It's been about ten years since we first offered this extended classic Alaskan hiking tour and it has quickly become our most popular. This is a longer route and at times quite challenging but it will leave you well satisfied and feeling that you have experienced that very best that Alaska and Wrangell-St. Elias have to offer.
We start off our hiking trek by flying into Iceberg Lake near the massive Bagley Ice Field. This is a glacially dammed lake and the floating chunks of ice give the lake its locally known moniker. We will certainly want to spend some time taking pictures here. Bears frequent this valley so maybe we'll get lucky and spot one. Wolverine have also been seen on occasion.
The second day we put on crampons for a fun day of crossing a glacier! Our camp is at the edge of another lake in a spot that is known to produce some stunning sunset photo opportunities.
From here we continue on with high ridge traverses, another exciting glacier crossing and more. Every day brings new and different terrain as we move from glaciers to lush green valleys to alpine ridges to wind swept passes. Last summer we explored a new route variation that includes a third glacier crossing. This one is smaller but interesting as it's at a higher elevation than the other valley glaciers. This tour just gets better every summer.
The scenery we will encounter is second to none with dramatic, snow capped peaks both near and far. We take a fairly moderate pace but it involves 8 days of hiking and a few longer days. This is an excellent choice for someone with a sense of adventure and the desire for a very special alaskan backpacking trip.
Duration: 8 days Trekking, 10 days total Anchorage to Anchorage
Season: Early July - September
Elevation Gain: +6,722, -7,386
The Adventure at a Glance
2 nights in McCarthy, Alaska
8 days/7 nights trekking in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
10 days total, from departure Anchorage to return Anchorage
It’s hard to resist heaping the superlatives on the description of this route which features some of the best that the park has to offer, and that’s saying a lot. Glaciers, towering snow-capped peaks, verdant valley floors, alpine lakes, airy ridge lines and wind-swept passes. You will be constantly amazed by the ever changing variety that you will encounter on this exceptional route.
This is not an easy route. Some days will be shorter and more moderate but there will also be some more demanding, longer days. A great choice if you are looking for a bit of a challenge. Wildlife spotting is good on this route - bear, moose and wolverine have been spotted in the past.
If you want a trek that offers a wide range of terrain and constant variety, then this is one that will satisfy.
The van picks you up at your hotel at 8:00 AM for the drive to McCarthy and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. And what a drive it is! The beautiful Matanuska valley provides one of the most scenic drives in Alaska. As we approach Glennallen the impressive Mt. Drum, Mt. Wrangell and other peaks in the Wrangell Range come in to view. The route also crosses the mighty Copper River, famous for producing some of the finest Salmon runs in the world. You will be able to see fish wheels in operation on the Copper. We arrive in McCarthy around 5:00 PM and get checked into Ma Johnson’s Hotel. Once everyone is squared away in their rooms we meet at Trek Alaska for a gear check and to distribute group gear and food. We also review the plan for the next day.
The adventure begins with an amazing flight from McCarthy to Iceberg Lake, which is situated at the head of a valley near the Bagley Icefield. Iceberg is not a true lake but is created each summer when melting snow is prevented from draining away by an ice dam. At some point during the summer the dam bursts and the water drains. So depending on when we visit the area we may find a lake full of icebergs or a bunch of icebergs stranded on the sand. Either way it's a great scene. We will want to do a little exploring and take some pictures before we shoulder our packs. We head down the lush valley carved out by glaciers long ago. But part of that glacier remains and blocks the valley floor so we don crampons and head up onto the ice! This is a very flat glacier with few crevasses of any size so the going will actually be pretty easy. This will be a great introduction to the world of glacier hiking. It’s actually a lot easier hiking across the ice than over rocky ground. Once over the glacier we drop down to another lake and make camp. This spot offers wonderful photo opportunities, especially late in the day when the sun is low in the sky.
We continue hiking west towards the end of the valley. Our route follows along near the stream until we head up the side of the valley to a saddle at the end of the ridge. It's a bit of a hump to get up there but we are soon on top enjoying a well deserved lunch by a bubbling brook. the view is fantastic of the entire valley as well as part of the bremner glacier. A lovely little lake about an hour and a half farther just begs to be camped at and we are happy to oblige.
About a mile out of camp we veer off a bit to a high point that gives us a breathtaking view of the next valley, and glacier, that we will cross. The sweeping vista is a favorite photo spot on this trip and we'll want to linger a bit. The hike down from our perch to the ice involves a bit of scrambling. At the glaciers edge is a great spot for a lunch break before we put the crampons on once again. We get up onto the Bremner Glacier and head due north. This is a much different and larger glacier than the smaller one of a few days ago. We'll have the chance to see some larger crevasses on this day. When we arrive at the edge of the glacier we stop and set up camp on the most convenient spot – right on the ice! This location positions us perfectly for our next day’s journey.
A short hike takes us off the ice and over the glacial moraine. The next hour or so involves a bit of a steep grunt but this high traverse route takes us up and over what would otherwise be a very nasty bushwhack. We also get a nice reward for our uphill efforts - a stunning view looking back over our route of the last two days including the full sweep of the Bremner glacier. Life gets easier as we head down into the valley, stopping for a well-earned lunch just before our stream crossing. After lunch we continue on up this verdant valley and part way up a low pass near its end.
After four days of sometimes challenging travel everyone will be ready to take it a bit easier. We can sleep in today as this will be a rest day. If we hit the season right we can have blueberries in our granola this morning. Our hike today will only be a few hours long in less than an hour we top the pass. This is a very different sort of pass than our last one and has an almost otherworldly and monochromatic look to it due to all the rock that fills the pass. We camp near two lovely alpine lakes on an oasis of tundra amidst the rock. Those with a little extra energy can take a side trip up to a small, nearby glacier.
Another easier day. We will do a little backpacking but only for about a half day and it’s all downhill! After making our way over a challenging boulder field the going gets easier and we have a fairly easy and very pleasant day of hiking through some "Sound of Music" type terrain and down to a stream junction at Monahan Creek. The terrain is easy, lush and green - making for a delightful hike. After setting up our camp near the stream junction, we spend the afternoon exploring some interesting canyons and rock outcroppings in the area.
Well rested from two easier days, we’re ready to tackle our last challenging hike. After a gently rising valley traverse we turn up the last pass of our trek. This is our biggest elevation gain on the route and the last bit will have us huffing and puffing. But the view from the top of the pass makes it all worthwhile. We’ll stop for lunch here to enjoy the expansive views both near and far of snow capped peaks. You will want to linger at this amazing spot. From the pass it’s a fairly easy hike down to our final lakeside camp - and it’s a beauty. The lake is surrounded by soft tundra that makes a very comfy sleeping surface. Nearby are huge cliffs towering a thousand feet high. I call this Golden Pond due to the golden glow that the lichen covered tundra takes on in the late summer and fall. It would be hard to find a better site for our final camp.
We don’t have far to go today but we do have a plane to catch! After a quick breakfast we saddle up one last time. Our last hike is a pleasant walk over tundra and it’s all downhill as we make our way to Golcanda Creek and the airstrip. A wonderful flight takes us back to McCarthy and hot showers.
Return to Anchorage.