Cost – $3100 ($2800 if application received by 20 Dec). Cost includes all meals, all travel, including bush flights, and an 8-day horse-packing trek with Wrangell Outfitters.
We’re working on an extra-special trek for the summer of 2018, which includes a horse-packing trip in the Wrangell-St. Elias. We are fortunate to have an opportunity to work with Will Kohler of Horsfeld, who grew up in the Alaskan bush trapping furs by dogsled and handling horses with his father. Will normally works as a guide for big-game hunters, but has graciously offered to host an AWOC group for a horse-trek from his remote (and I do mean RE-MOTE!) ranch.
With Will on-board for our summer trek, will shall add 10 days of horse-packing onto our normal bush experience in the Wrangel St. Elias. This promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to work with a true native Alaskan in an amazing landscape.
LAST YEAR’S ITINERARY (below)
Tuesday 28 June to Sunday 24 July
We’re truly excited about the prospect of spending the 4th of July in one of the best places on earth, Alaska! We designed a trek this year that not only will allow us to spend the 4th in one of Alaska’s ‘old school’ frontier towns (quickly vanishing), but will take in two of America’s most spectacular and challenging National Parks, Denali and the Wrangel-ST. Elias.
This summer we combine two distinct regions into one amazing trek within the heartland of Alaska. First, we head North to the Denali Range, home to the Western Hemisphere’s tallest peak, Mnt Denali, for a 3-day acclimatization hike into the Petersville Hills. We will plunge into the bush country along the southern edge of the Denali National Park, making a relatively easy climb up to a beautiful alpine ridge-line that overlooks the stunning Denali Range. This hike will give us a serious but measured introduction to backpacking in Alaska’s backcountry. We return to ‘civilization’ to celebrate the 4th of Juy in the village Talkeetna, a quirky collection of pilots, free-spirits, and serious mountaineers.
Then we head eastwards to the rugged back-country of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (the largest in the United States) for a backpacking and fishing adventure like no other, which includes an 8-10 day trek into some of the remote backcountry of North America. 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; we have 8 days to reach a small landing-strip 30 miles away; 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 an anxious feeling, step by step, that you are truly walking away from the comforts and communications of the known world. It is a trill and a privilege to be in such a place.
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 and spend time in such a place.
THE ITINERARY (as it currently stands):
DAY 1 / Tuesday 28 June: Early morning departure from Reagan-National Airport. We meet at the Air Alaska desk. After landing in Anchorage (around 2:30 pm) and picking up our gear, we will visit, if time permits, 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 2-5 (29th to 2nd): We have several options, but shall get the gears greased by an initial three-night hike in the beautiful Talkeetna Mountains, about 75miles north of Anchorage. Will shall either hit the Petersville Hills or the Kesugi Trail. Both offer beautiful and moderately challenging backpacking opportunities for a 3-night out-and-back. The short mini-trek is good for acclimatizing to off-trail hiking, adjusting to boots, and getting the kinks ironed out of your pack system.
DAYS 5 / 6 (3rd and 4th of July): We return to ‘civilization’ to celebrate Independence Day in the all-American village of Talkeetna – recently voted one of “the coolest towns in the United States”. It has elected Stubbs the Cat as co-mayor since 1997: nuf said. We have the added luxury of staying in an off-the-grid cabin for two nights, which allows us to clean up a bit before hitting the town. Weather permitting, our basecamp host, Peter, has offered to take us on an evening float down the mighty Susitna River, stopping along the way for an Alaska-style BBQ at the river’s edge. I can think of no better place to enjoy fresh halibut ceviche and plank-grilled salmon (and moose-meat steaks if Peter has some to spare). There’s also a wood-fired sauna, bbq grill, and fire-pit back at basecamp for a truly memorable celebration of the 4th of July.
DAYS 7-10 (5th and 6th July): Departing Talkeetna, we drive to the Nancy Lake State Recreation Area for a bit of canoeing and fishing. Our canoes should be waiting for us at the boat launch. We push off through a chain of 14 forest-rimmed lakes. Loons dot the lakes, bears occassionally visit, and the fishing is good – especially if you like northern pike. The lakes are even warm enough for swimming.
DAY 11-13 (7th-9th July): We camp on the night of the 7th along the banks of Eagle River in the Chugach State Park, then drive eastward and south along the Richardson Hwy — the Alaskan Pipeline can be glimpsed at points — toward Glenallen and the infamous McCarthy Road to the tiny community of McCarthy, AK (pop.42). Along the way we stop — we ALWAYS stop! — at the Eureka Lodge for a hearty meal.
DAY 14-15 (10th and 11th July): We take a couple days to relax in the incomparable McCarthy and see the local sites, including the Kennicott Mine and glacier (we can actually walk out onto this one), and prepare our gear for the bush-flight on Tuesday morning.
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 is always good for some last-minute route advice and great stories.
DAYs 13-21 (12th-20th): 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
moderately 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 22 (20th July): After returning to McCarthy we have time to relax, take a dunk in the river (soothing icy water that is diverted into a natural rock basin form one of the most scenic 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’).
DAY 23-24 (21-22July): We couldn’t depart Alaska without trying our hand at some fishing along the Gulkana or Copper River, designated national wild and scenic rivers. It is also teeming with fish: salmon, dolly-varden, trout, and grayling. On the morning of 22 July, we meet our local guides. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn or perfect the art of fly fishing in a pristine wilderness environment. We have the luxury of staying in a cabin at the historic Gakona Lodge — the oldest operating roadhouse in Alaska — so we can enjoy our final two nights in Alaska with the amenities of a grill (hopefully we will have some fresh fish to grill as well) and fire pit and a shower for the flight home.
DAY 24 (23 July): Drive back to Anchorage – of course stopping at the Eureka Lodge on the way for a final Alaskan meal (chicken-fried steak with coffee a perennial favorite). Return flight to Washington, DC. You will arrive back in DC at BWI airport in the late afternoon of Sunday the 24th of July.
Slight alterations to routes are possible due to weather conditions in Alaska.
Price: $3100 Price includes an amazing 25 day trek in Alaska backcountry, all flights (including bush flights into the Wrangel St. Elias National Park), ground transportation, normal meals, guides and fishing services, and group equipment.