OVERVIEW OF SUMMER 2014 TREK: This summer we return to the rugged back-country of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (the largest in the United States) for an eighteen-day backpacking and fishing adventure like no other. If you’re looking for a true wilderness experience, this is it. The mountain wilderness of Wrangell-St. Elias stretches across an area equivalent to six Yellowstone Parks, almost all of it devoid of human habitation. We fly in. No trails. Backpack point-to-point. This is seriously big land, home to Mount Saint Elias, the second highest mountain in the United States, and another ten peaks above 14, 000 ft. Lush glacial valleys and rocky plateaus provide ample opportunities for wildlife viewing; elk, dall sheep, moose, and brown bear are common.
Backpacking here is truly a special experience, one enriched by traveling in a small-group.. There are no trails or designated routes; the terrain is rugged and the weather can be harsh, even in July. I can still summon the emotions felt the first time I hiked in the Wrangell-St. Elias, the adrenaline rush as we stood by our gear as the single-engine de Havilland Beaver that had brought us in lifted into the sky and disappeared down the valley. Surrounded by a landscape so vast and untouched by the hand of man, one gets the anxious feeling, step by step, that you are truly walking away from the comforts and communications of the known world. There is an almost physical sensation one gets when you take the plunge into such an awesome land with the knowledge that for the next 10 days we shall rely solely on our bodies, the contents of our packs, and each other. Our pick-up location is over thirty miles away, and there are three high mountain passes and four rivers between us and it. In 2009 the first grizzly was spotted, at several hundred yards, after only a few hours of trekking up the ridge-line. Each summer I depart with a sense of gratitude for the chance to explore such a place.
The Itinerary (as it currently stands):
DAY 1: Depart Reagan-National Airport After landing in Anchorage and picking up our gear, we will take some time to visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center at Lake Tuliana and get a crash course on the cultures of native Alaskans before heading into the interior. We spend the evening in camp at Eklutna Lake.
DAYs 2-4: We have several options, but shall get the gears greased by an initial shorter trek in the Chugach Wilderness or the Talkeetna Mountains.
DAY 5: We drive eastward and south along the Richardson Hwy — the Alaskan Pipeline can be glimpsed at points — and the infamous McCarthy Road to the tiny community of McCarthy, AK (pop.42). While in McCarthy we hope to meet up with our friend Greg Fensterman, owner of the local outfitting service Trek Alaska – the man who literally wrote the book on backpacking in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Greg has spent nearly two decades living in McCarthy and trekking through the backcountry; Greg’s always good for some last-minute route advice and great stories.
DAYs 6-14: We rendezvous with our bush pilots at Wrangell Mountain Air for insertion into the Wrangell-St. Elias wilderness. For the next 8 days, we will push through strenuous point-to-point backpacking in some of the most dramatic country in Alaska – indeed the world! We are heading into pristine backpacking country, along lush valleys, up across high barren passes, and along rocky ridge lines. A wide variety of terrain awaits us. Stepping off from the landing strip at Jake’s Bar, we head toward the slopes of MacColl Ridge, where we are likely to be exploring land that has never been trod upon by human foot. We share the land here with wolves, wolverines, foxes, and grizzlies.
DAY 14: After returning to McCarthy we have time to relax, take a dunk in the river (soothing icy water that is diverted into one of the most scene community pools in the country), head to the Golden Saloon to get a real burger, listen to some music, and rub elbows with the locals. Trivia Night and Open-Mic Night are special treats (James and I came in third last year in trivia, quite a feat considering that one category was ‘Iditarod’ and another ‘Local’.
Our final days in Alaska will be spent on a 3-day fishing adventure on the Gulkana River, a designated national wild a scenic river. It is also teeming with fish: salmon, dolly-varden, trout, and grayling. We meet our local guides from Alaska River Wrangellers at Copper Center. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn or perfect the art of fly fishing in a pristine wilderness environment.
Day 18: Return flight to Washington, DC – arrival on the afternoon of 4 Aug.
Price: before 1 January $2700 / after 1 January $3200. Price includes all flights, meals, guide and fishing services, and group equipment.
Without self-discovery, a person may still have self-confidence, but it is a self-confidence built on ignorance and it melts in the face of heavy burdens. Self-discovery is the end product of a great challenge mastered, when the mind commands the body to do the seemingly impossible, when strength and courage are summoned to extraordinary limits for the safety of something outside the self – a principle, an onerous task, another human life. – Kurt Hahn