On days off, SEAG guides often like to explore the area around McCarthy, whether it’s summiting peaks, packrafting rivers, or exploring the intricate features of the glaciers. Last summer, fellow guide Cody
and I decided to traverse the ridgeline of Fireweed Mountain in one day, packrafting back to the McCarthy road, and hitchhiking back into town. To our knowledge it was a route that had never been done before.
After mapping it out and analyzing the route, we decided it was do-able in one long day (with an early 4:30am start). Besides two bushwhacking sections, we’d be able to move quickly over the rest of the alpine terrain, for a fun-packed mileage-filled day off from work. We might’ve miscalculated a bit…
In true Wrangell Mountains style, the trip was full of surprises. The bushwacking sections were mild by Alaska standards (due to some great moose trails we were able to follow), but the ridgeline sections were slow and technical. VERY slow and technical. What we thought would be a casual ridge-run actually involved steep sidehilling over loose rock, lots of elevation gain and loss, and very limited access to drinking water. After taking 9 hours to traverse 5 miles of ridgeline, Cody and I reassessed our plan, and decided that a two day trip was more appropriate. Unfortunately, it was 7pm when we came to this realization, and the quickest way home was to keep moving forward.
So we bagged the summit of Fireweed Mountain (keep your eye on the prize!), and then dropped off the ridgeline by a mixture of “scree-skiing” and meticulous downclimbing. Back down in the valley, we found a flat spot next to a bubbling creek, rehydrated, and burrito-wrapped ourselves up in our packrafts and PFDs for a few hours of shut-eye. Waking up shivering at 3am, we broke camp, laced up our boots, and were back on foot again, following moose trails down to the Lakina River.
We reached the river mid-morning and inflated our packrafts amidst an audience of hungry mosquitoes. Enjoying splashy Class II rapids, we paddled the tree-lined river, enjoying the thrill of packrafting new waters (and happy to use these boats we carried the whole way). There was no better sight to see, than the McCarthy Road bridge and 3 SEAG interns with a Suburban, who had camped out all night waiting for us at the finish line. What a day (or two)!
So what did we learn from this trip? If you seek adventure in the Wrangell Mountains, you’re sure to find it. And that’s what makes this place so special to us and our fellow adventurers.