Point to point this isn’t a long hike. The magic lies in the side trips. An afternoon at Hole in the Wall or heading north toward the Nizina and Frederica glaciers and the view towards Mt Regal.
The hike south toward Chitistone Pass is varied. We traverse a boulder field, some sidehill, and climb high up Chitistone Pass. We don’t have to deal with much brush up in this area, so there’s no real bushwhacking to speak of. Woo hooooooo!
The Goat Trail is a series of steep scree-covered ravines each with (at least) one small sheep or goat trail winding across the scree. It’s steep with a degree of exposure. Not for the meek. Intimidating yet also very doable.
We’ll take our time and mosey across.
Heading to/from Wolverine instead of taking the traditional route down to Chitistone River and Glacier Creek allows us to avoid the bushwhacking and river crossings involved in that route. I like to stay up high, traverse around behind “The Fin” (the backside of Hole in the Wall) and enjoy the subalpine terrain.
This is a good area to spot the slopes and ridges for Dall sheep.
Soon enough we wind our way out on the ridge known as “Wolverine”, make camp and await our bush flight back to McCarthy.
This hike works well either direction. Skolai -> Wolverine or Wolverine -> Skolai.
Extensions and Options
Flexibility is just one reason I love this hike. I’ve walked Skolai to Wolverine in two days and I’ve done it in ten days. Point to point is great but why limit yourself to that? Spend at least a few extra days en route seeing some of gems along the way.
There are a number of great options for adding a side hike here and there. We can also extend the route via a more circuitous loop around the north side of Wolverine Butte.
There are at least four good days of dayhiking that can be added to this trip without you ever feeling like you’re walking over the same ground twice. And all of them lead you to more hikes, more adventure and more views.
For the lovers of tradition (and river crossings) you can take the historic route across the Goat Trail and on down Chitistone River to Glacier Creek as well.
For packrafters you can drop down to Doubtful Creek and packraft the Nizina River all the way back to McCarthy. Or drop down to the Chitistone and paddle that river to the Nizina and on to McCarthy.
The packraft options are for intermediate to experienced paddlers. My recommendation is to hike Doubtful Creek down to Nizina River and begin packrafting.
Not a paddler, but want to start?
That’s fine. We can spend a day on Nizina Lake, practicing the rudiments of paddling and packrafting safety, walk the burlier whitewater of the Upper Nizina River and paddle the relatively easy stretches of the lower river, past Mile High Cliffs. Our air taxi ride is a short flight back to McCarthy.
Typically we will have packrafts flown in to Doubtful Creek so we’re not carrying our whitewater gear and boats along the hike. Makes life MUCH easier on the trek. See the packrafting trips section for more information.
Who's This trip For?
One more reason I love the Goat Trail. It’s a great hike for just about anyone. For the novice hiker we can take it easy. Do shorter days and have a layover day or two along the trip. More experienced backpackers might go a little harder, venture a little further, and cover more miles in less time.
That’s not to say it’s an easy hike. The Goat Trail comes with it’s share of challenges. And if you’ve never backpacked before you’ll find just hiking all day with 40 pounds on your back to be a bit of a project for sure.
I generally recommend this trip for folks somewhere ‘in the middle’. Have some backpacking experience, be in relatively decent shape, and willing to carry your pack 5-6 mile a day. Expect some hard days and some easy days. Don’t expect it to be like anything you’ve ever done before.
The terrain is generally manageable. There is no bushwhacking, very few sections of boulders or moraine to traverse and the sidehilling is kept to a minimum. Much of the hike we take a somewhat followable small game trail. This also helps minimize adversity.
The Goat Trail is a series of steep, scree-covered ravines that we traverse as we hike down Chitistone Canyon. There is some exposure. They’re also not as sketchy as they sound.
The scree stopes of the Goat Trail do have an intimidating degree of exposure. Take it easy, follow your guide, and it’s really not as hairy as you think it will be. Just remember to lean in toward the hillside. You’ll be fine.
An Easier Option?
