Wrangell-St. Elias (1 of 3): Root Glacier and Donoho Basin

July 22, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

We flew into Anchorage, picked up supplies for two weeks, and then headed to the park. The initial plan was to head out to Donaho Basin for a backpacking trip, shoot some scenic overflights, then spend another few days in the Bremner Mining Camp and Skolai Pass. Inevitably, there were some bumps in the road but we were able to figure everything out as we went along.

If you’ve never been to the park, Wrangell is 13.2 million acres, the largest national park in the United States, roughly the size of Switzerland. Access is limited. There is only one main road into the center of the park, which dead ends in the town of Kennicott, a historic copper mining area. This is where we would be based out of for the next 10 days. We spent the first night in the Lodge and then packed for our backpack trip out to Donoho Basin.

Bohemian waxwing - Bombycilla garrulusBohemian waxwing - Bombycilla garrulus Tundra Swans - Cygnus columbianusTundra Swans - Cygnus columbianus Kennicott Glacier view from Hotel PorchKennicott Glacier view from Hotel Porch

In order to get the Donoho basin you need to traverse the Root glacier using crampons, roughly 1 mile wide. Once on the west side of the glacier, there is a route towards series of unnamed lakes.  This is where we planned to camp because there are bear boxes. We had a bit of a late start but weren’t too worried since the sun wasn’t setting until 11pm. Hiking across the Root Glacier was a very unique experience. I have traveled next to glaciers and under glaciers, but never on a glacier. It felt exactly as I thought it would, walking on a giant piece of ice. It was fairly slow going because of the difficulty of the terrain, but also because of how scenic it was. 

Hikers on the Root GlacierHikers on the Root GlacierNPS / Jacob W. Frank Backpackers Exploring the Root Glacier (8)Backpackers Exploring the Root Glacier (8)NPS / Jacob W. Frank Backpackers Exploring the Root Glacier (9)Backpackers Exploring the Root Glacier (9)NPS / Jacob W. Frank Pool on the Root GlacierPool on the Root GlacierNPS / Jacob W. Frank Backpackers Exploring the Root Glacier (12)Backpackers Exploring the Root Glacier (12)NPS / Jacob W. Frank Backpackers Exploring the Root Glacier (13)Backpackers Exploring the Root Glacier (13)NPS / Jacob W. Frank Views from the Root Glacier (3)Views from the Root Glacier (3)NPS / Jacob W. Frank Views from the Root Glacier (5)Views from the Root Glacier (5)NPS / Jacob W. Frank

We walked over rivers, along lakes, navigated through crevasses, and over moraines (all on the glacier) until we finally reached the other side. From there we needed to make a decision whether to camp or to continue to push on to the next campsite. Since it was only 5 o’clock and the map said we had 3 miles to go, we made the decision to continue. For those of you who have hiked off-trail bushwhacking in Alaska, you know that 3 miles is no easy task. We hiked, and hiked, and hiked some more, and it seemed that we were barely moving.  When one of our team members fell ill from food poisoning the night before, we decided that we would not make it to the bear boxes that we hoped to camp at and found trees to tie our food up into instead. Once camp was set up and we made dinner it was about 10:30 PM. I can honestly say that it was one of the most difficult hikes that I’ve ever done, not because of the elevation or distance, but rather the difficulty in pushing through the bush with a significantly large and heavy pack. It seemed all the branches were reaching out to touch me and say, “Slow down, take it all in. There is no need to go so fast.” Ughh.

Lake 2 Creek Sunset and Mount BlackburnLake 2 Creek Sunset and Mount BlackburnNPS / Jacob W. Frank Mount Blackburn and Donoho Peak from Lake 2Mount Blackburn and Donoho Peak from Lake 2NPS / Jacob W. Frank Fireweed Sunset at Lake 2Fireweed Sunset at Lake 2NPS / Jacob W. Frank

When I woke up the next day and stuck my head out of the tent it was apparent that had made the right decision to push on. It was a beautiful sunrise with the perfectly still lake. It looked as if it were going to be great weather all day. We grabbed breakfast, packed our daypacks, and headed further up valley towards Gates Glacier. As we made it past the second lake and eventually to the third lake we were directly alongside the Kennicott glacier. The 16K ft foot mountain Mt. Blackburn rose in the distance behind a sea of ice.

