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Destination Alaska: The Goat Trail

Tackle an epic route through Chitistone Canyon in Wrangell-St. Elias National Preserve.
march 2010 alaska goat trail 445x260The Goat Trail (Carl Donahue)

Okay, we can’t resist recommending one bush plane expedition. Why? This one has short, reasonably priced flights, and it leads through brawling, glacier-clad mountains that make the perfect introduction to remote Alaska. The 20-mile point-to-point trip is a variation of the renowned Goat Trail route from Skolai Pass down Chitistone Canyon, but you start from the high Wolverine airstrip, getting all the scenic highlights while avoiding the alder thickets and potentially dangerous river fords of lower Chitistone Gorge. You’ll hike on glorified game trails, cross unmarked tundra, search for the key pass that leads to the Goat Trail (used by prospectors in the early 1900s), and follow that sketchy track along the Chitistone River before descending off 5,800-foot Chitistone Pass to your ending airstrip at Lower Skolai Lake.

The route passes waterfalls, skirts enormous moraines, and plunges into a deep gorge. Allow at least five days in case of weather delays—and for excellent detour hikes like a circumnavigation of Wolverine Mesa, or exploring around Chitistone Pass and the Skolai Lakes. From Wolverine landing strip, keep an eye on your footing as you cross a massive talus slope to the northeast—it’s easy to be distracted by the Twaharpies, giant peaks that rise to 10,500 feet across Chitistone Gorge. After 2.5 miles, the wildlife track you’ve been following vanishes in the tundra around Hasen Creek. You won’t see established track again until you hit the Goat Trail at mile 9.8. Literally a Dall sheep track, the narrow and exposed route cuts across steep talus. (Sound tricky? It is—get our tracklog at backpacker.com/alaska2010).

The Way Flights to Wolverine airstrip start in McCarthy (reached via a rough 60-mile dirt road). Flights cost approximately $350 per person, two-person minimum; wrangellmountainair.com. Your air taxi operator will file an NPS itinerary.

Contact nps.gov/wrst

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