The Southern Traverse

65 miles. No Trail. No people. Just Wild.


  • 10 Days in the mountains
  • 2 glacier crossings
  • 4 river crossings
  • a challenging adventurous route
  • stunning mountain scenery
  • spectacular campsites
  • very rarely traversed route

Expeditions Alaska is the only guiding company to offer this rugged trek through some rarely visited country in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. In 2008 we were the first commercial trip ever to complete this trek, heading west from the higher altitude of Bremner Mines.

Trekking through some of the most spectacular Chugach Range, we paralleled the Bremner River drainage, and then north toward Tebay Lakes for our pickup at the landing strip.

Rugged Alaska Trekking

This is a strenuous route.

Off-trail trekking at its best.

Steep sidehills. Bushwhacking through alder and willow stands. A little glacial travel, and a river crossing or 2 make this an adventure for hardy experienced trekkers.

The reward for all this hard work is unbelievable views, amazing campsites, a seemingly endless supply of rich juicy blueberries to graze along the way.

In summary, a remote and wild trek through classic Alaska backcountry.

The Trek

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.

Trip Highlights

Alaska Cotton Grass and the Chugach Mountains near Tebay Lakes, Southern Traverse hike, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

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.

Gear Requirements

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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Trip FAQs

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • No.

    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.

  • 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 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.

Backpacking Klu Valley, Southern Traverse, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Review

“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.

Trip Challenges

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?

Trip Logistics

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.

Trip Itinerary

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. I can’t over-emphasize that this is simply an example. 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).

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