Bremner Mines west to Tebay Lakes. This trek is an absolute classic Alaska trekking route. The campsites alone are second to none.
The trek really doesn’t require 12 days but we allow plenty of time for the route. Exploring and dayhiking along the way, eating blue berries, and enjoying some photography of course. Depending on the year we do this walk in 10-12 days (backcountry days).
8-9 days is enough time to cover the distance in a straight hard slog so the longer time frames makes for a really nice walk. Some of the favorite sections of the hike include Harry’s Gulch, the Upper Klu River Valley, and the last ridge overlooking Tebay Lakes. We also traverse the length of a glacier.
This trek is actually part of a longer route known as the Southern Traverse, which extends from Tebay Lakes all the way across the eastern Chugach Range to Iceberg Lake, across the Tana River and on to Granite Creek – quite a haul.
The terrain is not for everyone and challenges even experienced trekkers.
The trek involves a couple of creek crossings, a good deal of moraine hiking and some bush-whacking, so it’s not for the meek. That said, it’s an amazing walk through some of the least visited hiking terrain in the park, and offers the visitor an absolutely incredible hiking experience.
One of the highlights of the trek is Harry’s Gulch, a high narrow pass through which we follow in the footsteps of the great grizzly bear. The bears have worn a footpath over the tundra that consists of individual footsteps marking the way, each step worn into the tundra by the bears of centuries.
Bears frequently walk not just on the same trail as other bears, but literally in one another’s footsteps. The indentations of each step are visible, unlike a regular path or trail. Pretty neat to see.
Everyone who’s hiked this route with me loves “Cliffside”, the last campsite before our arrival down at Tebay.
The narrow pass at the Upper Klu is another gem. Walk between towering jagged peaks as they close in above you, and skirt the shoreline of a deep cold blue tarn. This is alpine hiking at its finest.
Who's It For?
Well, it’s not for the meek.
Strong, fit athletic hikers will do well on this trek. You should be intermediate to advanced hikers, comfortable off trail, and mentally up for a challenge.
We’ll handle the navigation for you, but you’ll be carrying a heavy load (10-12 days worth of food, plus gear) over rugged and varying terrain.
You need to be in good shape, an experienced backcountry trekker. Expect at least some discomfort on your trip.
It’s not one recommended for beginners. I usually reserve this trek for folks who are at least intermediate to (preferably) experienced backpackers looking for a real Alaska challenge. It’s a great way to spend 9-12 days in the backcountry and soak up the wilderness.
Some kind of traction for ice is useful, but not a requirement. We cross one relatively small glacier on Day 2. I do not bring crampons.
Hiking poles (provided gratis, if you like) are a must.
Standard Alaska backpacking gear. See FAQs for more info.
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What wildlife will we see?
Generally, not a lot. Winter is pretty harsh in the Chugach Mountains. Heavy snowfall makes for a hard living. There are animals here, but not in high population densities.
We have seen grizzly and black bear on the trip, as well as moose and mountain goats. We often see smaller animals like marmots and Arctic Ground squirrel as well.
What's the weather going to be?
All of the above.
It’s a longer trip and you can expect a little of everything from sunny bluebird days to rain and even snow.
How about the mosquitoes?
Though they’re not generally bad on this route, I have hiked sections of it where the black flies were more than a nuisance. Once.
Most years the various bugs aren’t too bad though. Bring a headnet.
How far are we hiking most days?
I expect the longest day we do maybe 8 miles or so. But it’s pretty solid hiking.Even a couple of miles of sidehill wears you down. You’ll be glad it’s not further.
Do I need mountaineering skills?
We guide trips that involve only trekking though some may be strenuous. The majority of these trips in Alaska are off-trail and at times involve hiking over moraines (boulder fields), scree slopes, across rivers, and tundra. None of this is easy.
If you’re a beginning backpacker, worry not. Trips are available for you, such as the Steamboat Hills walk in Wrangell St. Elias National Park which are better suited with easier walking, camping sites and less strenuous traverses.
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, 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 but I strongly 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.
“Bremner-Tebay is the best hiking trip I’ve ever taken, and Carl strikes a good balance between the group’s freedom and overall security. Earth should be proud of Wrangell-St. Elias. On the seventh night of the trip, we camped near a centuries-old bear trail on a ridge whose view is as spectacular and varied as any I’ve ever seen. The weather was absolutely perfect, and we just spent hours silently soaking it all in. Save an actual tragedy, I can envision no scenario in which you won’t come out of any of Carl’s trips a more complete and fulfilled human being.” – Ben I, Indiana.
You’ll traverse long stretches of sidehill. Steep sidehill. Steep slippery sidehill. Some call it “slidehilling”.
Don’t underestimate it.
Talus and moraines can be tough as well. Walking over rock will test you.
Bushwhacking isn’t too terribly bad on this route, but you’ll definitely get more than your fair share of it.
River crossings are mostly comfortable, with one deeper crossing toward the Tebay end of the hike. Expect thigh-deep water.
Where Are We?
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.
The Bremner Mines to Tebay Lakes trekking 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, I’ll assume the trip dates are Aug 1 – Aug 13. Realize everything here is simply an example. I’ve actually completed this trip in 8 days, and I’ve also spent 12 days doing this route. For this route I recommend a minimal 9 days in the backcountry.
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.
