Got an unanswered question or two?

You’re probably not the only one – we get the following questions A LOT! If you don’t find what you’re looking for, please don’t hesitate to call or email us. We would love to hear from you!

How long have you guys been around?

St. Elias Alpine Guides was started in McCarthy in 1978 by legendary climber Bob Jacobs who wanted to explore even more remote wilds and was feeling like Denali was getting too crowded even back in the 70s! The current owners worked as guides for the company for many years before taking over the business and are only the third generation of owners in 40 years! We’ve been around longer than the Park itself and are the longest continually operating business in the area. We are proud of our long and consistent legacy in the most magnificent wilderness on earth! To learn more about us, click here.

Why are you way out in middle of nowhere?

What can we say, we love the wilderness! The founder of St. Elias Alpine Guides, legendary climber Bob Jacobs, thought that Denali was too crowded even back in the 70s! The lifestyle that comes with living in a teeny, remote and completely off-the-grid community in the middle of the world’s largest protected wilderness requires hard work and a sense of adventure, both passions of ours. We like the type of people who come here as well – you have to want it! We invite you to study up on Wrangell-St. Elias and McCarthy-Kennecott and come see what’s at the end of the 60mi dirt road!

How do I get to you?

We are located in the heart of Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. There is a 60mi dirt road that connects us to the highway system and there is also an airstrip in town!

There are several options for getting to McCarthy-Kennecott – driving, riding in a van shuttle, taking a scheduled or chartered flight, or some combination of these options. Please visit our transportation page for more detailed information.

Where do I stay once I’m there?

Even though we are a remote and completely off-the-grid community, we’ve got some great lodging options in our area! There are historic wilderness lodges and hotels, small cabins, BnBs, and a big campground, too! Please visit our lodging recommendations page for more information.

What is there to do in McCarthy/Kennecott?

McCarthy-Kennecott is located right in the middle of the largest protected wilderness area on the planet and is the off-the-beaten-path adventure capital of South-Central Alaska. If you’re looking for hiking, climbing, backpacking, rafting, or mountaineering without the crowds of Denali or the Kenai Penninsula, you’ve come to the right place!

The massive Root and Kennicott Glaciers almost spill into town and are towered over by the Stairway Icefall (largest in Alaska) and the enormous Mt. Blackburn (16,391 ft)! In fact, 7 out of the 10 tallest peaks in America find their home amongst the 3 major mountain ranges in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Down on the coast, Mount St. Elias itself rises from the ocean to the mighty height of 18,008ft, claiming its name as the 2nd tallest peak in the States! We offer day trips and multi-day adventures exploring this amazing wilderness and there are a few different trails and areas you can explore on your own too – just stop by our office for a map and some recommendations!

The abandoned townsite of Kennecott and well-preserved buildings and artifacts of a thriving prospecting community provide fascinating historical context to this unique convergence of topographical wonders. The obvious highlight and high point of the townsite is the 14-story Mill Building, the tallest wooden structure in North America! The old townsite and some of the buildings are open to the public during the summer so there’s a lot you can explore on your own – make sure to also check out the Museum in McCarthy, too! If you want to take a deeper dive back in time and access the inside of the Mill Building, join us on our 2hr Historical Tour of Kennecott. There are a couple of lodging and food options in Kennecott as well as a gift shop with espresso drinks!

McCarthy is a small community located about 4.5mi down the road from Kennecott. You will find the McCarthy Museum here, a small mercantile, a gift shop, and a few restaurants, including the only bar for hundreds of miles around! There are a few lodging options right in town too, the local air taxi’s office as well as a shuttle stop for transportation to and from Kennecott.

 

 

I only have one or two days to spend in the area. What should I do?

There is certainly enough here to keep most people engaged for at least 2-3 days, but 1 full day is enough to get a taste! You’ll probably want to come back! We recommend that you stay long enough to fit in a hike on the Root Glacier (or an ice climb!) and a history tour of Kennecott. You can do these both in one day or split them between two days. And if you have time, get up in a plane somehow – that could be on your raft and flightsee or on a separate flightseeing trip with Wrangell Mountain Air. Check out our activity combination ideas here!

