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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!