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.
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.
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.
Is Skolai a good area to see wildlife?
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.
Will we see a lot of other people on the trip?
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.
How about the mosquitoes?
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.
Do we need any special gear requirements?
Nope. Standard Alaska backpacking gear setup.
How about the weather?
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.
Can we book a basecamp trip if we don’t own any camping gear?
You sure can.
Fully outfitting your trip is $250.00 per person, with group discount available. For single individual items, contact me and we’ll see what you need and work that out. A tent (1 or 2 person) is $200.00 per person for the trip. If you just want us to handle food, and have all your own gear (tent, etc) that’s $225.00 per person.
What’s our travel schedule – MXY trips?
– We pick you up and drive to McCarthy, overnight there, and fly in to the backcountry the next morning. … hike … – We fly back to McCarthy, overnight there.
– 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 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.
Where Are We?
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.
That’s something we can map out ahead of time in emails and phone calls if need be.
Skolai Pass is the perfect setting for this kind of flexible itinerary. There are great hiking options in every direction. A panorama of magnificent scenery 360˚.
A couple of options I like are
i) a hike north around the backside of Mt. Baldwin and overlooking the Nizina drainage. We can drop back down to Skolai Creek and check out lower Skolai Falls before coming back to camp.
ii) a hike south to Upper Skolai Lake and the toe of Russell Glacier.
iii) a hike to Chitistone Pass and then on down the Goat Trail some. How far we go depends how far you’d like to go.
Most hikes are in the 5-10 miles range, roundtrip. Hole in the Wall is much shorter.
And if you wanna hike hard and cover more miles, we can do that equally well. It’s Alaska, there’s no shortage of miles to walk.