Who will my glacier guide be?

Because we are a long-established company with a great reputation in a stunning and remote location, we attract the best guides in the business! We hire competent men and women with extensive outdoor experience, first aid training, and great personalities and then put them through a thorough training program unique to our area and our programs. Because our schedule is as dynamic as the environment we live in, we usually assign guides the night before for our Day Trips. We love and trust every one of them and we know you will too! You can read more about these fabulous individuals here.

Should I tip my guide? How much?

Tipping is customary in the guiding industry and always appreciated. Our guides are paid professionals but tips make up a significant portion of their income and can go a long way toward making guiding a feasible long-term career choice. For our day trips, a good estimate is between 10% and 20% of the trip cost. So if you go on a day hike or climb with us, that would come to between $10 and $35 per person, depending on the trip and the percentage. As in any industry, your tip should be based on the service you feel you received. If you had the time of your life, the sky’s the limit! You can tip your guides in cash, via Venmo or you can leave a gratuity on your card. Thank you for considering this ahead of time!

How do I decide what trip to do?

All the pictures and descriptions sound amazing! How do I know what’s right for me? Here are some things to think about when selecting a trip:

  • What is my #1 goal for this adventure? Do I want to relax and get away from a hectic schedule? Do I want to push myself on an epic and athletically challenging journey? Create life-long memories with my family or partner? Learn skills from the experts and grow my scope as a mountain athlete? See new landscapes and experience Alaska’s unique glaciated terrain?
  • What are my interests? Birding, animals, photography, geology, wildflowers, journaling, athleticism, spirituality, art, technical climbing, etc.
  • Will this trip be part of a bigger Alaska trip? Where else am I going and what else will I see? Our glaciated terrain, history, high-altitude peaks, and vast backcountry wilderness are what set us apart from other areas in Alaska.
  • What am I comfortable with at my current level of knowledge, experience, and physical and mental ability? Alaska is bigger and tougher than anything in the lower 48 and it’s a great place to push yourself, but you want to be realistic and make sure you have a good foundation to build upon if reaching for higher heights.
  • What type of adventure is right for me?
    • On Basecamp Hiking Trips we fly out into the wilderness and set up camp near the airstrip. From here we explore the area on a series of day hikes with lighter packs and return to the same camp every night.
      • Basecamp Hiking Trips are recommended for beginner campers, families with younger children, and those with injuries that may prevent them from carrying a heavy pack. We also recommend these trips for those looking for a more relaxing experience, though please note that all the terrain in the Wrangells is quite rugged so some level of athleticism is always required to get around the wilderness.
    • On Basecamp mini-Backpacking Trips we fly to a backcountry destination and strap on our heavy backpacks, taking a short hike to set up our first camp. Over the course of several days, we will explore different areas on day-hikes, moving camp at least once again.
      • Basecamp mini-Backpacking Trips are perfect for those newer to camping and backpacking or those looking for a less physically strenuous backpacking experience in rugged Alaska. Great for kids 12 and up!
    • On Point-to-Point Backpacking Trips we take 4-8 days to get from backcountry destination A to backcountry destination B, moving camp every night, being completely self-sufficient, and carrying all our gear on our backs.
      • Our Backpacking Trips are different in difficulty as well as terrain and scenery and each presents a unique series of challenges. Alaska requires more and burlier gear which means heavier packs and the terrain and weather can be relentless – do not underestimate the challenges a trail-less wilderness presents! We do not offer any “easy” backpacking trips and do not recommend these trips for first-time or beginner backpackers.
    • On Rafting trips we usually spend 2-6hrs on the river every day, stopping for lunch and short, scenic hikes before making a camp in the wilderness. Our rafting trips are scenic floats, allowing access to otherwise unattainable views and covering more miles than you ever could on foot, with some class II-III rapids in between. Rafting trips allow a slightly more “luxurious” wilderness experience than backpacking or basecamp hiking – easier on the legs, a more casual daily schedule with more time at camp, no backpack burden, more elaborate meals with fresher ingredients, etc.
      • We raft a few different rivers in the Wrangells and each has unique scenery and logistics, some involving bush flights and some ending way out on the coast! We recommend our rafting trips to anyone looking for a wilderness experience at a very comfortable pace, those wanting to spend quality time with their group, or those hoping to relax while still seeing a lot. Kids ages 8+ are welcome.
Who will my multi-day guide be?

