Multisport Mayhem in Wrangell-St. Elias Nat'l Park and Prince William Sound

Gorp.com

The enormous expanse of Wrangell-St. Elias will redefine your understanding of the term vast, even in the context of Alaska. The largest national park in the United States, Wrangell-St. Elias stretches across 13.2 million acres of Alaskan tundra—big enough for six Yellowstones. Penetrated by only two very remote roads, its rugged interior is awash with azure ponds, open meadows, mountain glaciers, nine peaks over 14,000 feet, and four rivers roiling with whitewater. The animal population includes bears, Dall sheep, caribou, moose, bison, and sea lions.
The Nabesna Road, located at Slana, is the least used thoroughfare and offers instant access to the backcountry. While there are no maintained trails within the park, there are a multitude of hikable game trails. Trekkers looking for a true challenge should brave the 11-day trek through Chitistone Canyon, including a traverse of 5,820-foot Chitistone Pass via the 25-mile Goat Trail. The McCarthy Road, which starts at Chitina, will take you to the whitewater of Kennicott River and to full- or half-day treks along the Root Glacier. Class II-III rapids can also be found on the Copper, Chitina, and Nizina Rivers. Alternatively, arrange for a 13-day source-to-sea expedition from Kennicott Glacier to the Gulf of Alaska. Mountaineering and ice-climbing enthusiasts should tackle 16,390-foot Mt. Blackburn, 16,237-foot Mt. Stanford, or 18,008-foot Mt. St. Elias, the mother peak of the park and the second highest mountain in the States. The park's rainbow and steelhead trout, silver and red salmon, and arctic grayling will keep anglers busy; fly-in, fly-out service to Tebay Lake takes you to the action. Intrepid kayakers, meanwhile, can weave around icebergs in the fjords of Icy Bay on the park's southern coast.
If the remote nature of Wrangell-St. Elias doesn't sate your adventurous appetite, south-central Alaska's Prince William Sound will. Infamous after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the inlet has since become one of Alaska's premier multisport destinations. In this landscape of water and ice, sea kayaking and fishing are the name of the game, and outfitters in each of the three tiny communities surrounding the Sound—Whittier, Valdez, and Cordova—will cater to your particular interests and skill level. Pink salmon and halibut are known to bite as close as the Valdez docks, but outfitters will take you to their favorite spots. Kayakers exploring the 3,000-mile shoreline will drift in awe alongside ancient glaciers and breaching humpback whales. You can also arrange for a rafting trip down Tonsina River or through Keystone Canyon on the Lowe River, which passes close to the 900-foot Bridal Veil Falls. Round off your adventure with an aerial tour of the Sound's most-prized possessions: the massive Columbia and Shoup Glaciers.

Published: 31 Jul 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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