Seven Pass Route

Rugged and Raw. Authentic Alaskan Wilderness. Adventure for the Adventurous.


  • Two glacier crossings
  • Stunning alpine campsites
  • Two staggering Alaska bush flights
  • Unrivalled diversity of terrain
  • 7-9 nights of backcountry camping
  • 2 nights accommodation in historic McCarthy, Alaska
  • Return travel from Anchorage-McCarthy

Big wilderness. Big mountains. Big glaciers.

Big bears.

40 miles of big, rugged mountain country.

The Seven Pass Route is special. This backpacking trip from Iceberg Lake to Bremner Mines is the consummate Alaskan adventure. Impressive vistas at every turn and mile after mile of open, pristine wilderness.

We fly in from McCarthy, Alaska and land on the edge of Iceberg Lake in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Spend a few days exploring the area, discovering the geological wonders that create this fascinating region. Watch chunks of the glacier calve into the lake. Ice floes groan and creak as they shift and turn across the water.

The hike ranks as a real Alaska Classic. Tundra, brush, rivers and endless array of staggering views. Cool clear alpine lakes, tumbling streams and snow capped peaks sparkle in the Alaskan sun.

It would be remiss of me to not mention the campsites along this route – superb! We camp in some of the prettiest spots in the park, if not all of Alaska. Alpine lakes, crystal clear mountain streams and magnificent mountain passes with stunning views all around make this trip a favorite.

Backpacking through these mountains we cross the Tana Lobe of the massive Bremner Glacier, carefully picking our route across the ice. Higher in the mountains you might encounter black bear, grizzlies, moose, mountain goats, and a host of other smaller birds and mammals.

The Trek

The Hiking

In a word, varied. In two words, really varied.

You’ll walk easy sections of wide open tundra and you’ll walk a few tougher sections (see “How Hard Is It?”  below). Just as you begin to feel that you’ve got it dialed, the terrain changes yet again. You hike though another terrain and experience a different landscape yet again.

This breaks up your rhythm. Expeditions Alaska guide John Calder suggests this variation is a part of what makes it a challenging route; “You don’t find a groove; you get a pattern going, the terrain changes and it breaks and changes again. And again. And again.”

This keeps you engaged and focused, but is also more taxing than you might expect.

The Glaciers

Think “full of surprises”. It’s remarkable just how much these ice floes change year to year, even month to month.

They’re fascinating. Moulins, deep, steep holes that sink downward out of site keep you wondering. Crevasses are visible (and hence avoidable) as the ice will be snow free by mid-summer months at this elevation. The ice can be slick though in wet weather. We’ll bring some form of ice gripper (see “Trip FAQs below“).

The toughest sections of glacier hiking are typically the entrance and exit. Walking on the ice the easy part. Getting on to and off of the ice is often more of a challenge. Careful route-finding and a little scouting go a long way. You’ll be thankful for having an experienced guide here.

The Wildlife

Glacier landscapes typically don’t have abundant wild animals in them. Ice and rock isn’t productive sustenance for most critters. For a variety of reasons though wildlife seem to do well here.

Over the years I’ve seen moose, mountain goats, grizzlies and black bears, wolves, wolverine, foxes, weasels, marmots, ground squirrels, pikas here. Not all at once. Don’t expect high population densities of species and animals at every corner. But keep your eyes peeled and you just might get to spot some cool animals forging about the mountains here.

The Mountains

You’re not terribly high here. The highest pass we backpack through is about 6600′.

But the extent of the mountain range is impressive. Scramble up a nearby peak on a clear day and you’ll be astonished at just how far these mountain peaks continue. This is what infinite feels like.

Is This Trip A Match With You?

Who’s This Trip For?

This is wild Alaska. You’ll find solitude, adventure, wilderness and more.

Well-suited for the intermediate to experienced backpacker, our adventure involves some moderate to strenuous hiking as well as bushwhacking through stands of alder and willow. It also rewards the hiker with a truly wilderness experience.

How Hard Is It?

Moderate – Strenuous.

Approximately 35-40 miles and the terrain can be challenging at times.

This trip is really awkward to gauge a difficulty rating for. Terrain is an impossible to thing to vette for.

Why Do We SO Love This Hike?

I can’t think of another hike that covers quite the diversity you’ll experience on this route. Glaciers, mountains, tundra, wildlife and several simple amazing subalpine passes. And how about Iceberg Lake itself? The lake disappears and reconfigures itself annually; the geologic term is jökulhlaup (pronounced joukaloupe).

