Exploratory Routes

Grab your boots and let's get out there.

  • Routes I have not completed or attempted
  • Great for experienced backpackers
  • Flexible trip length
  • More flexibility in route finding
  • Greater adventure
  • Small, customized photo only group.

A backcountry trip we’ve never guided before. Experienced Adventurers Only.

Each season I try to lead at least one exploratory trip. Some years I might do a couple of treks, or one trek and one photo tour, etc. For 2017 I’m tentatively planning 1 exploratory trek. A loop around Thompson Ridge near Ross Green Lake and Bagley Icefield, in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park’s southern coastal area. Details are below. Also, a bit about exploratory trips.

Thompson Ridge Route

I’ve spent a week or so in this area before, dayhiking and basecamping, photographing, but never traversed around to the south side of Thompson Ridge from Ross Green Lake and along the edges of Bagley Icefield.

What might we encounter?

Glacier travel. Glacier camping. Views of Mt. St. Elias and the Saint Elias Range, Bagley Icefield, Tana Glacier. River crossing, some bushwhacking.

Where is this trek?

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve.

Do we need special gear?

Crampons, extra or insulated sleeping pad. Extra layer of warm clothing for glacier camping. Extra guy lines to tie out your tent (stakes don’t workon ice).

Expeditions Alaska provides glacial travel safety gear such as rope, ice screws, etc. If you need crampons provided, let me know. If we decide to packraft, Expeditions Alaska will provide packrafting gear.

How tough is this trek?

You’ll definitely need to be in good shape, with some reasonably backcountry experience. You don’t need to be a mountaineer. just an experienced backpacker.

Proposed Route

Fly in to the landing strip near Ross Green Lake, hike west to the edge of Tana Glacier, sticking close to the ridge, loop around to the southside of Thompson Ridge, and follow east. Drop south across the glacier to Juniper Island and explore this massive nunatuk.

Hike back to Thompson Ridge, heading east along the ridge. Drop through a hanging glacier to the north back to 12 Mile Creek. Potentially packraft down the creek, portaging the nastier falls and rapids, back to Ross Green Lake.

How long will this trek take?

I like to allow a little longer for exploratory treks than needed, giving us time to scope different side trip possibilities out, as well as scout out the options for specific routes through valleys and passes, etc. We also need a little extra time to cushion against the unforeseen and unexpected. This is probably a 5 day hike, but I think 8-10 days gives ut a good amount of time to explore Juniper Island and really cover the route well.

General FAQs

  • I generally don’t like the idea of a guide taking people on a trip the guide hasn’t done before. Certainly most every guide I know of has more than enough alpine experience and backcountry skillset to manage just fine, I think part of the understanding of what a “guide” is involves the guide having some experience in the area and experience with the route before.

    I also enjoy the excitement that comes with trekking through an area for the first time. The excitement and the “not knowing” are unique to that experience. It’s a great way for me to stay connected to that same feeling and sense that most clients experience on their trip. It’s easy to forget how that feels when I guide a route I may have done more than a dozen times, yet the client has never been anywhere close to. An exploratory trip keeps me in touch with what that feels like, with what you’re experiencing on your trip.

    Exploratory trips are also a great opportunity for people to come on out and experience a real adventure of route-finding and navgiating and be somewhat more involved in the decision-making process along the way. It’s a good way for people to effectively do their ‘own hike‘ a little bit, with the added benefit of having an experienced guide and Alaskan backcountry traveler along for those bigger moments.

  • Well, like always, it depends on the specific trip, who else is on it, and so on. In general, I think it works well for return clients, and/or people with at least a solid backcountry experience already. You’ll need to be in good shape, a little more self-sufficient maybe than for most other guided trips, and have a spirit of adventure. It’s definitely a different experience finding our way through the mountains than having me (or anyone) guide you on a route I’m familiar with.

    Some exploratory treks are very difficult and challenging, and suitable for experienced hikers only. Others are milder. I’ll do the research and get the beta on the route and be very clear what kind of level of experience is required.

  • An exploratory trip is simply a route I haven’t done before, or have only done part of. Some of the hikes are extensions of other treks I’ve done, and some of the routes are just ideas I have for a good trip from studying maps, aerial flights, and photos, talking with other folks who’ve done routes, or whatever.

    They are not, typically, a trek that no one has done before. Most often someone has done the route before, in one form or another. But sometimes we end up taking a particular valley or pass or specific section that may well have not had backpackers trek it before.

  • All multi-day trips (backpacking, basecamping, packrafting, photo tours) out of McCarthy include transport to/from Anchorage/McCarthy, 2 nights accommodations in McCarthy, air taxi flights McCarthy/The Backcountry, group gear such as cook tents, fuel, BRFCs, bear spray, etc. Hiking poles are included if you don’t have your own.

    We include a satellite phone for emergencies and one backup emergency contact device, such as PLB or Garmin InReach. First aid kits, map and compass included. All guides are Wilderness First Responder Certified.

    Storage of your overnight travel gear is limited but available (keep it small).

    Outfitting of equipment such as tents is available. Expeditions Alaska can either fully outfit your trip (all food, tents, etc) or adjust things a la carte if needed.

    Guide gratuities are not included but most appreciated.

    We do NOT cover the cost of your travel meals, such as meals along the road to/from McCarthy, or in McCarthy pre/post your backpacking trip.

    Trip insurance is not included. I strongly urge you to purchase it on your own. Our recommendation is Travelex.

    For a full outline of What’s included/not included, please see this page.

  • I know you do. I do as well.

    I recommend starting with the General Trip FAQ page

    More questions? Email me or call me  and we’ll go through them.

    Upon your reservation I’ll also send out a comprehensive trip information packet that covers just about everything and more you might imagine about your trip.

A deep blue tarn, or lake, on Tana Glacier, near Thompson Ridge, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska.


Route finding is always a tough gig on glaciers. Even glaciers we’ve hiked a lot. They’re so dynamic, they can change drastically within a summer. Year to year it’s somewhat remarkable how much they might change.

The Tana Glacier has broken up quite a bit near the toe and it can be difficult to find  good route. Patience is your number one required skill set here.

The packrafting option means carrying a heavy load. Packrafts and whitewater boating gear, plus crampons, and a decent glacier camping setup. It’s heavy.

The packrafting is for advanced, experienced boaters only.

Where Are We

Expeditions Alaska
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