Our wilderness trip guides are the best of the best! They have worked for us as day guides for at least one full season, have extensive experience in the backcountry, advanced wilderness medical training, a good head on their shoulders, and are also fun and personable people to spend a few days or a few weeks with. They love what they do and want to make sure you have the best experience possible. Our guides come in many shapes and sizes and from many different backgrounds – you can get to know them here. We assign guides to individual trips 2-4 weeks prior to the trip and do our best to match their personalities to yours and your group’s. Your guide plans to contact you 1-2 weeks before the trip to introduce themselves and answer any last minute questions you might have. Our schedule is as dynamic as our environment and we apologize if this doesn’t happen or isn’t as timely due to busy schedules and/or last-minute scheduling additions and changes.

Where do we go to the bathroom?

This is one of the most commonly asked questions!

We practice Leave No Trace principles and make sure to minimize our impact on the natural landscape as much as possible.

In Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the recommended practice for backpackers is to either individually dig small holes (your guide will carry a small trowel) to use as a personal latrine per-use or choose a place near camp but with some privacy and dig a trench for use as a group latrine, depending on the location. You will carry out all your used toilet paper and all other sanitary products and trash.

On rafting trips, we carry a plastic toilet box with a seat that is set up near camp and your guides will carry out all waste on the boats.

On mountaineering trips, the latrine is commonly a crevasse or snow-pit protected from camp by a wall of snow.

Your guides will instruct you on the particulars of the situation per camp to set you up for success and all possible comfort. Please don’t be shy to ask them questions on this matter. It’s a necessity that has been given lots of thought your guides are experts in ALL things outdoors!

Do I have to carry my own gear?

Likely, at some point or another, at least a little bit, yes.

 

On a Rafting Trip, you can help the guides unload the boats, set up camp, and carry your dry bag(s) to your tent nearby. After breakfast, you can help take down camp and load up the boats.

 

On a Basecamp Hiking Trip, you will need to carry your gear about 5-20min from the backcountry airstrip to set up camp at the beginning of the trip and then pack up and carry it back to the airstrip at the end. Throughout the trip you will hike with a small day pack – this is usually 5-15lbs.

 

On a Basecamp mini-Backpacking Trip you will need to carry all your gear between the airstrip and your camp, which will be 1-3mi away. This means at least 2 one-way trips with the big backpack (usually 30-40lbs). After setting up camp you will enjoy day-hikes with a much lighter day pack (usually 5-15lbs).

 

On a Backpacking Trip, you will move camp almost every night and will need to carry everything you need with you. For a trip up to 4 days in length, you can expect packs in the 35-45lb range and for trips in the 6-8 day range, please be prepared for weights closer to 45-50lbs. The burly gear that is required for the Alaskan backcountry isn’t very light so forget “ultralite” and think heavy-duty!

 

For all Basecamping and Backpacking Trips, the pack weight will really depend on what you bring, so we do recommend having a minimalist mindset. In addition to your own gear, we will be giving you a bear canister full of food and supplies, potentially another item like a fuel canister or a stove, and maybe a part of a tent if you’re not bringing your own (we recommend sharing tents to save weight). Your guides are weight-conscious packers and will never burden you unnecessarily. It’s likely that over the course of the trip you’ll be able to start adding your own things into the bear canister and your pack should get lighter as you eat your food and use supplies. 

If you would really like to do a Point-to-Point Backpacking Trip but are concerned about the pack weight, we also offer Porter services. Porters cannot take your entire pack for you, but they can help alleviate your pack weight significantly and offer other assistance as an assistant guide on the trip.

