Sanford River Valley - Wrangell / St. Elias National Park

In mid-July, 2011, I spent three nights and four days backpacking in the Sanford River valley in Wrangell / St. Elias National Park in Alaska. I got a bush flight in and was picked up at the end of the trip.

Driving out on the Glenn Highway, you go by the Matanuska Glacier

As I got closer, Mts Sanford, Drum, and Wrangell were visible in the clear skies

In the town of Glennallen at the edge of the park, Mt Drum towers

The flight takes about 25 minutes from the Gulkana airport. Here are some shots I got from the airplane.

First, the Copper River

you fly over 30 miles of open forest and bogs, including many ponds like these

We saw these moose in another pond near the Sanford River. We saw Grizzlies as well.

Mt. Sanford towers over the Sanford River

The landing strip is just a rough stretch of rocky ground

The plane drops me off and then leaves me to my devices

My main goal was to walk downvalley and try to hike up to a plateau to the north to a lake. There are no trails here, so I have no idea if the route is possible. Initially the hiking is fairly easy. I did have to wade across this creek, a tributary to the Sanford River.

Immediately after that the growth got much thicker and led to some very slow bushwhacking

I opted to switch to the river gravel bar - a less direct route, but easier walking

Looking up at Nathalie Mountain

Eventually I decided that the bushwhacking would be too extreme for me - it would require a couple miles of intense bushwhacking in bear country. So I made camp at the next tributary. In Alaska, you camp at least 100 yards from where you cook or eat, to keep food smells away from your tent. Here was my cooking spot on a nice promontory of yellow tundra.

In the evening I walked out onto some rocks in the Sanford River

Continue to Sanford River hike, Part 2