— Mt. Bona Expedition Itinerary —
Mt. Bona: East Ridge Route
Some facts about the mountain…….
Mt. Bona’s massif is covered almost entirely by icefields and glaciers. It is the principal source of ice for the Klutlan Glacier, which flows east for over 40 miles (64 km) into the Yukon Territory of Canada. The mountain also contributes a large volume of ice to the north-flowing Russell Glacier system.
Mt. Bona was named by Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi in 1897, who saw the peak while making the first ascent of Mt. St. Elias about 80 miles (130 km) to the southeast. He named it after the Bona, his racing yacht. The mountain was first climbed in 1930 by Allen Carpe’, Terris Moore, and Andrew Taylor, from the Russell Glacier on the west of the peak. The current standard route is the East Ridge; a climb of nearby Mt. Churchill is a relatively easy addition via this route as well
DAY 1- Your trip begins this morning in Anchorage, Alaska. One of our knowledgeable and friendly staff members will pick you up at your hotel and drive you and your gear to our headquarters in the tiny mountain town of McCarthy. Located in the magnificent Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, McCarthy offers the perfect jumping off point for Alaska trekking. Within minutes of leaving Anchorage, the scenery becomes impressive. On one side are the steep, snow-capped peaks of the Chugach, and on the other side, the tidal flats of Cook Inlet. Turning east, the Glenn Highway follows the Matanuska River valley where the long days of summer produce the famous sixty pound cabbages. As you approach Chickaloon Pass, the white ice of the mighty Matanuska Glacier fills the valley below.
On a clear day the magnificent Wrangell Mountains will be directly in front of you as you descend the pass. Mt. Drum stands out and looks the highest, because it is much closer. In reality it is the smallest of these large peaks at 12,010 feet (3,660 m). Mt. Sanford at 16,237 ft (4,949m) is on the left (north), and the huge dome of 14,163 ft (4,316m) Mt. Wrangell is to the right (south). Mt. Wrangell is the largest active volcano in the world. On a clear day, it is even possible to see the massive form of Mt. Blackburn in the distance. At 16,390 ft (4,995m) this spectacular peak is the tallest of the Wrangells, and only twenty five miles from McCarthy.
At Glennallen you follow the highway south towards Valdez. As you drive, keep your eyes peeled for glimpses of the famous Alaska Pipeline paralleling the highway to the right. Turning east at the Edgerton Cutoff, the Copper River Valley lies directly in front of you and you make your way to the tiny hamlet of Chitina and the beginning of the McCarthy Road. Originally the rail bed of the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad; the unpaved McCarthy Road snakes through thick spruce forests, along the edge of the Wrangell Mountains, as it winds its way to McCarthy. If you look closely, you can sometimes see the original rail pushed aside into the bushes along the road, and careless travelers have been known to get flat tires from century-old railroad spikes. Evidence of the engineering feats of the early inhabitants of this region can still be seen in the form of railroad trestles and bridges that still stand today. As the end of the road comes into view, the roaring Kennicott River slices the road like a knife, and a narrow footbridge is all that connects this side to the town of McCarthy. From the river, it’s just a short distance to McCarthy and the Mother Lode Powerhouse, the home of St. Elias Alpine Guides.
DAY 2- Mountaineering in Alaska has some unique challenges and every trip begins with an equipment check and detailed preparation. St. Elias Alpine Guides has a detailed equipment list, with various recommendations, coming from three decades of mountain climbing in Alaska. You and your guide discuss logistics, delving into specific expedition menus, their nutritional values, and how to package it all for the trip. You also discuss equipment in depth; what kind of tents, ropes, and sleeping bags are best and why. After lunch you and your guide grab ice axes, crampons, harnesses and ropes for a review of techniques and terminology. You end the day with a session of crevasse self rescue training. A rope, hung from the three-story ceiling of the Motherlode Powerhouse, is the perfect place to practice this. You put your harness on, tie in, and with the aid of ascenders, climb the rope just like you were climbing out of a crevasse!
DAY 3- In the morning, you and your guide drive up to the McCarthy airstrip to meet your bush pilot for the flight to Mt. Bona. With the aid of wheel skis, he sets you down at about 10,500 feet (3,200 m) on the snow-covered Klutlan Glacier. As the sound of the plane’s engines fades away and the silence returns, you are enveloped by the remote grandeur of the St. Elias Mountains. Out here, far from any other people, you and your guide are dependent on each other for safety and rescue. There are no “Park Rangers”, and you must always climb safely and prudently.
The first order of business is to set up base camp. You “dig in”, creating strong snow walls to protect your tents from inclement weather. Successful mountaineering in Alaska requires good decision making. An early decision you and your guide make is when to climb. You may want to change to a night schedule because the snow conditions are better in the coldest part of the day. Since it never truly gets dark in the early parts of the Alaska summer, night climbing is simple and hopefully the snow bridges over the glacier’s crevasses are much stronger and there is less avalanche danger in the midnight hours. So, after setting up camp you retire to your tents for some sleep.
