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Backpacker Magazine – November 2010

Best Hikes Ever: Southern Traverse, AK

Tackle an epic adventure in the far north.

by: Kelly Bastone

Hiking down from the Long Glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias NP. (Hagephoto)
Hiking down from the Long Glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias NP. (Hagephoto)

For the September 2006 issue, editors Steve Howe and Kris Wagner completed the first thru-hike of the Southern Traverse of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Starting from a landing strip at Tebay Lakes and carrying 75-pound loads, they logged 94 miles through the world’s largest protected wilderness. “This is easily the roughest trip we’ve ever published,” Howe wrote later. Pushing their backpacking and navigation skills to the limit, they crossed nine passes, six icefields, two major glaciers, and two-dozen streams that often ran thigh-deep. The only trail they followed—and that only briefly—was blazed by grizzlies that also sought a firm, unobstructed route through the soggy tundra and unstable talus piles. Howe writes, “This is one of those places that defines Alaska as far grander than your average wilderness, as an isolated paradise where the sheer magnificence is amplified by its remoteness and the no-holds-barred effort required to reach it.”

Do it The first nine days link Tebay Lakes (an outpost on the route’s western end) to the ghost town of Bremner, a former gold-rush hub. Hiking east, curling over ridges and sidehills, you’ll round massive Hanagita Peak before descending into the Klu River Valley. Then continue south over several high passes to Golconda Creek. Howe and Wagner pioneered the 34-mile section to Iceberg Lake; the route  is steep and glaciated but offers stirring views (Howe called them “anaesthetizing”) of the Chugach peaks rising abruptly from the glacial moraine.

Bush plane Call Wrangell Mountain Air for flights to Tebay Lakes and pickup from Iceberg Lake (about $350 per person,

USGS 1:63,350 topos Valdez A-1, McCarthy A-7 & A-8, and Bering Glacier D-6 & D-7

(907) 822-5234;

Trip ID

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