 

On our objective-based Mountaineering Expeditions, you will be required to carry all your own gear and some group gear between camps. Depending on the terrain, you may bring sleds with you for all or some of the route. Depending on the route, you may do stretches of the route multiple times, caching gear as you go, so you may not always have the full weight of all your equipment with you at all times. At maximum, you can expect weights of 80-160lbs to be split between a backpack and a sled and at minimum a 30lb bag for single-day excursions.

What about the bears?!

Wrangell – St. Elias National Park is home to both black bears and grizzly bears and we are honored to share our home with such majestic animals. We treat the bears with respect and do our best to maintain their wild environment and nature. The bears out here are truly very wild and have very little contact with humans – this means that they are naturally afraid of us! Yes, even grizzlies! Bears do not hunt humans and our most common bear sighting is of a bear’s butt as they run away.

Although bear sightings may be exciting, we do our best to avoid close encounters with preventative measures at camp and while hiking that our guides will share with you. Just in case of unusually close encounters, our guides carry flare guns (to scare a bear away) and pepper spray (in case of an uncomfortably close meeting). It is very uncommon to have to use either.

If you want to, you can bring your own bear spray too, however, know that your guide has one and has been trained on how to use it. With 40 years of guiding in the Park, we have found that being bear aware, taking preventative measures and the flare gun and pepper spray to be sufficient mitigations.

Please refrain from bringing firearms with you on our trips. Not only does this make our other guests and guides uncomfortable, but they are also completely unnecessary for bear safety. We know that other areas of Alaska may recommend firearms for bear safety, but we specifically recommend against them.

What will we eat?

We pride ourselves on cooking healthy and delicious meals even under the most adverse conditions! Your exact menu will depend on the trip, your guide, and the dietary preferences/restrictions you list in your Trip Application. No matter what kind of cook your guide is at home, all our guides are well-trained backcountry chefs and use time-tested recipes from our proprietary cookbook for their trips. We carry a plentiful and varied stock of ingredients and most meals are prepared from scratch (allowing for easy substitutions, additions or subtractions of ingredients). We do not use pre-packed freeze-dried meals, except for summit pushes on our mountaineering expeditions.

On our backpacking, basecamp-hiking, and mountaineering trips, you can expect 3 meals a day, plus snacks of your choice while in the backcountry. We use a combination of fresh, dehydrated, and freeze-dried ingredients to make our delicious meals, however on longer backpacking and mountaineering trips your guides will use more freeze-dried foods than fresh foods to keep pack weights as low as possible. On our rafting trips, we cook full multi-course meals with fresh ingredients. Meals start with Lunch on the first day and end with Lunch on the last day. *

*If you are signed up for a Custom Trip Package with us, it may include more meals. Check with us if you’re not sure. Mountaineering trips also include meals in McCarthy before and after the backcountry expedition.

Can you accommodate my dietary needs/preferences?

We can accommodate most dietary restrictions and even preferences, too! Please be honest and open with your guides about what you can and cannot eat, why, and what will happen if you do. Don’t worry if it’s just a preference – there’s no need to pick out the mushrooms out of every meal when they could easily just be left out.

Because our guides prepare most meals completely from scratch it’s easy for them to add, leave out or substitute ingredients. They are attuned to the consequences of cross-contamination and prep and cook meals with great care when dealing with an allergen or an upsetting ingredient. We have never had any food-related allergic reactions or major issues arise in the field.

We ask that you are realistic about how you want to eat in the backcountry. If you follow a very strict diet at home, consider making exceptions while on the trip as your body will be extra stressed and comfort foods will seem much more appealing out there. We also want to make sure you’re getting enough calories, protein, and other nutrients. If you tell your guides you don’t eat pork, they won’t pack you any bacon, and then when breakfast rolls around and you can hear it sizzling in the pan, that delicious bacon smell is in the air, and everyone else is crunchin’ on crispy bacon strips……you’ll be eating drool for breakfast! If you tell us you eat vegan, we will pack you amazing and delicious vegan meals, so don’t count on stealing anyone’s cheese and jerky if it turns out you actually make exceptions for tasty treats! Be realistic, and communicate honestly.

If you have a highly specialized diet for health reasons and we are not able to accommodate it, we will work with you to find a feasible alternative.

