Choose expedited for guaranteed holiday delivery

The Largest, Most Rugged National Park You've Never Heard Of and Why You Should Go: Wrangell-St. Elias, Alaska

The Largest, Most Rugged National Park You've Never Heard Of and Why You Should Go: Wrangell-St. Elias, Alaska

September 24, 2015

Why Go?

Most people think of Denali when considering a trip to Alaska. I was all geared up to go see the tallest mountain on the continent until I started researching the area and learned more about Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Wrangell is the largest national park in the states covering 13,175,799 acres (that’s six times the size of Yellowstone!), with very few trails to navigate. Efforts have been made to preserve the rugged, natural landscape devoid of man-made trails and campgrounds. There is very little hand holding done by park rangers as well. Wrangell does not require permits and pretty much lets you go wherever. What results is a park preserve that seems utterly untouched and if you plan it right you won’t see another soul for days. Assuming you are into that kind of thing.

Getting there:

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is located about 8 hours by car east of Anchorage. Most people access the park by air taxi out of McCarthy, Alaska. Renting a car in Anchorage can be an issue if you wait until the last minute so plan ahead and make sure to let the rental company know that you are going to McCarthy. There is about 30 miles of dirt road to get there and most rental car companies won’t allow sedans on the road. Call Levi’s car rental in Anchorage for fair prices. The drive along Highway 1 to McCarthy is worth the trip itself. Give yourself some time to enjoy it. Tyson (hiking buddy) and I flew from McCarthy into the park with Wrangell Mountain Air (highly recommended). They ultimately talked us into doing the Seven Pass route and I’m glad they did. They dropped us off at Iceberg Lake and six days later they picked us up at the Bremner mine without a hitch. I asked them what happens if we aren’t at the extraction point at the scheduled time and they said, “that’s when it starts getting expensive for you”. I guess search and rescue isn’t free??

The Seven Pass Route:

The good news about this hike is you actually only tackle three mountain passes. After the 3rd you are happy as hell you don’t have four more. I recommend starting at Iceberg Lake and ending at the Bremner mine as opposed to the other way around (it can be done either way). The lake is actually formed by glacial calving that dams glacial rivers in the area preventing meltwater from escaping into the Tana River. Without a trail you rely on route finding to traverse crevassess and moulins of two glaciers including the Tana Lobe of the Bremner glacier, ford multiple streams and rivers, bushwhack through some truly heinous brush, navigate over massive boulder fields of loose rock, and camp near multiple mountainous, glacial lakes. Some experience (but not much) is necessary with backcountry navigation. You should at least be comfortable with GPS and have some map and compass skills. You will be encouraged to go out with a guide but it’s not necessary. A little experience and some common sense go a long way.

Day 1 - Iceberg Lake to Bering Glacier:

After getting out of the sandy beach bottom of the receding Iceberg Lake, we followed the river to the first glacier crossing, the Bering Glacier. We threw on crampons and tried to not fall in a crevasse.

Glaciers are gnarly. They tear up a lot of mountain creating moraines which ultimately means a lot of loose boulder sitting on ice to fall on, especially when carrying a 40 pound pack. Trekking poles were no longer a luxury item as they are with trail hiking, they were essential.

Day 2 - Over the 1st pass:

Following the river bottom is easy hiking compared moraine hiking (especially in late June which was not too marshy). This ease quickly ended when we needed to gain elevation to traverse the 1st mountain pass. Lack of a trail and our first introduction to mild bushwhacking made for a challenging pass. If only we knew just how bad the bushwhack was going to get.

 

Day 3 - The Bremner Glacier:

After a nice night on the spongy grasses near the mountain lakes in the saddle of the first pass, we made our way towards the Tana Lobe of the Bremner Glacier. Glaciers change considerably year to year so finding a spot to access the glacier can be challenging. What used to be an easy gradual incline that hikers accessed a few years ago could now be a 40 foot vertical wall of ice. We made for a vantage point above the glacier to plan our route, trying to determine how best to avoid crevasses as well. We failed at the latter.

 

 

 

The crevasse labyrinth was time consuming, and even though it didn’t get dark until about midnight up there in late July we knew there was no good camping until after the next pass, which would require several hours of work. So we made camp on the ice.

The fog set in the next morning.

Day 4 - 2nd pass through the brush

As we we made our way over the 2nd mountain pass of the route we discovered the joy of Alaskan backcountry bushwhacking. It can get thick, tall, and mean.

 We literally spent hours in this stuff.

When I asked a local expert why it is recommended to plan on at least 6.5 days of hiking to go only 40 miles, I was told “the mileage is irrelevant”. Boulder fields, river crossings, and truly heinous bushwhacking slow you down considerably. It’s impossible to not lose one’s mind a bit after multiple hours in this brush.

