry – rice, pastas, lentils, beans, packaged meats, nuts, breads, oatmeal, granola, and more.
For optimal taste and energy, we supplement all our meals with spices, herbs, oils, cheeses, butter, sugar, and fruits and vegetables. In addition, we provide you with with an assortment of trail mix, snacks, and dried fruits to eat at your own discretion.
We regularly accommodate vegan, vegetarian and non-gluten diets and will make adjustments for food allergies. These and other special dietary requests may require an additional fee.
Gear We Provide
What Clothes To Bring
Please refer to the gear list for recommended clothing (we email you a detailed trip packet when you inquire and when you register). All trips require a sturdy pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots (a few reliable brands include Montrail, Lowa, Merrell, Vasque, and Salomon ), rain gear, and non-cotton and cotton clothing layers. A minimum of three pairs of wool or synthetic hiking socks are also required.
NOTE: See the Packing Lists page for more detailed information on what clothes and gear to bring on your hiking tour.
How do We Get to McCarthy;
There are several options.
If you have more than 2 in your group then renting a car out of Anchorage can be a good option.
A shuttle service provides van transportation between Anchorage to McCarthy, Alaska. The shuttle departs Anchorage at 8:00 am arriving around 5:00 pm in McCarthy. This is the most economical way for one or two people to get to McCarthy and back.
If you are driving or taking the shuttle it takes about 8 hours to drive Anchorage to McCarthy.
Round Trip: US $390.00
The van service is operated by Wrangell-St. Elias Tours. Once you have a hotel reservation in Anchorage you will need to let them, as well as me, know where you will be staying. Also give them your cell phone number if you will have one with you.
Wrangell-St. Elias Tours
Contact: Jennifer Titus
Ride n Fly
The last 60 miles from Chitian to McCarthy is on the McCarthy road. 40 miles of the road are unpaved. It's usualy in good shape and any vehicle can easily drive it. But some folks prefer not to.
An alternative is to drive to Chitina and from there take the Wrangell Mountain Air shuttle that flies three times daily to McCarthy.
Wrangell Mt. Air - http://www.wrangellmountainair.com/getting_to_alaska.htm
Wrangell Mt. Air can also arrange a charter flight just for your group. Contact them about current rates.
There is a mail plane that flies between Anchorage and McCarthy twice a week - on Mondays and Thursdays. This is a good way for one or two people to get to and from McCarthy. Beautiful flight and no long drive in the car. With only two flights weekly you would likely need to arrive a few days early in McCarthy.
Where Do We Meet?
You'll meet your hiking guide and group in McCarthy for an orientation meeting around 6:00 p.m. the evening before the trip begins. You will be in contacted approximately 2-3 weeks before your trip and we will specify the exact location of the orientation meeting at that point. The morning of departure it's a short walk across the street to Wrangell Mt. Air where we catch a shuttle van to the airstrip for our departure into the backcountry.
We like to get an early start on the first day as it might take two flights to get everyone into the backcountry. Departure times of 8:30 a.m. are common. Our pickups on the last day are usualy around mid-day to allow us time to get back to McCarthy and get cleaned up and relax before dinner.
Your safety is our top priority. Our treks are led by professional hiking guides, all of whom are certified wilderness first responders or EMT's, each with years of wilderness experience. On most treks the guide carries a satellite phone. If you have any further questions about safety, please contact us at 9074.554.1088 for more information.
Your tour will be led by a trained, experienced professional with a solid guiding background, years of personal wilderness and hiking experience, medical certifications, and a passion for leading people into breathtaking landscapes. Check out our Meet Our Team page for staff bios.
We prefer to run small groups and our clients like it that way too. The standard group size on backpacking trips is 5 guests and 1 guide, with a maximum of 10 guests and 2 guides. If you have more questions about group size, please give us a call at 907.554.1088 and we'll answer all your questions. If you have a larger group than ten give us a call as there are ways we can work with bigger groups such as scout groups.
Weather in the Wrangells
Alaska is pretty far north and like any mountain evirronment we are prone to sudden temperature and weather shifts. To be fully prepared, please follow the recommended clothing list closely (this list comes as part of your trip packet when you register). See below for average summer temperatures in Wrangell-St. Elias. July is especialy variable and we have had temps hit the low 80s some summers. Mid August is when things start to cool down a bit but still great hikng weather.
|Average Temperatures (Fahrenheit)|