One thing you can see here, if you’re providing your own food for the trip, is how many meals you might expect to bring. This trip is billed as an 12 day trip, but you won’t eat any meals in the backcountry until lunchtime on Day 2. Effectively, this trip would require you to backpack 10 days worth of food, plus extra food in case weather delays our pickup. It’s always wise to allow an extra day of food (or at least some form of snacks and food for an extra day). All Expeditions Alaska trips to the Wrangells, unless specifically scheduled otherwise, will include a day travel to get to McCarthy, a day to return to Anchorage, and we fly out of the backcountry usually in the morning of the 2nd last day.
I put this trip itinerary online here to give visitors to the site a more detailed look at some of our trips and what options they include.What I work hardest on is tailoring trips to the specific interests and abilities and experience of the people who hike with us. No 2 trips are the same; where possible, we don’t use the same campsites when we do the same route, we often even vary the route when we can. Mostly, I try to be flexible with how far we hike each day, how many days we spend in the backcountry. What time we get up in the morning, for example, is largely up to the trip participants (unless for some reason I feel we need to be up and on the trail by a particular time – this rarely happens).
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 Bremner Mines and the Iceberg Lake 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. We fly from McCarthy to Bremner Mines, in the southern region of the park. This flight takes you over some of the most amazing landscapes anywhere, over the Tana and Chitina Rivers and the immense flatlands of Wrangell – St. Elias NP, deep into the Chugach Range.
Having hiked the route either direction, I definitely feel Bremner -> Tebay is the best choice, heading west.
We land at the strip, and head off up toward the nearby old heritage site of Bremner Mines. I usually don’t spend much time here, just a lookin at the few old dilapidated buildings we’ll pass before we clamber up in to the hanging valley known as “The Pocket”. Lunch by the small lake, then on up again over the ridge and down the steep backside of this pass, skirting 2 more alpine lakes before camping, just shy of our first glacier crossing. We’ll save that for the morning.
It’s a solid first day; definitely a few steep climbs and a lot of moraine and talus. Be ready to get your heart pumping.
We’ll cross the glacier in the morning, and make for the narrow pass above it for lunch. Then down the backside (sounds like Day 2’s hike!) and out on to the tundra below. There are a number of camping locations along here, and it depends how far we get on exactly where we aim to camp. There’s also a nice dayhike to the south with great views of the snow-capped Chugach Mountains across the river valley below. An easier day than yesterday, but not an ‘easy day’.
A challenging day. A nice easy start, for sure, then we round in to the Klu valley and hit our first real brushy sections; mostly willow and dwarf birch. Bushwhacking on steep sidehills will keep your attention on your hiking. We also have our first stream crossing. A scurrying little creek that’s not too deep, but fast enough to keep you on your toes. Cold, but not crazy cold.
Continue up the Klu valley. Eventually we’ll come out of the brush and hit some of the nicest alpine country anywhere. The upper Klu valley is a hiker’s delight. It’s just getting there that’s the challenge. Great campsites abound up high on the mountainside, or we can push all the way up toward the head of the valley and the Klu headwaters. Superb campsites all around.
Probably a mild-moderate day on this trek.
Wind thru the end of the upper Klu valley, past a beautiful little blue tarn (alpine lake) over a talus field, and then make our way across a boulder field that’s a combintion of moraine and talus. Challenging footing and terrain.
Then we descend back toward brush line, past a little waterfall, and alongside a creek. Clamber up a steep hillside and camp up high on the tundra between the 2 drainages, just shy of our entrance to Harry’s Gulch.
Harry’s Gulch. There’s not much more to be said. Few hikes anywhere are as cool as this hike. It’s a bit of a mission getting up in to the pass, we have to sidehill, bushwhack, and descend a steep hillside, but it’s all worth it as we make our way back up the Gulch. Wrap up the day hiking in the footsteps on a centuries old bear trail .. individual footsteps worn into the tundra by travelling grizzly bears, walking in the steps of their of their ancestors. Too cool. Campsites abound.
It’s hard to leave Harry’s Gulch. But we’ll head on west down to the East Fork. A generally easier morning, before a river crossing that will take some focus and attention. It’s fast, and thigh deep. And the falls just downriver aren’t to be messed with. Then we dry off, and mosey up high again, to an area we nicknamed “The Mezzanine”. Views every which way you can look.
A challenging day. An early start, a descent down to yet another stream crossing, but not a tough one, then a long, slow, steep slog back up high. Then we round a knoll, and drop back down again, sidehill some, climb back up slowly, and camp on a ridge overlooking the confluence of the East Fork and Little Bremner Rivers. If we continue on, it’s a long haul before we get another spot to camp.
Sidehill, sidehill and sidehill. But we’ll walk through one of the coolest fields of wildflowers in the park, so that’s gotta be worth something? Then we make our way back up again, over the last and final ridge. From here, we’ll get a brief view of Tebay Lakes. We’ll drop back down a little to the campsite I call “Cliffside”; you’ll see why. Definitely one of the coolest campsites anywhere. A moderate – tough day.
You’ve done the bulk of the work, so enjoy the relatively easy hike to Tebay from here. I should say, easy if you know where to go. If you don’t, and you’re aiming for the most direct route, you’re in for an ugly surprise. Having hiked it a few times, I take a somewhat circuitous route that’s much, much quicker and easier. Trust me. We should arrive at Tebay Lakes by noon or so, and have a flight to McCarthy scheduled for the early afternoon.
In McCarthy, hit the showers, get changed, and enjoy a great big hot dinner in the bar, before sacking out in the cabin for the night.
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 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 me 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).