Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park- Bremner to Monahan Creek
Total Mileage- 6.24 miles
Total Elevation Gain- 2673 feet
Total Elevation Loss- 2391 feet
Wrangell-St. Elias. That’s enough to get your heart pumping and your blood rushing. Just the name of it. And all it takes is a little bit of research to realize that this behemoth of a National Park is everything you imagined it would be- towering mountains, braided rivers, pulverizing glaciers, and the most unadulterated peace and beauty you have ever seen in your life.
If you need more convincing that this, this trip isn’t for you.
With a four-hour time difference between Alaska and Indiana, we were ready bright and early, but it seemed as if our morning took forever. We had everything strapped up and ready to go hours before we were to meet up with Wrangell Mountain Air for a shuttle over to the airfield. Once the shuttle arrived at the main office of Wrangell Mountain Air, which is on the main dirt road in McCarthy, it only took us about 25 minutes to get to the airfield. We unloaded the packs and took them over to the bush plane, the DeHavilland Beaver (aka The Beaver). We gave the pilot our bear spray and he duct taped them to the wing of the plane, so we didn’t have any crazy mishaps during the flight, and then threw our packs in to be secured for our fifty mile ride to Bremner.
Despite the blue skies at take off, the weather quickly changed as we got into the mountains. I’m not sure what the weather is like in Bremner typically, but it seemed like it’s own little weather systems consisting of continual gray clouds and a misty rain. That is what we experienced once we landed, into the next morning, and even as we looked back in that direction on subsequent days. Being that there are no trails in Wrangell-St. Elias, all trekking would be done with the assistance of USGS Topo Maps (Bering Gl. D6, D7 and McCarthy A6, A7) to serve as a guide as to our route and direction. In preparation this trip we purchased Falcon Guides Hiking Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias book that details the Seven Pass Route from Iceberg Lake to Bremner, but as I mentioned in the last post, we decided to do the route backwards. We decided to go the opposite direction after talking to some locals several months in advance and then determining that we wanted the “most epic” portion of our hike to be at the very end. This choice made the book a little more difficult to understand because it was written going the other direction. Nonetheless, if you decide to do this route… I would recommend the way we did it because of the views. The one thing I can tell you about this route, you are not going to find much information about it, which makes this trip a little more epic in my opinion. You truly have to do it on your own.
Our goal for the day is to head in a southerly route and hit a shoulder to the southeast. It’s really easy to spot, if you are paying attention, but if you miss the turn you will go out of your way to get around this small range. The initial portion of this route from Bremner is easy hiking with low scrub and brush with the occasional boulder field. For the most part we avoided walking through the boulders by staying on the outer edges, but we did have an occasional short stomp through the rocks. This area is just a warm-up to what is coming later in the trip with car size boulders for miles, but for today it is an easy trek for the first two miles when we hit our cut through.
As we ascended our route began to take a northeastern turn, all of which was really great trekking terrain. Compared to our prior experience in Denali, there were very few obstacles thus far in Wrangell. Of course, later in the trip there would be significant alders to contend with but for this first day we welcomed the easy route. The colors, even on this mostly overcast day, were nothing short of spectacular. The air was clean and crisp and we took it all in with every breath. This is everything you imagine Alaskan backpacking to be and more.
The final push for Day 1 would drop down into a valley through which Monahan Creek runs. Being that we really couldn’t plan camping spots in advance, our plan was to hike about six miles each day and then look for a flat area close to fresh water and hopefully a decent (or great) view. The only way we were going to get anything close to a flat spot close to fresh water was to drop all the way down to the valley floor and look for a spot among the alders. While we were still relatively high up, we eyeballed some areas that seemed to open up in the bush. We determined that the darker green areas were high bush and the lighter area were flatter areas with little bush. We just didn’t know how much the difference would be until we got down to it. After working our way through the maze of alder, we ultimately made it to the spot we had scouted. It wasn’t as ideal as we had hoped, as it was still a little more brushy than we would have like, but after looking around for a few minutes we landed a nice spot to through up the tents.
Our trek on Day 2 will take us from Monahan Creek area to our first view of the stunning Bremner Glacier, which we will cross on Day 3.