Wanna see Skolai Pass and not deal with The Goat Trail? The Goat Trail sounds a little more than you care to bite off? Let’s have a chat about a basecamp trip at Skolai.
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This region offers some of the finest landscape photography anywhere and is also home to a rich diversity of wildlife. Bring your binoculars or telephoto lenses and scan the open tundra for grizzly bear, caribou, wolf and Dall sheep, migratory shore birds, ptarmigan, ground squirrels and red fox. Golden eagles are frequently seen here too.
The landscape options here are astonishing. The view up the Russell Glacier to Mt Bona and Mt. Churchill is simply unparalleled.
Enjoy the afternoon quietly soaking up the peaceful solitude of these mountains, or play a game of alpine frisbee with your guides on the open tundra.
The Skolai to Wolverine backpacking trip in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is also one of our most exciting. Like all the trips we run, the itinerary is somewhat fluid. Weather, hiker experience and many other factors determine the actual trip. But to give the web visitor a basic outline of how this trip might typically unfold, here’s a detailed look at a Skolai to Wolverine route: for simplicity sake, I’ll assume the trip dates are Aug 1 – Aug 8.
Realize everything here is simply an example. I’ve actually completed this trip in 2 days, and I’ve also spent 10 days doing this route. I feel a 9 day trip is about perfect for this route – this gives you 6 complete days in the backcountry. The route here is described one day shorter. I like to use the extra day to explore the area just west and north of Wolverine Butte, some really interesting hiking up in there.
Trip participants should arrive in Anchorage no later than the evening before our schedule trip departure date. For our example, the Trip would require all participants arrive in Anchorage sometime on July 31. I highly recommend you try to arrive even a day earlier is at all possible, to allow for flight delays resulting from weather. Expeditions Alaska does not provide, but can recommend, accommodation in Anchorage.
Your guide will pick you up, from your accommodations in Anchorage first thing in the morning. The exact time will depend on how many people are on the trip, where everyone is staying, etc. Typically it will be somewhere around 8am, Alaska time (4 hours behind EST).
We’ll spend the day traveling to McCarthy, Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. The drive typically takes about 8 hours, depending on stops, etc. We pass along the northern edge of the spectacular Chugach Mountains, following the Matanuska Valley, the open taiga forest of the Glenallen area. For lunch, we try to stop at the Golden Spruce Cabins, near Kenny Lake. The remaining leg of the drive is slow on the McCarthy Road, a 60 mile gravel road along what used to be the Rail Line in to McCarthy from Chitina. We should get some great views of the Copper and the Chitina River at the start of this leg. if the weather is favorable, we will also get great views of Mount Blackburn, Mount Wrangell, Mount Drum and Mount Sanford as pass by.
The final leg of the trip is through the boreal spruce forest of the Wrangell – St. Elias National Park’s lower elevations, before arriving at McCarthy. We don’t actually arrive at McCarthy, rather we arrive close to McCarthy. The road for public traffic ends at the footbridge over the Kennecott River, about 1/2 mile from McCarthy. We’ll either camp by the river, or we can stay in the rustic Kennicott River Cabins about 100 yards back up the road. For dinner we have several options in McCarthy, such as the Golden Saloon, or the Glacier Creek Campground BBQ. For a look at images from the backcountry section of the trip, be sure to look at the slide shows from both the Wolverine and the Skolai trip pages.
The following morning we’ll need an early start. Pack up gear, shuttle it over the footbridge and into McCarthy, eat breakfast Ma Johnson lodge, and then walk over the road to Wrangell Mountain Air. At approx 9:30am we take a short flight (about 30 minutes) with them up to the Skolai Pass landing strip. After unloading people and gear (depending on the size of the group, and weather conditions, it may require two, or even three flights – usually we do it in one) we’ll backpack up to a plateau just above the landing strip, providing a perfect campsite on the sot tundra, with spectacular views of the University Range to the south and the Frederika Glacier and Mt Frederika to the North. After setting up camp, we’ll grab a bite for lunch, then day hike up to Hole in the Wall. This hike can take 2-3 hours or as many as 5 or 6. It simply depends on how far everyone wants to hike. Afterwards we’ll walk back to camp, have dinner, and enjoy the long Alaska Summer twilight.
