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Wrangell-St. Elias National Park: Southern Traverse

Thirteen days of tough travel takes you through the heart of the world’s largest protected wilderness.

Rating

Be warned: This is easily the roughest trip we’ve ever published. Only one person had ever traversed the first 9 days from Tebay Lakes to the ghost town of Bremner, and our scouting party was the first to thru-hike the entire 94 miles to Iceberg Lake. If you’re up for the challenge, you’ll cross nine passes, six icefields, two major glaciers, and two dozen streams that often run thigh-deep. But the biggest obstacle is simply the footing: steep sidehills, thick vegetation, and unstable talus. Only about 10 miles of this trip could be called easy terrain.The reward is a remarkable trek through an unspoiled mountain environment in the world’s biggest wilderness.

This is the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias, which when combined with Canada’s neighboring Kluane National Park forms the largest stretch of wild country on earth, 24 million acres of raging rivers, turquoise lakes, flowing glaciers, and monster mountains.

Basically, though, the route runs west to east through a range of mountains delineated by the Copper River to the west, the Chitina to the north, and the Bremner to the south. From Tebay Lakes, you hike southeast, round massive Hanagita Peak, and descend the Klu River Valley before winding south again through high passes to Golconda Creek and the gold-rush ruins of Bremner. From there, the route turns south through a network of glaciated passes to Iceberg Lake.

Despite the remoteness and challenges, you shouldn’t need any special equipment aside from tough, waterproof boots, wading shoes, good raingear, trekking poles, and probably pepper spray. We carried crampons but never used them, since the midsummer glaciers proved gritty and the crevasses wide open. Leaving them behind creates more room for food and fuel.

MORE INFORMATION
Guide Service: Trek Alaska (907) 350-3710; trekalaska.com
Contacts: Backcountry Connection, LLC: (907) 822-5292; alaska-backcountry-tours.com; Caribou Hotel: (907) 822-3302; caribouhotel.com; McCarthy Lodge: (907) 554-4402; mccarthylodge.com; Wrangell Mountain Air: (800) 478-1160; wrangellmountainair.com
-Mapped by Steve Howe and Kris Wagner

To Trailhead

Bushplane only. Wrangell Mountain Air; wrangellmountainair.com

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