Crown of the Continent – Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve Transcript.
00:00:10 We inhabit a restless Earth. This young land is in a state of constant turmoil and endless transformation.
00:00:30 The towering peaks of the St. Elias Range continue their climb ever higher into the sky.
00:00:40 Volcanic Mt. Wrangell vents steam into the cold, thin air awaiting its next eruption. Unyielding, Titanic glaciers grind their way to the sea.
00:0I:20 And as the vast wilderness of Wrangell-St. Elias only now emerges from the last Ice Age, the chronicle of the planet itself is revealed.
00:02:40 In desperation to define the scale, we turn to the tour guide's litany of statistics.
00:03:10 Nine of the 16 highest peaks in North America. A single glacier larger than Rhode Island.
00:03:20 The Wrangell Mountains alone cover an area the size of Connecticut.
00:03:30 The park itself is the size of six Ycllowstones.
00:03:40 One national park larger than Switzerland with higher mountains.
00:05:30 The struggle to understand the magnitude of this landscape is ultimately futile, for Wrangell-St. Elias does not lend itself to meaningful comparisons.
00:05:40 Here is the natural world at its most dynamic. A surging, seething wilderness where our word’s geologic story is ever present.
00:06:10 The four mountain ranges of Wrangell-St. Elias look like a succession of advancing waves. And they are. Waves of land, great terrains that have rafted up from the Tropics over millions of years like transoceanic breakers finally reaching the sands of a distant shore.
00:07:00 The Pacific Plate dives under the North American continent along this lonely coast, buckling the Earth's crust and driving the St. Elias Range upward, more than three miles up from sea level and still rising.
00:07:20 The St. Elias is the highest coastal range in the world.
00:07:30 The mountain barrier is so high it captures the intense storm sweeping in from the Pacific and holds them hostage. Climbers consider this some of the fiercest weather on earth. In the higher elevations, more than 60 feet of snow can fall in a year, deepening some of the world's heaviest snowpacks.
00:08:00 A blue sky in the St. Elias Range is a rarity.
00:08:40 Unlike the uplifted St. Elias Range, the Wrangells are skeletons of formerly immense volcanoes, most of them great shield volcanoes, among the most massive on the planet. Mt. Churchill today still and serene, was the source of North America's two most explosive and voluminous eruptions in the last 2,000 years.
00:09:20 What has carved these jagged peaks down from gigantic lava domes is ice. This is the greatest concentration of glaciers on the continent.
00:11:00 Hundreds of glaciers fed by ceaseless winter snows transform the landscape. These slow-flowing rivers of ice carve U-shaped valleys. 00:11:30 The glaciers scrape hillsides bare and deposit millions of tons of earth in the braided brown rivers that flow down to the sea.
00:11:50 Even as the glaciers scour the mountains down to bedrock, life takes hold almost immediately, creeping up the slopes of moraines as the glaciers recede.
00:12:10 Pads of dryas hold down the silt and begin the march of life, crating soil other plants will need to gain a foothold.
00:12:30 Eventually, the boreal forest succeeds, so dense it hides the incredible wildlife.
00:13:50 Below the surface of emerging fjords, another forest hides the denizens of the ocean realm.
00:15:10 The elemental forces at work in Wrangell-St. Elias have organized to create avenues for life to exist.
00:15:30 Pioneering plants, musk egg bogs, predators and prey have a grand stage on which to explore their timeless connections.
00:16:30 Gigantic forces like the churning geology of Wrangell-St. Elias regard humankind with primordial indifference.
But this magnificent landscape is not nearly a vast and pristine wilderness. To travel in these mountains is to journey back in time to see what much of the world looked like during the Pleistocene, the age of ice. The same environment that shaped human evolution in northern lands.
00:17:30 Native people have lived here for millennia. Bold and resourceful enough to traverse the Bagley Ice Field to trade copper along the coast. We look at this empty land and imagine that it has been untouched, yet the Ahtna people will often have a name for a peak that lies nameless on our maps.
00:18:50 Survival in a harsh environment requires an intimate knowledge of the landscape.
00:19:10 Subsistence hunting and fishing are a part of the fabric of bush life in Alaska, a symbiosis of nature and culture.
00:19:30 By Wrangell-St. Elias is not an easy or forgiving place.
00:19:50 Whatever the reasons for entering it, this wilderness requires a high degree of self-reliance. It is not that the land is hostile, merely indifferent and infinitely demanding.
00:20:40 These are transcendent mountains with the power to change the landscaping and to captivate the souls of those who venture into them.
Duration: 23 minutes
Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
Soar above mountains and glacier-carved valleys still emerging from the Ice Age. With calving glaciers in hidden fjords, wildlife wandering a vast land and countless unnamed peaks, Wrangell-St. Elias fulfills the romantic, mythic image of Alaska. This single national park contains the greatest concentration of glaciers outside the polar ice caps, nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States, the largest piedmont glacier and the highest coastal range in the world. Film narrated by Robert Ricotta.
Last updated: May 9, 2022