Did I mention how incredible the campsites are here? I don’t always use the same campsites on each trip. There are so many simply fantastic campsites in this region. We camped within a few hundred of a massive calving glacial ice wall last summer. Next summer, we’ll see where we land.

Where Are We?

Trip Review

“Carl does all the thinking and work for you, which is great! When you are tired, hungry, burned out and just don’t want to use your brain anymore, Carl is there to figure things out. Where to camp for the night, when and where to ‘crock up’ and cross a river, and when it’s safe enough to eat a snack when a bear is off in the distance. And he prides himself on being drama free!” – Amy D

Trip Itinerary

The Iceberg Lake to Bremner Mines backpacking trip in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is incredible. Like all the trips we run, the itinerary is somewhat fluid. Weather, hiker experience and many other factors determine the actual trip. For simplicity sake, let’s assume the trip dates are Aug 1 – Aug 10. Realize everything here is simply an example. I’ve actually completed this trip in 5 days, and I’ve also spent 12 days doing this route. I feel an 11 day trip is about perfect for this route – this gives you 8 complete days in the backcountry.

Trip FAQs

  • Though commonly miscalled the Seven Pass Route, the hike actually crosses 3-5 passes. It’s one of those local names that somehow stuck. Trust me. By the time you climb up over the final pass you’ll be glad it’s only 3.

    If you hit 7 passes on this route you’re headed the wrong way. It’s quite a slog going up these mountains but the views and feeling you get up there more than make up for the effort you put in.

  • Well this route brings you across the toe of two glaciers. You’ll cross the Tana Lobe of the Bremner Glacier, and another smaller unnamed glacier. The ice itself is easy going. The surrounding terrains can be tougher.

    No, you won’t need ice axes, harnesses bullies and ropes. The ice is snow free by mid-summer, and we’re well below the firn line (that line that marks the limit of a more permanent snow zone, i.e., the firn, on the glacier). I do recommend some form of ice gripper for your boots though. Crampons, or Ice Stabilizers, or something similar.

  • Not really. We don’t aim to camp on the ice, so a little extra traction for walking is all you need. Other than that, it’s standard Alaska backpacking equipment.

  • In the course of your 40 miles, not much at all. Less than a mile of snaking your way through thickets of alder and willow.

  • No. Over the years I’ve seen grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, wolverine, moose, mountain goats, fox and more. But you’re hiking in glacial country; ice and rock rule the roost here, which are not great habitat for wild animals. Winter snowfall is high, and vegetation growing period is short. So though we see a diversity of very cool wildlife, population densities are low.

    The most common critters seen on the trip are marmots, arctic ground squirrel and grizzly bears.

  • No. Over the years this route has gained in popularity, but that’s definitely a subjective term. Rarely do we see more than one other group en route, usually hiking past us in the opposite direction. Oftentimes, nobody.

    You might see another group camping at either end of the hike, near the landing strip.

  • Well, “defined” probably isn’t the right word. This is Alaska after all. But this an important question to consider.

    Click on the little hiking boot icon in the sidebar for whichever backcountry trip you’re considering and you’ll see the discussion for that particular level of trip. One boot equals easiest and five boots the most challenging option.

    As a general rule I’d suggest rating everything here one notch HIGHER from what you might be used to (assuming you haven’t hiked in Alaska before). If you consider yourself up for an intermediate level hike assume that a trip rated intermediate here will probably be a bit tougher than you’re expecting. Not impossible, but harder than you think.

    As I mentioned above, terrain is the biggest factor here and it’s extremely subjective as to what is difficult terrain and what is not.

    Some people really struggle walking over a boulder field, and others don’t find it difficult at all. Some people find sidehilling more difficult, or bushwhacking, and so on. But the most common element people struggle with is almost always terrain. Your balance is probably a more important consideration than how miles you run on a treadmill each day in the gym.

    One of the best ways to lower a rating is simply give yourself an extra day or 2. Make a 5 day hike a 7 day hike and it’ll much more manageable. Conversely, if you want a challenge give yourself a little less time and you’ll find just about any trip here as challenging as you could want it to be.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

Trip Logistics

You need to arrive in Anchorage (at the latest) the day before your trip departure date is scheduled for. Organize your accommodation in Anchorage this night. We’ll pick you up at your doorstep in the morning.

You should arrange your departure from Anchorage no earlier than the day following the date of our scheduled trip Final Day. Again, schedule your accommodation in Anchorage for this night. Expeditions Alaska will provide you with a trip Departure Packet that lists a variety of options in Anchorage.

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