In one of our guides’ favorite traditions, the 2016 pre-season trip saw twelve returners tackle a mountain climbing expedition up Mt. Bona, the fourth highest peak in the United States. Mt. Bona, which the Duke of the Abruzzi legendarily named after his favorite yacht, sits in the Saint Elias Range at 16,421ft. Bona is blanketed in snow and glaciers, and its elevation makes it an ideal peak for honing mountaineering skills all season long. One of the more remote Alaska high peaks, the guides at St. Elias Alpine Guides thought it would be the perfect challenge to tackle before officially opening for the 2016 season.
On Day 1, two trips in a ski plane transported the crew out to a plateau at 9,500’, and the guides roped up in teams of skiers, splitboarders and snowshoers before descending down towards the Klutlan Glacier and then back up towards basecamp at 10,000’. Dragging sleds, they carried food and fuel and equipment to spend 2 weeks on the mountain. The next day, the crew divided as some carried six days worth of food up to cache at Camp 1 (12,200’) while others remained at basecamp, generating water with snow and trash bags, and perfecting a five foot deep snow kitchen, complete with hobbit hole. On Day 3, the group ascended past a tremendous ice fall up to Camp 1, and then on Day 4 traveled the remaining distance to High Camp, at 14,500’. High Camp was nestled in a valley between Mt. Bona and Mt. Churchill (15,636’), as well as a smaller peak the guides affectionately call Lil’ Bona.
Over the next three days at High Camp, battling intermittent white outs and mild altitude sickness, seven guides summited Mt. Bona unroped, four skied to the top of Mt. Churchill and three jaunted up to Lil’ Bona. On Day 8, one rope team set off down towards basecamp while two others took advantage of the great weather that morning to summit Bona and Lil’ Bona, respectively, before hauling themselves down to basecamp. This last Bona summit is the only one that produced any good pictures, so we’re all glad they decided to do it, even though it doubled their vertical travel to 8,000’ in one day. A blizzard kept the crew in basecamp for most of Day 9, but they took advantage of a brief sunny window that evening to pack up camp and hustle back to where the plane had dropped them off the week before.
Continuing stormy weather on Day 10 gave everyone a chance to finish the books they’d packed, play card games (Scott was the clear winner), and rest their tired legs. The clouds cleared way on Day 11, allowing for a rousing game of “Snow Bocce Ball”, and giving the pilot a chance to swoop in and bring the distinctly stinkier guides back to McCarthy. Thankfully, now, everyone has had a chance to sauna and reacclimate, and is excited to bring the same sense of adventure to everyone visiting Wrangell-St. Elias! If you haven’t made your summer vacation plans yet, don’t hesitate to give us a call for the adventure of a lifetime!