Alaska Mountain Adventure
The flight to our airstrip takes us through the stunning mountains of the University Range and some of the most impressive backountry terrain that the park has to offer. Our route travels through country that is as varied as it is magnificent. The Pyramid Peak Traverse is one of the most rewarding hiking trips that we are leading this summer.
You might want to close your eyes as we drop down into the little-used airstrip that is the starting point for our adventure. But not to worry, Don, our pilot, is one of the best Alaskan mountain pilots in the area.
No sooner are we out of the plane than we face our first challenge, a turbulent stream crossing - but it's not as bad as it looks. Once safely across, we will want to get moving to warm up our chilly legs. A few hours of hiking take us to a pass where we make our first camp. The view from our perch offers an exciting sneak preview of the journey ahead.
We drop down to a creek and take advantage of the easy hiking on its gravel bars but soon we are heading back up into the high country and onto the ridges. We continue hiking along, doing a high traverse of Pyramid Peak and later slip across the shoulder of Andrus. This portion of the route will make us glad that we brought along those extra rolls of film
From the lofty ridge we have terrific views of the high mountains that are all around us. After taking our fill of the scenery we drop down into the valley below where exploring of a different sort awaits. The ruins and relics from gold mining days invites investigation all along the creek valley. We will stop for lunch at the old town site of Chititu Camp and explore the ruins. From Chititu it's a pleasant hike down the remains of an old mining road as we leave the mountains behind adn head into May Creek near the Nizina river.
2 nights in McCarthy, Alaska
7 days/6 nights trekking in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Duration: 7 days trekking, 10 days total Anchorage to Anchorage
Season: Early July - Early September
Elevation Gain: +6,812, -9,114
Distance: 25-28 miles
Van transportation from Anchorage to McCarthy
You will be picked up at your lodging in Anchorage for the van ride to McCarthy. It will take about 8 hours for the drive but you won’t get bored. The route passes through some stunning country in the Matanuska valley. When you see Mt. Drum looming straight ahead, then you will know we’re getting close. We arrive in McCarthy around 5 - 6:00 PM. As soon as everyone is checked into the hotel, we meet with our backcountry guide at their headquarters. The guide does a gear shakedown to make sure everyone has what the need... but nothing that they don’t. We all get a plastic, bear canister chock full of tasty meals and snacks. After cramming all of our newly acquired gear into our packs, we meet up at the New Golden Saloon for some dinner, a few brews and if we’re lucky maybe a bit of local bluegrass entertainment.
We get an early start and begin our trek with a bush flight. Our begins in the remote valley on an airstrip so small we have to be ferried in one at a time in a super cub. You might want to close your eyes as we drop down into the little-used airstrip along Canyon Creek - but not to worry, our pilot is one of the best backcountry pilots in the area.
No sooner are we out of the plane than we face the first challenge of our trek - a turbulent stream crossing - but it's not as bad as it looks. Once safely across, we will want to get moving to warm up our chilly legs. We hike for a few hours up Canyon Creek till we get to the base of a rib that will lead us up and over a high ridge. Due to the logistics of getting into this remote spot, it's often lunchtime before we get going from the airstrip. So we start with a shorter day as the next day requires us to get up and over a ridge that would be too much for the first day.
It's a challenging day and a real hump to get up the ridge, so we take our time and take a slow but steady pace. The hike to the top is demanding but when we stand on the crest and suck up the amazing views of the University range, it's well worth the effort. This is one of the best viewpoints on the trip. Depending on how long it took us to hit the ridge, we might take a little side trip along the crest. Then it's all down hill as we cruise into a great, stream-side campsite far below.
After a demanding day crossing the ridge we're happy to follow-up with an easier one. Our day begins with a steep bit up along the side of a rock glacier, but this is a much shorter ascent than yesterday. Crossing the rock glacier requires some careful footwork but soon we are on the other side. Depending on the weather, and our energy, we might take a side trip to get a nice view of Pyramid Peak. Then it's downhill once again to set camp in the most amazing wildflower meadow filled with Monk's Hood, Lupine, Fireweed and more.
Rested up from our easier day, we once again have a full day ahead of us. But what a rewarding hike as we do a high traverse around the base of Pyramid Peak. When we hit the top of our final ridge a whole new face of Pyramid explodes into view inviting nice rest break and photos. A quick descent to the stream below brings us to a lovely lunch spot. From here it's fairly easy hiking to our camp, well except for our ascent up the Anvil. It's really steep, but really short and once up, were 20 minutes from camp.
After our longer day it's time for another mellower one - are you seeing a pattern here? Today we leave camp set up and take off for some exploring with light day packs. There are several routes we can check out as we get some up close looks at Pyramid Peak. We're back in camp by early to mid afternoon for a bit of loafing and rest before dinner.
You guessed it - a longer day of hiking today so we'll want an early start. We get right down to it and head up the crest of a narrow ridge that puts us on the shoulder of Andrus which looms above us. From the top we enjoy amazing views all around including one last look at Pyramid. This is the favorite viewpoint for many people. After enjoying the high views, we drop down the snowfield on the other side.
Stream crossings, boulder fields and other challenges wait, but so do some interesting surprises like an old gold mine shaft that doesn't appear on the map. We make our final camp on the bank of Rex Creek.
Our last day of hiking will be a fairly easy one for the most part. After a careful crossing of Rex and White Creeks, we drop our gear and explore the collapsing ruins of Chititu Camp, once an active gold mining settlement in the middle of the wilderness. Remains of cabins, barns, chicken coops and other structures wait our discovery. Next we resume our backpacking trip and travel down what remains of the old road that was once the miners access to Chititu, though it's more a trail than a road these days. We will arrive at May Creek in the early afternoon.
The large strip at May Creek allows for a plane big enough to carry our entire group and all of our gear. It’s a short flight back to McCarthy and the world of hot showers.