Nw we really get our feet wet. We’ll have breakfast, then break camp and head south towards Chittistone Pass. We’ll walk over a small moraine, cross a few very small creeks, and then clamber up a steep ridge to our next campsite. The hike takes, usually, anywhere from 3 -5 hours. Again, we’ll end up on a high open plateau, where we can find some tentsites (we try to not use precisely the same campsites each trip, in order to not damage the fragile tundra), set up camp, and explore the surroundings a bit. There are lots of nearby glaciers and icefield we can look at, as well as look for caribou, Dall sheep, marmots, golden eagles, red fox, maybe even see a grizzly bear or 2.
We can spend this day hiking and exploring the Chittistone Pass area, dayhiking south to the Russell Glacier, with great views of Mt Bona and Mt Churchill (15 and 16 thousand foot peaks) and the University Range. For the adventurous, we can clamber down off the ridge and get up close and personal with the Russell Glacier. It’s heavily crevassed, so we won’t want to venture too far out in it, but it’s a real treat to see so closely such an impressive glacier. This day will involve one small but fast creek to cross – depending on water levels we may be able to rockhop it, but more likely we’ll throw on some sandals and step on it. trust me, it’ll be cold.
We’ll break camp again and head west over Chittistone Pass, and down the Chittistone Valley. This is a longer walk, and you’ll appreciate the day spent yesterday without a heavy backpack on. It’s mostly descending, and the terrain is mostly hiker-friendly, with just a few rocky stretches. This is the day we’ll cross the Goat Trail – a series of steep scree slopes that require some concentration. Having hiked the Goat Trail numerous times (I crossed it 5 times just during the 2006 season), I can assure you it’s not as hard as it looks. The main thing is knowing the right trail to take over the final ravine. Many people take the lower route, which is deceptively hard. After we cross, we’ll camp up high on the tundra where we should have exceptional views up and down the Chittistone Valley.
The final day is probably the hardest. We’ll hike up the creek towards the north, ascending up on a broad sweeping plateau that is actually around the backside of Hole in the Wall. Then we descend and cross Hansen creek, before ascending back up the side of Wolverine Butte to pick up another Dall Sheep Trail, cross a steep little scree slope, then round the ridge to see our final destination – Wolverine Landing Strip laid out on the tundra below us. We camp near the strip, and enjoy the evening looking over the Chittistone Valley, where, weather permitting, we’ll have a view all the way back up the Valley to Chittistone Pass. We usually see mountain goats and Dall sheep in the area, and have seen black and grizzly bear, wolverine, foxes, marmots, arctic ground squirrels, weasel, golden eagle, ravens and more.
We’ll get an early pickup here. The landing strip sits on a broad open ridge at 5500′, and often gets windy later in the day. So we’ll fly back to McCarthy, enjoy a hot breakfast at the Lodge, grab a shower, and spend the afternoon either lazing around McCarthy, or we can shuttle up to Kennecott, where we can hike up to the old abandoned mines, or hike out to the Root Glacier and do some glacier walking. We can have lunch at the Kennecott Lodge or bring it with us. In the evening we’ll return to McCarthy, have dinner, and again either camp on the river or stay at Kennecott River Cabins.
We’ll get up early, have breakfast in McCarthy, then hit the road for the drive back to Anchorage. Typically we get back to Anchorage around 5 or 6 pm. I’ll drop you and you/r party off at your Anchorage accommodation. I highly suggest you don’t plan on flying out of Anchorage that evening, but wait until the following day – we CAN experience weather-delays in the backcountry that could easily make it difficult to get back to Anchorage in time for a flight on this day. If you must book your return flight on this day, please (a) speak with us about it well in advance, and (b) schedule a red eye, such as 1:00am the following morning (Aug 9, 1:00am, for our example here).
Where Are We?
What Gear Do I Need?
