What Are We Looking At?
The glacier is formed by the intense weather that brings massive snow falls to the St. Elias Range. The force of all that ice together is enough to force the glacier to actually flow uphill across the coastal foreland, to its confluence with the ocean (contrary to most reports, the glacier DOES terminate at the ocean) . The glacier is actually a compound glacier formed by the merging of 2 glaciers. The Agassiz to the west and the Seward to the east. East to west the Malaspina Glacier is about 40 miles wide at its widest point and not quite 30 miles “long” north to south, from its mountain beginnings to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
The Saint Elias Range lies on the coast of western Canada (the Yukon Territories and British Columbia) and southeastern Alaska. Urgent tectonic forces have resulted in major uplift here and the mountains are among the world’s greatest. The highest coastal mountain range in the world, the St. Elias mountains are home to both Mt. Logan (19,551′) and Mt. St. Elias (18,008′). With clear skies we’ll have view of both these peaks, as well as other peaks in the 13-15 000′ range. They’re an impressive backdrop for any outdoor adventure. At times we’ll be within a stone’s throw of Mt. St. Elias. It sits less less than 10 miles away.
Malaspina Trip Video
We’ll begin the route north of the glacier in the Samovar Hills.* A few days of basecamping and dayhiking to explore the mountains here and find ourselves the best vantage point to view nearby Mt. St. Elias from. You’re less than 10 miles away rises the 2nd highest mountain in the country. A grand view.
From there we’ll hike south on to the Malaspina Glacier. Depending on weather and conditions we’ll aim to spend 3-4 nights on the ice, hiking and exploring this amazing glacier. We’ll carry crampons or ice stabilizers for the ice. Although much of the ice is fine to hike without them they’re useful on some stretches.
Once we reach the southern edge of the ice we’ll use packrafts to float the glacial outlet river to the beach. A short and easy paddle, these little boats have really changed the way we travel in the backcountry. They’re amazing. Avoid the bushwhacks and scrambles and harder hiking and float the river. Camp on the beach and then we follow the shoreline and forest east a few days toward our pickup spot. The packrafts are invaluable again for crossing the few rivers and streams we’ll encounter on the way here.
(* – As with all Alaska backcountry trips, weather conditions affect the decisions we make. All the best laid plans fall by the wayside with major changes in the weather. It’s possible that even as late as August and September we may not be able to fly in to the Samovar Hills due to snow on the ground, etc. In that case we’ll take an alternate landing spot and route on to and across the glacier.)
How can a glacier traverse include NEGATIVE elevation?
Malaspina Glacier actually sits in something of a bowl. Essentially, it’s a big frozen lake. And yes, as we hike towards to coast, you’ll be gaining elevation at times. Pretty nifty.
The curving looping lines of the lateral and medial moraines on Malaspina Glacier are a result of the surging, lurching movement of the glacier over the years. The moraines at the edges become folded, compressed, and sheared to form the characteristic loops seen on Malaspina.
Who's This Trip For?
Not for the faint hearted. It’s not an easy hike, though much of it is not difficult. Some stretches are a little tougher though, with glacial moraine a main challenge. Walking over piles of rocks is very different to walking on groomed trails. Similarly, camping on ice requires a different set of skills and some gear changes (see below). Pack weights will be higher than normal. Also we’ll be doing some packrafting, which means some level of comfortability around water is requisite. Although it’s easy paddling, if you’ve no paddling experience at all this trip might be out of your comfort level.
For people who are comfortable in the backcountry, enjoy huge views, diverse and variable terrains, extreme solitude, and a challenge, this trip is ideal.
For most people this trip involves gear you’re not used to using. Crampons or ice stabilizers, 2 sleeping pads (one hard cell pad like a Z rest and another inflatable pad. Or a thicker insulated winter pad like the offerings by Exped. I recommend the Winterlite or the Downmat 9 for extra comfort), packrafts, etc. That means you’ll have to be comfortable carrying a little more gear than you might be used to.
Expeditions Alaska will provide packrafts and paddling equipment as well as glacier safety gear (ropes, ice screws, etc). You’ll also need a pair of crampons or ice stabilizers (see Kahtoola Micro Spikes). These items are available as rentals if you need. I’d also recommend a little extra warm clothing for the few days we’ll spend on the glacier. All that ice gets cold!
