The landscape of Wrangell-St. Elias is constantly changing. Glaciers recede, landslides re-arrange mountainsides, and rivers flood. Outside resources, such as guide books, are a great starting place to plan your trip, but don’t assume these resources are correct. Guide books, blog posts, and maps that are just a few years old may no longer reflect what is actually on the ground. Always pay careful attention when navigating a route and never unquestioningly follow maps, GPS devices or advice.
The landscape of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve is extreme. River crossings, glacier travel, thick brush, extreme weather (cold and hot), rock fall, mudslides, avalanches and bugs are just some of the hazards to be aware of. In addition, remember that bear safety is an important part of backcountry safety.
Backcountry Accountability & Emergency Contacts
Leave your route and expected time of return with a friend or family member, along with directions for what to do if you do not return at the expected time. A search will not be initiated until a specific request from a friend or family member is made. If you are flying in or out of a remote airstrip, your pilot will be your main communication link to safety. Be sure to discuss "what if" scenarios with your pilot before you are dropped off.
Consider Your Experience
There are no maintained trails in the Wrangell-St. Elias backcountry. To improve your experience, honestly assess the following questions.
After thinking about these questions, you may want to consider hiring a guide to help you experience all that the park has to offer.
Satellite phones and texting devices are the only way to communicate from the backcountry of Wrangell-St. Elias. We recommend bringing a satellite communication device, as it can help you make and maintain contact with family, friends, and if needed, emergency responders. Don’t let a satellite communication device give you a false sense of security though! In an emergency, help will not be immediate and will depend on many factors. You are still responsible for your own safety.
River crossings can be deadly. Make sure you are aware of all crossings on your route. Be prepared to turn around if the river appears too high or too swift to cross safely. Many rivers are impassable, even for experts. Small, unnamed creeks can become raging torrents under certain conditions. You can take training on river crossing techniques and there are many resources online about how to safely cross rivers.
Always err on the side of caution when it comes to rivers!
Make sure you know how to use your gear and have the proper equipment. Even if your trip is in the summer, be prepared for cold temperatures and snow. Use dry bags or garbage bags to keep your sleeping bag dry, along with a change of clothes. Bring 2-3 days of extra food if you are using an air taxi to access the park, in case weather delays your scheduled pick up. Do not count on acquiring or renting gear once you arrive at the park.
Last updated: June 24, 2020