Backpacking Iceberg Lake Valley in Wrangell-St. Elias, Alaska

5 days among glaciers in the U.S.’s largest national park

Matt Savener

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Looking down on Iceberg Lake Valley from a ridge with several glaciers visible
All photos by author

Trip specs

  • Location: Iceberg Lake Valley, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska
  • Dates: Aug. 5–9, 2019 (5 days, 4 nights)
  • Route: Lollipop loop around the valley, all off-trail. Mileage: ~15 backpacking + ~5 day-hike
  • Conditions: Terrific. We got very lucky with consistently warm, very sunny days and cool nights. Highs in 60s-70s, lows in 40s. 10–15 degrees cooler near the glacier. Sunset: ~10 p.m. Sunrise: ~6 a.m.
  • Travel: Fly to Anchorage, drive to McCarthy (8 hrs), bush plane to Iceberg Lake airstrip (30 mins)
  • Special gear: bear canister, bear spray, InReach or sat phone, crampons or microspikes (no ice axe)
  • Photos: Wrangell-St. Elias on Google Photos
Three backpackers walking across a glacier with crampons

Background

Every summer, I embark on a backpacking journey with a couple of friends from college. We started doing an annual trip over a decade ago, and this year marked our 10th trip. We’ve visited some of the crown jewels of American wilderness: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Colorado 14ers, the High Sierra.

For the past few years, we’ve been tossing around the idea of going bigger, with repeated mentions of Alaska. This year, the 49th State fit the bill. But Alaska is massive—and intimidating. Where to go and how to do it right?

The first thing that comes to mind is the legendary Denali. I don’t mean to disparage it in any way, but it was out for this trip — too many people, too hard to get good permits. Turning my attention elsewhere, I found Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Most of the people I talked to before this trip had never heard of it, nor had I. That’s unfortunate, since it’s the largest U.S. national park — bigger than Switzerland! It forms a huge portion of the Alaska-Canada border to the east and stretches all the way to the Pacific in the south. Standing near its western border at Glenallen and…

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