Wrangell - St Elias
National Park & Preserve Alaska
August 08, 2012
I recently completed a backcountry patrol with a volunteer that went from Wrangell Plateau to Nugget Creek. We took about a week to complete this patrol. One of the goals for this patrol was to assess the bear activity level in the vicinity of the Nugget Creek cabin. The cabin has been closed because of a moose kill and a high level of bear activity near the cabin.
The patrol started with a beautiful flight to the Wrangell Plateau, a large flat area on the south side of Mt Wrangell. The flight in provided excellent views of Mt Drum and massive Cheshnina Falls. We landed on a small strip that is actually on Ahtna Land, we received permission to use the airstrip before starting our patrol. If you are planning a trip into this area, contact Ahtna first about using the airstrip. We camped just above the Long Glacier on our first night and enjoyed incredible views of the south side of Mt Wrangell.
The following day we crossed the Long Glacier and then headed up and over a low point on the ridge to cross into the Kluvesna River drainage. When we reached the Kluvesna River it was much too deep and swift to cross so we headed upstream to find an easier crossing. We ended up crossing on the toe of the glacier to avoid the river. The moraine was pretty straight forward, or at least as straight forward as moraine can be. We climbed out of the Kluvesna and up over a pass into the Kotsina River drainage. The hike down Surprise Creek was beautiful with lots of orange rock and good hiking. We reached the Kotsina River hoping to cross it near Roaring Creek but found it was too deep and swift. We waited until morning hoping the water level would come down. The water was still high in the morning so we backtracked upstream and found a barely suitable crossing just above Peacock Creek. We traversed back to Roaring Creek and followed it up and over into the Nugget Creek drainage. Rain, clouds and almost zero visibility made route finding challenging as we crossed over this last high ridge to get down to Nugget Creek.
After some thrashing about in the brush we eventually found the trail that leads to the Nugget Creek Public Use Cabin. On the way to the cabin we found several large piles of bear scat in the trail. The following day the weather cleared and we enjoyed great views of Mt Blackburn as we began our hike out to the trailhead. About two miles from the cabin we came across a very fresh blood trail going straight down the trail. We followed the blood trail for about a mile before it veered off down a spur trail that leads to the Kuskulana River. We were very relieved to no longer be following a large ungulate spurting blood along a well-used trail. Another ranger visited this area a couple days later and found a moose kill less than 100 yards down the spur trail. A little too close for comfort.
The Nugget Creek cabin and a portion of the trail will remain closed for now. When the moose kill has been consumed management will look at reopening the cabin and the trail. The rest of our hike out was uneventful. This is a beautiful and challenging route through the Wrangell Mountains.
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