Skolai Pass Basecamp

One week in the mountains. One lifetime of Wow.

  • Return travel Anchorage - McCarthy
  • 2 jaw-dropping bush flights in the backcountry
  • Hole in the Wall
  • Russell Glacier
  • University Mountain Range
  • Wildlife
  • Skolai Pass, Chitistone Pass and Chitistone Valley

This is a popular trip I’ve been running for a number of years now. We fly in to Skolai Pass from McCarthy and spend a week in the wilderness wandering from one of the high alpine valley to the other. Recommended for folks looking for a backcountry adventure but who are not wanting to carry a heavy backpack every day.

The dayhikes in this area are beyond limitless. I’ve probably spent more time than anyone exploring this area and I still haven’t scraped the surface off these hikes. We can hike north toward the Frederika, north and west toward the Nizina, circumnavigate nearby Mt Baldwin, via Hole in the Wall. We also might cross the valley toward the east and ascend the subalpine ridge near the shorelines of Skolai Lake.

Camping and Hiking

Probably the best option here is to move camp at least once. Head south toward the Russell Glacier beyond Chitistone Pass. Spend a few days in that area, where you will hike on a couple of different glaciers. Get some fantastic closeup views of Mount Bona and Mount Churchill, the highest peaks in the University Range.

A trek down the Chitistone Valley and on to the Goat Trail is a good long, easy walk, following the route that would eventually lead to one of the various options for a destination on the Skolai – Wolverine backpacking route. There are numerous waterfalls, streams and creeks to enjoy along the way.

The walking here is mostly easy, with some varied terrain. Most of it is open easy tundra. There are a few sections or rock fall and old glacial moraine, but nothing strenuous at all. It’s a great place for a mild outing, but challenging enough to provide an adventure as well.

Wildlife viewing opportunities are good in the Skolai Pass area. One of my favorite areas to spend some time and see what I see.

A wonderful week long backcountry basecamp.

Grizzly bear, Chitistone Pass,  Wrangell St. Elias National Park.

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.

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 Place

Skolai Pass

Skolai Pass is one of those places where everything comes together. In a very literal sense, it DOES come together here. The Chitistone meets the Nizina drainage. The Wrangell Mountains meets the St. Elias range. The watershed divide between water flowing east to Canada and the White River, and west through Alaska to the Copper River. It’s a confluence of many things.

Skolai is home to glaciers and icefield. Russell Glacier shaped the pass, millennia ago, as did Hole in the Wall to the west. Both these glaciers are still here today. Amazing place.

I fell in love with this place on my first ever trip to Alaska. Every year I return here and every year I love it a little bit more.

Mountains Piled On Mountains

The University Range, the northern reaches of the St. Elias Mountains, are a must see. Mount Bona, the 4th highest mountain in the US at 16 550′ high, lies here, right down the end of Russell Glacier. Mount Churchill, slightly lower at 15,636′, sits beside Bona. Churchill is the sixth height mountain in the country.

We get views north to Mt Frederika, 10 184′ tall. Beyond her we see Regal Mountain, at 13 845′. On a good day, and with a bit of a walk, we can also see 16 391′ tall Mt. Blackburn. Blackburn is the 5th highest mountain in the country.

And we haven’t even touched on the countless mountains here that aren’t even named.

Trip Options

This trip is best done with at least one backpack day. Backpack to the far end of the valley where we’ll establish our basecamp. We’ll do dayhikes and photography in the area or simply sit back and soak up the view if you’d prefer. Then hike back toward to the landing strip where we’ll spend a couple of days poking around Hole in the Wall and the north end of Skolai Pass. Then grab your cameras again for the stunning flight back to McCarthy.

It’s possible, of course, to just camp nearer the strip and do all our dayhikes from there but I really advise people to at least move away from the landing strip to allow other travellers some space as they come and go on their trips. We can chat about that and narrow down our options prior to the trip.

Trip FAQs

  • I think it’s one of the best. Over the years in the Skolai Pass area I’ve seen grizzly bears, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, red fox, golden eagle, falcon and merlin, marmots, ground squirrel, ptarmigan and more. I’ve even seen a cute little short-tailed weasel up here.

    And though I’ve never seen a moose here, and don’t expect I ever will, I did see the remains of a bull moose out on a hanging glacier above Russell Glacier a few years ago. I still don’t know what he was doing up there!

    Don’t think you’ll see all these creatures on a single trip. You won’t. But there’s an excellent chance you’ll see something cool. just be patient and keep your eyes peeled.

  • You’ll likely see a few. I’ve certainly done trips here where I did not. Maybe in a shoulder season trip or something.

    But it would be unusual to see more than than 2 other groups of people around here. It’s not crowded at all.

  • Earlier in the summer Skolai can have some bugs. Nothing horrendous, like the arctic, but definitely expect mosquitoes. it varies a lot year to year.

    I’d rate the mosquitoes here a 3 (five being worse, one being the fewest). Come late August or early September and it’s a one.

  • Nope. Standard Alaska backpacking gear setup.

  • The weather is, well .. let me put it this way.

    You’re in the mountains in Alaska. It can snow in July. It can be 65 degrees two days later. It can rain for a week at a time, or it can shine blue skies and sunshine all day for 10 days in a row.

    Unfortunately, I can’t give you any more detailed info than that. Pack well.

  • You sure can.

    Fully outfitting your trip is a small additional fee. The exact amount will depend on your trip length, as well as what stuff you need.

    For single individual items, contact me and we’ll see what you need and work that out.

    A tent (1, 2 or 3 person) is $50.00 per person for the trip. If you just want us to handle food and you have all your own gear (tent, etc) we can do that as well.

    Longer trips (5+ days) the food costs go up. But most basecamps are not longer.

    We do NOT provide sleeping bags or sleeping pads or backpacks (except for the scheduled photo tours we include sleeping pad).

  • Very briefly

    Day 1 – We pick you up and drive to McCarthy, overnight there, and fly in to the backcountry the next morning. … hike … 2nd Last day – We fly back to McCarthy, overnight there.

    Last Day – We take you back to Anchorage and drop you at your hotel.

    For a much more comprehensive outline and schedule of this, 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.

Where Are We?

Trip Itinerary

The backcountry portion of our basecamp trips is pretty fluid. In other words it’s not something set in stone at all.

The real beauty of a basecamp trip is we can do whatever we want to. Some trips we cap nearer the landing strip and hike many miles each day. Other trips we backpack to the far end of the valley, camp there and hike very few miles each day. Other trips we camp near the strip and do relatively short hikes around the area, examining the detail and soaking in the grandeur rather than covering miles.

How we manage your trip is essentially up to you and the group.

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