DAY 4- Today you begin the important process of acclimatization. For the days ahead to be successful and enjoyable, it is essential to hydrate well, and take your time getting prepared to ascend higher. Acclimatizing today is particularly crucial because you landed at such a high altitude. You and your guide head out on skis or snowshoes, to a nearby ridge overlooking the University Range and the Chitina Glacier. After the short adventure, you return to base camp to discuss winter camping techniques and review your crevasse rescue skills. At times, the weather at the Mt. Bona base camp is deceiving. There is a small microclimate that often involves cloudy conditions and the illusion of incoming storms. At higher camps you’ll be able to more accurately judge the true weather conditions for summit day.
DAY 5- Good morning…..or is it good night? Today you’ll shoulder your packs and ski or snowshoe to 12,000 feet (3,657 m). If you’re skiing it helps to be comfortable skiing while wearing a heavy pack. Upon reaching Camp 2, you once again dig in and set up camp. From this location, the views across to the immense massif of 14,831 ft (4,520 m) Mt. Bear are expansive.
DAY 6- Today/tonight is another acclimatization day and one to practice some more mountaineering skills. You grab your gear and hike to a steep snowfield to go over the essentials of snow climbing. Your guide discusses the differences between snow, ice and rock climbing, and the special techniques needed on snow for belaying and anchoring. You go over the placing of anchors—snow flukes and pickets. Everyone will get the chance to “fall” on their own anchor placement and get hands on experience with good and bad placements. Ice axe arrest is a vital skill while climbing and proper technique is essential. “On the job training” will be the focus, and everyone will take a turn “falling” in all different ways to prepare for the real thing.
DAY 7-DAY 8- You move camp to 14,000 feet (4,267 m) and establish Camp 3. This airy site sits below the plateau between 16,421-foot (5,005 m) Mt. Bona and 15,638 foot (4,766 m) Mt. Churchill. From camp your view encompasses the entire southeastern portion of the Wrangell St. Elias National Park; 19,850-foot (6,050 m) Mt. Logan, 18,008-foot (5,488 m) Mt. St. Elias, as well as, Mt. Lucania, Mt. Steele, and King Peak, in Kluane National Park, Canada. Far south, towards the coast, are innumerable, unnamed and unclimbed peaks spreading west from St. Elias, into the countless ranges of the Chugach. From this height you are able to get a much better preview of the weather you can expect for the upcoming summit days.
DAY 9- DAY 10- Ascending above Camp 3, you cross Mt. Bona’s broad plateau. You cache your skis or snowshoes and strap on crampons for the climb to the summit. The snow conditions are usually hard, windblown neve. The summit ridge is the steepest and most technical part of the climb with an angle of 40 degrees or more, but there is no vertical climbing on this route. During this part of the ascent, you and your guide negotiate crevasses, practicing route finding techniques from earlier in the climb. There are two false summits en route to the final pinnacle. The wind can be severe at this elevation as you make your way along the exposed summit ridge.
It is important to be prepared with the proper clothing and by stopping periodically to hydrate and make sure you’re feeling OK. In this final push, you’ll not only put your equipment to the test, but your physical and mental strength as well! Finally the summit…and a 360 degree view of the immense Wrangell Mountains to the west, the frozen Ice field Ranges to the east, the symmetry of the St. Elias Range to the southeast and the unexplored Chugach Range to the southwest. It is the view of a lifetime! If weather conditions and desire allow, you and you guide may decide to make a bid for the summit of 15,638-foot (4,766 m) Mt. Churchill or spend some time skiing on one of the mountain’s slopes.
DAY 11- Still reveling in your success from the day before, you descend to base camp. Following your ascent route, you’re surprised at how much quicker things go on the way down! A quick descent is important, though, to avoid getting caught high on the mountain by bad weather. Once back in camp, you dig in, relax, and wait for the bush plane. By this time, you and your guide are partners, sharing in camp duties, and working together efficiently. You enjoy the freedom to relax a bit and let the wonder of this pristine mountain wilderness surround you.
DAY 12- You awake today feeling refreshed and satisfied with a great climb. You and your guide enjoy breakfast and then sort out your gear in preparation for the flight back to McCarthy. After several false alarms, the sound of the plane’s engines becomes distinct and soon enough it’s landing in a cloud of snow. Grinning, your pilot asks how the trip went….but he already knows; the smiles on your faces have betrayed you. You return to McCarthy, a hot meal, and well-deserved soak in our wood-fired sauna. Life is good!
DAY 13- Waving goodbye to your new found friends in McCarthy, you head back to Anchorage. Though this trip is over, you’re wheels are already turning, planning your next visit to McCarthy. Don’t worry….we understand. This evening, we’ll drop you off at your hotel in Anchorage and wave goodbye for now.
- Guiding and instruction from skilled professionals. Our guides have extensive experience, as well as medical, rescue, and avalanche training.
- Round trip transportation between Anchorage and McCarthy.
- Ski plane flights to and from the mountain range.
- Delicious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners while in the mountains.
- Group equipment: stoves, tents, ropes, fuel, etc.
What you’re responsible for:
- Personal gear – check the gear list for this trip for a complete description.
- Lodging for the nights before and after your trip (see below).
- Food while not on the mountain.
- Guide gratuity – Please let us know if you have any questions about this.
If you would like us to arrange your transportation to/from McCarthy/Kennecott and/or lodging while in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, we offer this as a free service to our multi-day clients. Please email or give us a call to discuss the details.
“A fantastic experience — wild Alaska at its best!”
Click on the markers below to view important points along your trip. Check out that zoom feature!