Should I tip my multi-day guide? How much?

Tipping is customary in our industry and accounts for a significant portion of a guide’s income. Tips can make guiding a feasible career choice in the long term and are always appreciated. It is hard to use a percentage scale as a guideline for tipping on our trips because the costs of trips are often hugely influenced by things like bush flights and logistics that are outside of our guides’ control.

A good rule of thumb is $50-$150 per day per guide total from the entire participant group, however, tips should still reflect the quality of the service. If your guides made this the trip of a lifetime, the sky’s the limit!

Do I need to bring a lunch on my day trip?

Lunch is provided on our Raft and Flightsee Trip, but you should provide your own lunch on all other day trips (such as Half Day Glacier Hike, Full Day Glacier Hike, and Ice Climbing). You’re welcome to reserve a Snack Pack for $8 or purchase one at our office at the start of your hike. If you are staying at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge and have purchased a meal plan, they will provide a sack lunch for the day for your party.

What should I bring for my trip?

Whether you are joining us for a Day Trip or a longer Multi-Day Adventure, we have created a specialized packing list for you to consult as you are preparing for your trip. Our equipment lists are thoughtfully curated and have been refined over the decades we’ve been running trips – each item has a purpose! You can find all our Equipment Lists here or on each trip’s individual page. Be aware that there is no gear store in McCarthy-Kennecott so please come as prepared as possible. Please let us know if you have more specific questions on what to bring!

Where can I store my luggage while I’m in the backcountry?

We understand that you may have luggage or things you don’t want to bring into the backcountry with you so we have a designated area at our headquarters where your guide will label and store your stuff while you’re out. This area is not locked, however, we have never had any issues with loss or damage. If you have a small item of great value that you are particularly nervous about, we may be able to store it in our office for you – just ask your guide.

What’s included in the cost of my trip?
  • Your professional guides!
    • Our guides are top-of-the-line professionals in everything that they do, whether navigating and helping you through difficult terrain or cooking up an amazing backcountry meal! All of our backcountry guides are carefully assigned, have been with the company for at least a year, must pass our extensive backcountry training, and hold a WFR or higher medical certification. (Occasionally lead guides are assisted by junior guides who may not meet all those qualifications.)
    • Our guides are experts in these environments and will enrich your experience with their knowledge of the local history, geology, flora, and fauna to create incredible and memorable experiences. Bring your binoculars and get ready to explore the wilderness in depth!
    • Our guides come in all shapes and sizes, from different backgrounds, and have different personalities – we can always find the best guide for you! Whether you’re looking for a physical challenge, to learn new skills, or just to get away from it all and experience the solace of the wilderness, we’ll find you the perfect match. Our guides will cater the experience to you, providing more or less support, instruction, photos, facts, or jokes based on your needs and desires!
    • Meet our guides!
  • Bush flights!
    • Most of our trips take place deep in the backcountry of Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and are accessed by bush planes! These scenic flights allow you to see even more of this amazing National Park and are a thrilling way to begin and/or end a backcountry trip!
    • We do have hike-in/hike-out trips available too! There is some really incredible terrain right in our backyard – the Kennicott Valley and it can be accessed by foot. A few miles out of town and you are already in the wilderness!
  • Food!
    • We will provide all the food on the backcountry trip! Regardless of what kind of cooks your guides are at home, they are trained backcountry chefs and work with tried and true proprietary recipes and get great reviews!
    • Because we make most of our meals entirely from scratch, we have the ability to customize menus and be flexible with ingredients. We have no problem accommodating most dietary restrictions and preferences – just let your guide know exactly what you cannot or do not eat and why and they’ll leave it out or keep it on the side.
    • Check out some of our most popular Wilderness Recipes!
  • Gear!
    • We always provide all group gear like bear canisters (or other food storage/protection), cookware, and fuel.
      • For backpacking or backcountry hiking trips requiring glacier crossings, we will also provide you with a set of crampons that are compatible with most boot types.
      • For rafting trips, we’ll also provide all the necessary rafting equipment as well as a PFD and some dry bags for you.
      • For climbing courses or mountaineering expeditions, we’ll also provide ropes and some other group gear like 4-season expedition tents, pickets, ice screws, ice tools, camp shovels, etc. depending on the adventure.
    • Generally, you are responsible for your sleeping pad, sleeping bag, backpack(s), clothing, toiletries, and any other personal gear you want to bring.
      • Check out our Equipment Lists – these are general lists of gear that you are responsible for. Your guide may have more specific recommendations based on your route.
    • We always recommend you use as much of your gear as you can because you are familiar with it. We understand that you may not have adequate gear or it may be difficult to travel with so we do have some items available for rent. Please note that gear rentals are not the main focus of our business so we have a limited selection of items available and may not always have your size. Ask us ahead of time to make rental reservations.
    • We highly recommend that you use your own tent*, but we understand that may not be possible. You can use our tents at no extra cost – just let us know if you need them or if you’re bringing your own. If you are participating solo on a Group backpacking or backcountry hiking trip, you will likely be assigned a tentmate.
      *We do not expect you to come with your own 4-season expedition tent and will always provide those for mountaineering and ski trips. If you don’t come with a partner, you will likely get a tentmate or two.
What about the logistics surrounding this trip?

