Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

We have been reliving our amazing journey through Alaska this month and sadly enough we are drawing pretty close to the end. However, we have tactfully saved the very BEST for the end. Today’s feature is probably one of our greatest memories. We challenged our bodies…put our endurance through a true test and SURVIVED (Bu Ya!!!). As I reminisce this day, my legs hurt, my body feels sore, I feel cold and hot all at the same time, and then I see the wilderness and the beautiful lake before my eyes, wishing that I could do it all over again!

All this buzz is about our 10 HOUR hike at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. I was adamant that I wanted to make my way to this national park during our Alaskan journey. Wrangell-St. Elias National park is America’s largest national park, spanning over 13.2 million acres. That is apparently the size of Yosemite National Park and Switzerland combined together…whoa! Check out the link below for more information on the park.

Now that I had found a way to add this spot to our itinerary, I had to find a way to explore as much of this awe stirring beauty in a day! I knew there was no way we could do justice to Wrangell, but we had to make the best of our time. So I decided to sign us up with the awesome Kennicott Wilderness Guides to do an all day hike through the Root Glacier all the way to Donaho lake. See the Google Earth image below to trace our path:

The hike was categorized as moderate to difficult. I imagined we would be OK since we’ve done a few long hikes in the past. But we had no clue what we were getting our self into and boy are we glad we signed up for this crazy adventure…cause the most unexpected thrills make for lasting memories and great stories to tell!

You can imagine our thoughts when the sleep-deprived us saw this early in the morning on our way to Wrangell. We were ready to turn back, but decided to text a friend instead and let her know of our whereabouts, so that we could plunge forward to explore the path ahead! Shortly after, our gas tank was running low and we needed a refill. Little did we know that once we reached the town of McCarthy (gateway to Wrangell), the next gas station was located 30 miles away. We drove cautiously hoping that we would make it to our lodge without being stranded in the middle of NO WHERE!

We had breakfast in the town of McCarthy and then met with our guide Spencer. He was absolutely wonderful and probably on of the biggest reasons we made it through our hike. 

First Stop: Kennecott Mines

This popular historic landmark is an abandoned copper mining campsite and is named after the Kennecott glacier that lies right beside the historic mine. 

We were all pumped up to do our trek across the Root Glacier. We were asked to be prepared for very different types of weather along the way and to layer up and layer down as needed. We were once again so amused by the variety of the ecosystems along our hike! Be ready to view the beauty that unfolds! 

This was our first experience with 'crampons' that we needed to wear under our shoes for better traction on the glacier. I'm not gonna lie. I wasn't a big fan of them and it hurt my feet quite a bit. But I would highly recommend having them on as it would have been impossible to trek as far as we did without them.

Root Glacier never ceased to amaze us. Look at all the beautiful formations on the glacier that we spotted along the way.

Spencer, our guide, shared a lot of interesting ‘glacier’ facts with us during our hike. We learned that glaciers are just not a big chunk of static ice, but have a whole water network constantly operating within and under them. You can see all the beautiful formations above that have been cut by these water networks as well as by new debris being carried by the rivers that flow through the mountains. 

Look at the beautiful clear blue hues of the water bodies on the glacier! And of course, I take my meals quite seriously…even on a glacier…lol :)

Initially when we saw vast spaces of what looked like deposited brown dirt and silt, we wondered how that could co-exist with the distinct white and snowy glacier. We were introduced to glacial ‘moraines’ at that point. These are basically glacially formed accumulation of unconsolidated debris which includes soil and rocks. The appearance of this can be quite deceiving as it looks like solid ground that you can easily walk on. It actually has ice under all that debris that delves deep into the Earth! Interesting little much?

We made our way through the ice and snow and prepared our self for the next terrain...all rocks! What? I made it through this patch even with my clumsy feet. Yang aced this like a super star! On our way back to base, I fell and scrapped my knee and leg on these rocks and let me just say...that was not a fun experience:(

So just when we thought we had almost made it to Donaho Lake (4 hours had passed and it was about time already), Spencer casually exclaimed that we needed to bush-whack our way for about a mile to get to Donaho lake. We gave each other the LOOK because we had no clue what BUSH-WHACKING entailed. So basically, as the name suggests, you whack the hell out of bushes to make your way through, as there is no 'trail' as such to get through this stretch of land. Animals walk through the wilderness this way and we were expected to do the same, on fours at certain points if need be. Spencer also casually exclaimed that bears and moose take the same path that we were on. Well, let me tell you this...if I encountered a bear on my way, there was no escaping...cause we would be too caught in the insane bush to do anything sane other than be live animal bait of course! Jeez!

The only photo we managed to take...

After the bush-whacking was done, there she was, staring us in the face with all her divine presence...Donaho Lake! Was it worth the strenuous hike...hell yeah! I could definitely have used a pedicure though right at the lake:) 

Once we had made it to the lake (Bu Ya!), my mind couldn't help but think of how we were going to make our way back...sigh! helicopter was going to come and rescue us to fly us back to where we started from. We had to make it back the same way that we got there!!! Oh well...we spent an amazing time together, supported and encouraged each other through the hike, and are still married! Lol! No story is good without a happy ending...


Accommodation for the night: 

We (finally) checked into McCarthy B & B for the night. And never before has a hot shower and a cozy bed felt so darn good! Great host...great cabin...and the owner even bailed us out with some gas for our needy vehicle:)


Stay tuned for our last episode of Alaska next week:)