Lastly, because we’ll be camping on the ice quite a bit, an alternative to tent stakes is required. A handful of guylines for your tent, long enough to tie it off to good-sized rocks, is the way to go.
I provide you with a detailed comprehensive gear check list upon reservation.
We’ll depart via plane in the morning from Yakutat **, and fly directly in to the backcountry via a chartered air taxi. You’ll need to have everything packed and ready for the backcountry when you arrive in Yakutat, do not plan on getting any last minute items in Yakutat, especially if you fly in that morning. Then we hit the backcountry, where we spend the next 8-12 nights exploring and hiking an incredible mix of geologic and ecological landscapes.
We start in the subalpine country of the Samovar Hills, above treeline, and scramble around the surrounding peaks to get an overview of the landscape, killer views of Mt. St. Elias and the Saint Elias mountain range, and look for wildlife; bears are reasonably common here. We go from the subalpine, across the glacier, on to the beach and walk along the sand and rocky shores of the Pacific Ocean, as well as hiking through stretches of the lush temperate coastal spruce forest, with massive Sitka Spruce trees towering overhead.
We fly back to Yakutat around lunchtime, shower, eat,say our goodbyes and then head back to Anchorage before nightfall.
* – As with all Alaska backcountry trips, weather conditions affect the decisions we make. All the best laid plans fall by the wayside with major changes in the weather; it’s possible that even as late as August and September, we may not be able to fly in to the Samovar Hills due snowfall, etc. In that case, we’ll take an alternate landing spot and route on to and across the glacier.
** – Your flight from Anchorage (or Juneau) to Yakutat is not included in the price for the trip.
Options are to either fly to Yakutat the night before our trip or starts, or catch the first flight out of Anchorage the morning of the trip departure. Some folks would rather get there a day early, and some would rather spend the night in Anchorage and fly to Yakutat that morning. This is what I recommend.
For the return leg of the trip, you can either fly back to Anchorage/Juneau that evening we come out of the backcountry, or overnight in Yakutat and fly out the following day.
This trip will begin in Yakutat. We’ll depart via plane in the morning from Yakutat **, and fly directly in to the backcountry via a chartered air taxi. You’ll need to have everything packed and ready for the backcountry when you arrive in Yakutat, do not plan on getting any last minute items in Yakutat, especially if you fly in that morning. Then we hit the backcountry, where we spend the next 8-12 nights exploring and hiking an incredible mix of geologic and ecological landscapes.
WHERE DO WE MEET UP AND START?
We meet up in Yakutat, AK. I’ve also run this trip via McCarthy, but, most of the time, Yakutat will be the departure and destination location. We’ll stay at the Glacier Bear Lodge in Yakutat before the trip.
WHERE DO WE FLY IN TO?
You fly in to Yakutat. From their, we’ll take a bush plane to our backcountry starting location. We can start in the Samovar Hills, or from Icy Bay. The Icy Bay departure requires packrafts (provided). The Samovar Hills departure will require packrafts only if we include a beach hike after crossing the glacier. The option is provided in case weather or conditions mean we can’t get in to the Samova Hills.
No 2 backpacking trips will run the same way. We’re off trail, and different people hike at different speeds, and enjoy different routes, and so on. So we often don’t even camp at the same places along a route. To give a day-by-day breakdown of a backpacking trip here is, in my opinion, a little bit of a disservice to you. In all likelihood, you and your group won’t follow any preset plan, and part of the job of the guide, I feel, is to accomodate the subjective nature of backcountry travel.
Generally, we’ll spend a few days in the Hills, and then 4 days crossing the glacier. Longer if we come from Icy Bay.
We’ll packraft from the glacier to the beach, hike a couple of miles and camp. We can get picked up here, or traverse a section of the Lost Coast; or the entire length. Add 5 days here.
Trip participants should arrive in Yakutat no later than the evening before our schedule trip departure date. For our example, the trip would require all participants arrive in Yakutat 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. I’ll provide your accomodation in Yakutat the night prior to out trip.
FLY BACK TO YAKUTAT
After breakfast in on the beach, we’ll fly to Yakutat. You can either stay in Yakutat that night, or fly on to a further destination, such as home, or to Anchorage if you plan to spend more time in Alaska. Typically we get back to Yakutat by lunchtime. I highly suggest you don’t plan on flying home 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 Yakutat 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 late flight.