From Backpacking to Glacier Trekking

By Wilderness Adventures July 25, 2013

Coming off a picture perfect backpacking trip in the Talkeetnas, our close knitted Alaska group continued on to our 8-day glacier trekking & ice climbing expedition with St. Elias Alpine Guides. We made our way to epic Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (which is the largest national park in the country).  Wrangell-St. Elias has the largest assemblage of glaciers and collection of 16,000 ft peaks on the continent!  Four gorgeous mountain ranges converge here- the Chugach, Wrangell, St. Elias and Alaskan mountain ranges- and is considered the “mountain kingdom of North America.”  


On day 1, we met Lucas, our alpine guide, who would be with us for the next eight days. After getting fitted for our crampons, which are spikes clipped to the bottom of our shoes that are needed for walking on ice, we set off on the Root Glacier and quickly learned the best techniques for backpacking on ice with the “new” feel of the crampons on our boots. As we strapped on our crampons, Reese told the group ” I love putting crampons on and doing things not many people will get to do!”  We took off for a burly 9-mile hike to Upper Donaho Basin with mountains towering above us in every direction and the group was in awe of what Mother Nature had created here in this remote park.  


As we all became acclimated to glacier trekking, Henry and Marin loved testing their agility and speed with the crampons on.  They were galavanting up and down the slopes of the glacier with ease and often spotted racing each other. Finally as the sun set behind the jagged 16,000 ft Mt. Blackburn, we made it to our lakeside campsite in Upper Donaho Basin and this would be our base camp for the next four days. 


In this time, we spent every waking moment exploring the surrounding glaciers which included the Root, Kennicot, and Gates glaciers.  Lucas was quick to share his expert knowledge of the area, teaching us about moraine (a mixture of loose dirt, rocks, & ice) and how to travel across it. We also learned about the catabolic wind which is a constant breeze that comes off the glacier.  Last but not the least, we learned about and trekked past many mulans, which are huge holes burrowed into the glacier by the running water.


One of the most favorite days was the day the group summited Donaho Peak.  Arie, Pat, Miles, Matt, Marin, and Chilly especially loved climbing the scree filled stoic mountain.  The rock-scree challenged every step they took while often times causing them to take one step forward and then sliding 2 steps backward. Through patience & perseverance, the group managed to reach the summit! Miles took advantage of eating some Nutella at the summit with stunning views of the Wrangell and Chugach mountains.  


Towards the end of our glacier trekking week, we took some time to practice ice- climbing on some of the smaller ice walls on which Sydney scampered up with a huge smile on her face! We spent the next two days ice climbing on some of the coolest ice walls in such a beautiful unique place! We climbed 30 ft fins that shot out of the glacier with reckless abandon.  Ben seemed particularly interested on the specific gear that climbing necessitates and even did some extra climbs on the very last day. 


Once Chilly, Marin, John and everyone else showed their natural ability to climb ice,  we were lowered into some mulans in which we could climb out of.  Deep into the blue ice filled abyss, we each conquered our fears and scraped our way out with water plummeting into the black hole just behind our backs.  Pat led the charge across the Root Glacier on the last day in the backcountry as we  concluded on time glacier trekking & ice climbing. 


We hiked thorough the historic mining town of Kennicot and said goodbye to our wonderful guides.  After spending 8 days in the backcountry around glaciers, we treated ourselves and quickly consumed several pizzas and began to de-prep from our glacier section. 


As our amazing expedition is coming to a close, we are reflecting on all of the amazing sights & experiences we have shared together. We will soon be saying our bittersweet gloodbyes to the brothers and sisters we have made on our incredible journey.  We have had many “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences together on this expedition and we hope to always appreciate the opportunities that were given to us. Although our trip “family” will never be here together again, we hope that each one of us has been inspired in some way by the beauty and wilderness of Alaska, as well as by each member of our group. 


We have truly been blessed with an amazing and unforgettable summer expedition! Thank you to all who supported us, encouraged us, and made this trip possible. May we continue to appreciate where we have been and explore new opportunities for the future!