Morning Reflections from Lake 2 - Donoho BasinMorning Reflections from Lake 2 - Donoho BasinNPS / Jacob W. Frank Gates Glacier From Lake 3 - Donoho BasinGates Glacier From Lake 3 - Donoho BasinNPS / Jacob W. Frank Hiker viewing Kennicott Glacier near Wilderness Boundary - Donoho BasinHiker viewing Kennicott Glacier near Wilderness Boundary - Donoho BasinNPS / Jacob W. Frank Kennicott Glacier Crevasses with BlackburnKennicott Glacier Crevasses with BlackburnNPS / Jacob W. Frank Kennicott Glacier Lateral View - Donoho BasinKennicott Glacier Lateral View - Donoho BasinNPS / Jacob W. Frank Hiking the Kennicott Glacier Lateral Moraine (2)Hiking the Kennicott Glacier Lateral Moraine (2)NPS / Jacob W. Frank Kennicott Glacier and Hidden Creek PassKennicott Glacier and Hidden Creek PassNPS / Jacob W. Frank Panoramic View from Wilderness Boundary - Donoho BasinPanoramic View from Wilderness Boundary - Donoho BasinNPS / Jacob W. Frank

After a few hours of day hiking we decided to turn around, pack up camp, and head to our next camp spot alongside the Root Glacier. This time we knew where we were going and we still managed to lose the route and ended up bushwhacking in 10+ ft tall alder. Gotta love AK.

Backpackers Near Lake 2Backpackers Near Lake 2NPS / Jacob W. Frank Backpackers Bushwhacking in Donoho BasinBackpackers Bushwhacking in Donoho BasinNPS / Jacob W. Frank Porphyry Mountain and National Creek Rock Glacier From Donoho BasinPorphyry Mountain and National Creek Rock Glacier From Donoho BasinNPS / Jacob W. Frank Blackburn From Lake 2 - Donoho BasinBlackburn From Lake 2 - Donoho BasinNPS / Jacob W. Frank Hiking the Lateral Morain of Root GlacierHiking the Lateral Morain of Root GlacierNPS / Jacob W. Frank

Once we made back to the Root Glacier it was time for a cocktail or two and a little time to soak in the scenery. The next morning we woke to another bluebird day. After grabbing some breakfast we only had to traverse the glacier once more, this time deciding to take an alternate route. Walking on a glacier is like being on a maze of ice. You never know when your route will dead-end. Sometimes you can find a work-around; sometimes you just have to backtrack. It makes for fun, but tiring hiking.

Tent View of the Root GlacierTent View of the Root GlacierNPS / Jacob W. Frank Backpackers Headed Towards the Root GlacierBackpackers Headed Towards the Root GlacierNPS / Jacob W. Frank Backpackers Stepping onto the Root GlacierBackpackers Stepping onto the Root GlacierNPS / Jacob W. Frank Backpackers Exploring a pool on the Root Glacier (2)Backpackers Exploring a pool on the Root Glacier (2)NPS / Jacob W. Frank Views from the Root GlacierViews from the Root GlacierNPS / Jacob W. Frank Backpackers Exploring the Root Glacier (2)Backpackers Exploring the Root Glacier (2)NPS / Jacob W. Frank Ice Climbing on the Root GlacierIce Climbing on the Root GlacierNPS / Jacob W. Frank Ice Climbing on the Root Glacier (3)Ice Climbing on the Root Glacier (3)NPS / Jacob W. Frank

Along the way we found some spectacular scenery and the weather was perfect. So much so that I thought I could catch a tan for a little bit.

Sunbathing on the Root Glacier (2)Sunbathing on the Root Glacier (2)NPS / Jacob W. Frank Swimming on the Root GlacierSwimming on the Root GlacierNPS / Jacob W. Frank

Trip Notes: We ended up hiking a little more than 16 miles, off-trail, in three days. We never did find the bear boxes we were told about, so it's probably best to just bring bear cans. That will open up more options for camping. We were fortunate with good weather, but if it's raining I would make sure to have full rain gear because of the amount of brush you have to hike through, it was overhead at times. I would also recommend a pack size that allows you to fit all your gear inside your pack, versus attaching things to the outside, since the brush has a way of pick pocketing things from your pack. Overall great trip!

Screen Shot 2023-12-30 at 4.12.33 PMScreen Shot 2023-12-30 at 4.12.33 PM Screen Shot 2023-12-30 at 4.10.39 PMScreen Shot 2023-12-30 at 4.10.39 PM


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