Standard backpacking gear. See our check list here. you’ll receive a comprehensive Trip Info Packet upon reservation with all the details you might want about equipment and more.
Hiking poles strongly recommended (included in trip price if you need them). A sturdy lightweight tent is advised, wind is often a factor when camping in subalpine and alpine areas. Tents are available for rent upon reservation (see outfitting in Backpacking FAQs).
How about bugs?
By Alaska standards, I rate this trip maybe 2-3 out of 5 for mosquitoes. Really not too bad at all. Skolai-Wolverine seems to be high enough that the bugs aren’t bad.
Yes you’ll likely see some mosquitoes. No, they’re not heinous like they can be in some areas of the Alaskan backcountry.
How much hiking experience do I need to take this trip?
That’s up to you. The more the better, for sure, but we’ve had complete novices do this trip and they were fine.
The terrain isn’t terribly difficult, though that will vary enormously person to person. There’s a huge difference between a 55 year old hiker and a 22 year old hiker.
How far are we hiking each day?
Most days come in around 5 miles or so. Don’t let that be a measure for you on the difficulty though. A mile in Alaska can be far more challenging that a mile on a nice maintained trail in the Lower 48.
What wildlife will most likely see?
Grizzly bears, caribou, fox, Dall sheep, marmots and Arctic ground Squirrel are the most common. We’ve also seen wolf and mountain goat.
There are also quite a few species of a birds come through the area. Shorebirds like Semipalmated Plover and Wandering Tattler, as well as species of gull and ducks.
Willow ptarmigan are common in the area. Golden eagle visit the area and Merlin do as well.
What’s A Fully Outfitted Trip Involve?
That is trip dependent.
For backpacking trips, a fully outfitted option includes your tent (one or two person tent), stove, all your kitchenware, food and cooking by Expeditions Alaska. A typical trip, up to ten days long, costs an additional $250.00 per person for the fully outfitted option.
Available “á la carte” options are (per person)
For personal items such as a backpack, or sleeping pad, talk to me prior to your trip and we’ll see what we can arrange. If you need a pack I recommend you rent a backpack from a reputable local outfitter. They can find and fit a pack to you rather than “making do” with one of mine that may or may not be a good fit for you.
Items such as BRFC, bear spray, stove, fuel, hiking poles are included gratis with Expeditions Alaska trips. See What’s Included? for more info.
Is there a basecamp option available?
There certainly is.
Avoid the hassles of crying a heavy backpack. Travel to McCarthy, overnight, fly in to the backcountry, camp and explore the area via day hikes and packrafts (* option on some trips), fly back to McCarthy, overnight and return travel to Anchorage. Fully-outfitted or do it yourself. These trips are extremely flexible, wonderfully fun and a whole lot easier on your body than backpacking trip is.
Looking for something “in-the-middle”? Sure, we can do that too. Fly in and out of the same location, and make a smaller backpacking loop or out and back, combining a few days camping and a few days of backpacking. Contact me via email or call 1-770-952-4549 and we’ll set it up.
What’s Included – MXY trips?
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, stoves, 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. Trip insurance is not included but I urge you to purchase it on your own.
For a full outline of What’s included/not included, please see this page
I Have More Questions
I know you do. I do as well.
I recommend starting with the General Trip FAQ page
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.
We travel from Anchorage to McCarthy, overnight in McCarthy and then fly in to the backcountry. A week in the Skolai Pass area and we fly back to McCarthy, show and eat, and then enjoy the afternoon relaxing in the slow-paced rustic town of McCarthy, or venture up to Kennicott and look at the historic copper mine Mill buildings and leftovers of this ghost town. We spend the night in McCarthy, and travel back to Anchorage on the final day.
This trip can be a 4-5 day backpack from “Point to Point”, directly hiking from Skolai Pass over the Goat Trail to Wolverine, or can include various dayhikes and explorations along the way (recommended) and easily stretched into a 7-10 day trip. A typical duration for this trip is 7 days, allowing time for side hikes and explorations up the Russell Glacier, Mount Baldwin and Hole in the Wall and Wolverine ridge.