Our trips begin with an Orientation and Gear Shakedown – the day before your trip begins you’ll need to be in McCarthy to meet your guide, grab group gear and make sure you are fully prepared to go into the backcountry. Because our weather is so hard to predict, this is a great time to ask them any last-minute gear questions – “this jacket or this fleece?” This meeting will be organized by your guide when they reach out to you, about 10 days before the trip.

Most people arrive in McCarthy the day before the trip and leave the day after the trip, but some like to come to McCarthy a little earlier or stay a couple of days later to join us for a Day Trip or rest up and enjoy the quiet town. We don’t recommend leaving McCarthy the last day of your trip as this not only cuts into your last backcountry day but also doesn’t allow time for any weather-related delays (which are not uncommon).

Check out our Transportation Page to learn how to get to and from McCarthy. Check out our Lodging Page for lodging recommendations in the area.

If you are planning your trip +3 months before your trip start date, ask us about upgrading to a Trip Package! A Trip Package will include transportation, lodging, other activities, and any other logistics you need in addition to your backcountry trip. We specialize in activities and areas in or near Wrangell – St. Elias so we can put together an amazing itinerary for you, showcasing the best of this corner of Alaska!

If you’re looking to connect your time in the Wrangells with other adventures in Alaska you may consider adding a day of salmon fishing on the Copper River, driving to Nabesna on the North side of the Park for some epic hiking, flying to the remote town of Cordova for sea kayaking or driving to Valdez for some deep-sea fishing, whale watching, and other water activities!

*Mountaineering expeditions and ski trips work on a slightly different schedule and transportation to/from McCarthy as well as basic lodging at our historic bunkrooms is included in trip costs. The Copper River Rafting Trip has different logistics, starting in Chitina and ending in Cordova. The Chitina River Rafting Trip begins the same in McCarthy but ends in Chitina.

What’s the difference between a Group Trip and a Private Trip?

Most of our trips are offered in a Group or Private Trip format.

Group Trips are groups of 3 or more participants made up of individual travelers or smaller parties like couples who don’t know each other but are excited to adventure together! On a Group Trip, you’ll meet new people with similar interests and be able to spread the costs of the trip resulting in a lower per person rate. We need a minimum of 3 people to run a Group Trip and they max out at 8 participants. We can start a new Group Trip 4 months before the start date and if we don’t get at least 3 total participants, we will notify you a month in advance and decide together if we should cancel, reschedule, upgrade to a Private Trip or have you join another trip, if possible.

Private Trips are just your party and the guide(s). Private Trips are great for families, especially those with young children, close groups of friends or couples just wanting to spend time together, or those with special interests like photography or birding that you want to focus on during the trip. On a Private Trip, the entire experience is customized to your party and you don’t have to compromise to anyone else’s interests or abilities. Smaller groups tend to move quickly and see more too!

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