Finally we gained enough elevation to get out of the vegetation to set up camp. The rocks were a sight for sore eyes.

Day 5 - Overshooting our exit

Day 5 was supposed to be mellow. We crossed Monohan creek without much difficulty (even though Alaskan creeks are raging rivers in the lower 48). We had little elevation to gain until the 3rd and final pass that we weren’t planning on traversing until day 6 anyway. Then we hit the brush again. We put our heads down and powered through another bushwhack. Bushmaster Tyson got ahead of me some, (I guess he’s skinny enough to fit through anything), and after a couple of hours something felt wrong. I stopped to look at the GPS and noticed we passed the 3rd saddle about a mile back. Now, a mile back on a trail isn’t much. A mile back through the brush is PAINFUL. I was yelling for Tyson at this point and trying to catch up to him by wading down the creek. When we met up we set up camp defeated. Not our finest hour.

This is me pissed off in Alaska.

Day 6 - 3rd and final pass

We backtracked through some brush and after some time arrived at the approach of the 3rd saddle. It was pretty brutal; steep and rocky. By far the most physically challenging section of the hike, it took some doing. Not half as psychologically challenging, however, as getting beat up by the bush all day.

Over the pass we were greeted with blue glacial lakes. Cold as hell but we jumped in anyway after a tough climb.

 

 

Day 7 - Last few miles to the Bremner mine

The Bremner mining district was active in the early 1900’s. Today there are still artifacts from that time. The air strip was a welcome sight.

 

 

I was happy that I had remembered correctly about the date and time of the pick up. Tyson was excited about a toilet

If you’ve ever daydreamed of seeing Alaska, skip the cruise and spend some time in Wrangell.

Author: Mike Francis

Follow Mike on Instagram @mikejfrancis

 




Also in Trip Reports

7 Tips For Hiking Kilimanjaro
7 Tips For Hiking Kilimanjaro

November 16, 2018

Climbing Kilimanjaro requires planning and preparation. Choosing a route, deciding on gear, hiring a tour company, and planning your physical fitness are important. Here's what I learned from climbing Kilimanjaro.

Read More

On the Road in Oregon: An 8 Day Itinerary
On the Road in Oregon: An 8 Day Itinerary

September 24, 2018

Oregon truly has it all. Crashing waves, majestic tidepools, famous beach rocks and sunken ships all make the coast a must-do trip. But, there’s much more to Oregon than the coast. The innards of the state also boasts lush forests, jaw-dropping waterfalls, big mountains and winding rivers. Today we’re sharing our 8 day road trip itinerary exploring most of the beauty this must-see state has to offer. Happy trails!

Read More

My experience hiking the Mist Trail in Yosemite National Park
My experience hiking the Mist Trail in Yosemite National Park

September 24, 2018

Yosemite National Park has no shortage of hiking trails. Some of the most spectacular views I have ever seen came from this valley. With several hiking trails to choose from, one of the most famous and popular is the Mist Trail, and with good reason. The trail includes 2 waterfalls, Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, and the best time to visit are in the Spring and early Summer when the water is raging. I recommend shoes with good traction as some parts of this hike can get very wet and slippery. Also any waterproof gear will definitely come in handy!

Read More

★ Judge.me Reviews

Let customers speak for us

1511 reviews
83%
(1254)
12%
(178)
3%
(49)
1%
(17)
1%
(13)
Fins size 12

They arrived & they fit. Thank you for your help Nic! What should we do with the wrong sized used pair? I will write a review after we use them . Thanks again , LouAnn

Great product

Got this as an early Christmas present for my man friend. He didn’t want a helmet at first, but after using he warmed up. I guess he took a nasty spill at the hill and was thankful for it! My one complaint is with the vent - it doesn’t slide. Like at all. I did contact customer service to see if I was doing something wrong with sliding it - and they offered to replace, which my boyfriend didn’t want to do (it doesn’t bother him- he loves the helmet!) other than that it’s a fantastic helmet! (And it goes really well with the goggles)

Love them

I was struggling to find my man friend a pair of goggles that he liked in a decent price range. He’s an avid snow hoarder. I stumbled upon this sight, and it had all the specs that he wanted. We received them and I gave them as an early Christmas present, which he used right away. I am planning on getting a clear lens for Christmas (stocking stuffer) so we haven’t used that feature (yet!). I would recommend in style- comfort- and functionality. I love this brand so much - and now my boyfriend does too! Keep up the awesome gear!

A Must Have Bag

Excellent Design, perfect size and a must have easy carry day trail bag, best purchase I have done.

Warm, warm, warm, & cozy

Fingers inside of a mitten = genius move on Wildhorn’s part.
The linings is warm beyond measure and so very cozy!
The wrist strap, brilliant. I am sure people don’t use them, and how many people lose their gloves? I will always wear those bc I don’t want to lose these babies!