Enjoy a week of big wilderness and big views in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park this summer. This backpacking adventure traverses the flanks of a Mt Sanford where we can explore the surrounding mountains and glaciers, search for Dall sheep, and enjoy the solitude and wilderness of this mountain kingdom. This hike in the Northern Wrangell Mountains is hard to beat.
The high country in Wrangell-St. Elias is beyond compare. With 9.6 million acres of designated wilderness, Wrangell- St. Elias National Park is part of the largest federally protected area in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The landscape of the northern Wrangells is one of smoking volcanoes covered in ice; rocky spires jut into the blue sky above sinuous valleys with glacial torrents careening between sheer valley walls. And amongst the raw elemental power of the place we find green glens rich with fern and wildflowers and verdant plateaus dotted with Dall sheep and nesting song birds. It is a land of contrasts and beauty.
The lower elevations of the Park are forested and very brushy, beautiful but difficult to navigate. In contrast, the high-country offers endless vistas and relatively easy hiking both on the mountain sides and along the valley floor. Our hike starts in an enormous amphitheater of ice in the very shadow of the 16,000 ft high Mount Sanford. To access this is a rarely visited portion of the park requires flights in an airplane which can only take a single passenger at a time. This nimble aircraft allows us to enjoy true wilderness solitude in a unique and pristine location.
From this good start the adventure just gets better. Dall Sheep flock in the peaks. Grizzly bears dig ground squirrels and hunt marmots in the valley floors and caribou roam the higher plateaus. It is a good place to see a variety of wildlife.
By staying in the high country the hiking is exceptionally good. Of course there are places with rough ground, brush and a few serious creek crossings, but on the whole vegetation is sparse and the footing solid. This route covers about 30 miles and crosses 3 passes. The bulk of the route is at 4,500 ft above sea level and glaciers are nearly always in sight. Mt Sanford is quickly becoming our favorite part of the Wrangells.
This route offers physical challenge, diverse landscapes, great chances for wildlife and truly stunning scenery. Join us for adventure and solitude in America’s largest National Park.
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guide at 4 pm for a Pre-trip meeting at the Arctic Wild World-headquarters in Fairbanks.
We will pick you up early for the 4-1/2 hr drive to the Wrangells from Fairbanks. We’ll enjoy the scenery as we head southeast along the Richardson Highway to the town of Chistochina. Here, we meet our pilot who shuttles us into the mountains one at a time. Once the hum of the propeller fades into the distance and the quiet of the mountains descends we are on our own. The weather and your desires will dictate the pace of the trip, but the drop-off location is so spectacular it warrants a bit of time to relish the beauty.
When ready, you’ll negotiate the glacial moraine and head towards Capital Mountain where Dall Sheep graze high on the green slopes. Then its up and over the first 1,000 ft pass before finding a way to down to Boulder Glacier. The creek crossing below the glacier may be a significant obstacle if the weather is warm and crossing early the next day is prudent.
Once across Boulder Creek and Sheep Creek, the walking gets even better. There will be time to explore near the glaciers and to scan for wildlife on the tundra. Near the ice large cobbles and loose rocks slow progress but once up on the volcanic plateaus, full strides are possible and the vistas are impressive.
Each night we’ll camp near a small creek or find springs coming out of the rocks.
Descend from the plateau into the Sanford River Valley. Here we encounter trees for the first time and the broad flood-plain of the powerful Sanford River. Once we bush-whack down to the gravels (no easy feat), we work our way upstream to the glacier at the valley head. Dark cliffs, green forests and grey water make a striking landscape for the last day of the hike.
One last walk to the river, one last scan for sheep above camp and it is time to pack-up and fly back to Chistochina where our vehicle waits. If the weather cooperates we can be back in Fairbanks in the evening, ready for the next adventure.
Transportation beyond Fairbanks
Food while in the wilderness, stoves
Cooking & eating utensils, water filter, safety & repair gear
Professional guide service
Personal clothing and gear per our equipment list
Select rental equipment is available through Arctic Wild
Gratuity for guide
Temperatures vary dramatically in the Alaska. Late July is usually mild and warm (sometimes even hot) and the Northern Wrangells are one of the driest parts of the state. That said, it could be cool and rainy so be prepared for anything. Temperatures could range from the 20s to 80s. Snow is possible any day of the year. Mosquitoes should not be an issue but bring a mosquito head net and a small bottle of DEET repellent just in case.