Trip Selection Help: Tumble Creek or Sanford-Dadina Plateau (WStE AK)

Ben Miller

Member
Joined
Feb 26, 2018
Messages
5
Long time lurker, first time poster. This community has been immensely helpful throughout the years in preparing me for various solos in the lower 48. So first, thank you everyone for sharing trip reports and gear guidance across the forum.

After doing as much research as I could on backcountry trips in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, I’m stuck between two different options for a trip this summer. The trips (either Tumble Creek or Sanford River-Dadina Plateau) are highlighted in detail in the Falcon guide to the park (written by Greg Fensterman) and I have already mapped out the routes on topo and USGS maps. However, I still have no idea about the realities on the ground are for either in terms of rivers, bushwhacking, etc.

I was wondering if anyone here has done either of the hikes and could share their insight or point me in the right direction about which trip would be a better payoff in terms of getting a good Alaska backcountry experience.

Thanks!
 

LarryBoy

Hiker Trash
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Joined
Jan 4, 2015
Messages
2,506
Welcome! Never been and can't offer any helpful advice, but that's super cool that you're going up there. Enjoy!
 

Jackson

I like to go outside.
.
Joined
May 31, 2015
Messages
2,419
Long time lurker, first time poster. This community has been immensely helpful throughout the years in preparing me for various solos in the lower 48. So first, thank you everyone for sharing trip reports and gear guidance across the forum.

After doing as much research as I could on backcountry trips in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, I’m stuck between two different options for a trip this summer. The trips (either Tumble Creek or Sanford River-Dadina Plateau) are highlighted in detail in the Falcon guide to the park (written by Greg Fensterman) and I have already mapped out the routes on topo and USGS maps. However, I still have no idea about the realities on the ground are for either in terms of rivers, bushwhacking, etc.

I was wondering if anyone here has done either of the hikes and could share their insight or point me in the right direction about which trip would be a better payoff in terms of getting a good Alaska backcountry experience.

Thanks!
Paging our Alaskan, @Outdoor_Fool. He may have some knowledge of the area.
 

Outdoor_Fool

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.
Joined
Dec 11, 2015
Messages
1,778
@Ben Miller

I am not very familiar with specific locales in the Wrangells. I have only been to McCarthy once and only went on an afternoon hike. So take this for what it's worth. I do have a long trek planned for the near future so I have started my own research in that regard.

It's hard to go wrong in the Wrangells if searching for a good Alaska back country experience. The park is heavily under-utilized. Either of those choices will do well for you. There's some great treks out of McCarthy also. Book your air transport into the park soon, they can fill up quickly.

The primary concern, and I'm not implying that you lack this, is to make sure you're outdoor skills are rock solid. There's lower 48 remote, and there's Alaska remote. Weather in the Wrangells can greatly slow or altogether kill progress on a trip. Rescue may be several days away. The big dangers in the Wrangells and other heavily-glaciated areas are the extremely dynamic river/stream systems and the glaciers themselves. If unfamiliar with glaciers, there's some excellent books out there to provide the basics.

Avoid bushwhacking as much as possible. Obviously there are very few trails in most of the park so by bushwhacking, I mean alders and bogs. If you are in the low country, with its mix of bogs, tussocks, black spruce, and alders, you can wear out physically, emotionally, and mentally in a hurry. Luckily, much of the alpine starts at pretty low elevations so extended bouts of crashing through alders are rare. Avoid the low boggy areas as much as possible and tussocks altogether. Tussocks are notorious for wrecked knees and ankles.

Before I provide other more specific info, can you answer these questions?
What month are you looking at going? How many of you are going? What are other priorities of the trip ?

Anyway, the Wrangells will provide an awesome opportunity for you. Just be prepared for any and every thing.
 

Ben Miller

Member
Joined
Feb 26, 2018
Messages
5
Not the trips you're asking about but..I've done a variation of the "Goat Trail" in Wrangell St. Elias and would recommend it.

https://www.nps.gov/wrst/planyourvisit/upload/GOAT TRAIL Updated 12-3-2.pdf

Thank you! I was considering the Goat Trial but I think it may be a bit advanced for the group I'm taking unfortunately.

@Ben Miller

I am not very familiar with specific locales in the Wrangells. I have only been to McCarthy once and only went on an afternoon hike. So take this for what it's worth. I do have a long trek planned for the near future so I have started my own research in that regard.

It's hard to go wrong in the Wrangells if searching for a good Alaska back country experience. The park is heavily under-utilized. Either of those choices will do well for you. There's some great treks out of McCarthy also. Book your air transport into the park soon, they can fill up quickly.

The primary concern, and I'm not implying that you lack this, is to make sure you're outdoor skills are rock solid. There's lower 48 remote, and there's Alaska remote. Weather in the Wrangells can greatly slow or altogether kill progress on a trip. Rescue may be several days away. The big dangers in the Wrangells and other heavily-glaciated areas are the extremely dynamic river/stream systems and the glaciers themselves. If unfamiliar with glaciers, there's some excellent books out there to provide the basics.

Avoid bushwhacking as much as possible. Obviously there are very few trails in most of the park so by bushwhacking, I mean alders and bogs. If you are in the low country, with its mix of bogs, tussocks, black spruce, and alders, you can wear out physically, emotionally, and mentally in a hurry. Luckily, much of the alpine starts at pretty low elevations so extended bouts of crashing through alders are rare. Avoid the low boggy areas as much as possible and tussocks altogether. Tussocks are notorious for wrecked knees and ankles.

Before I provide other more specific info, can you answer these questions?
What month are you looking at going? How many of you are going? What are other priorities of the trip ?

Anyway, the Wrangells will provide an awesome opportunity for you. Just be prepared for any and every thing.

First, I really do appreciate you helping me with this!

I wouldn't consider myself a seasoned veteran, though I've been backpacking for a number of years (about 60% on-trial, but I've gotten some good solo experience in the Winds over the past two years working on my off trial navigation and have learned from enough stupid mistakes to not make them again). With that being said, I readily admit that Alaska is a whole different game.

Looking at the maps and descriptions, Stumble Creek avoids large amounts of bushwhacking and may provide the greatest ease of navigability. With only one major stream crossing (Stumble Creek, lowest point thigh-deep apparently), the route minimizes geographic risks. However, as you mentioned earlier, weather will always be a factor. We are planning to go around early July, and there are 4 of us guys going. I am the most experienced of the group and the only one with substantial off-trial experience. We're all in out late twenties, fit, and want a remote and scenic experience. I have an up to date WFA cert. and an outdated WFR cert. that I could re-up before I go.

Do you think early July would be a decent time to head to the Wrangells? What risk factors should I be most sensitive to and do you have any advice on how to mitigate/minimize them?
 

SEAlpine

Member
Joined
Feb 4, 2014
Messages
36
The variation of the Goat Trail we hiked had no water crossings and took us 5 days. We inadvertently ended up on the incorrect route detailed on page 3 of the NPS publication and it was literally nothing short of death defying. The remainder of the "trail" was pretty straightforward for us as newbie backpackers 15 years ago. We did it over Labor Day and got snowed on one day.
 

Ben Miller

Member
Joined
Feb 26, 2018
Messages
5
The variation of the Goat Trail we hiked had no water crossings and took us 5 days. We inadvertently ended up on the incorrect route detailed on page 3 of the NPS publication and it was literally nothing short of death defying. The remainder of the "trail" was pretty straightforward for us as newbie backpackers 15 years ago. We did it over Labor Day and got snowed on one day.

Deserves a second look then! Thank you!
 

Outdoor_Fool

Member
.
Joined
Dec 11, 2015
Messages
1,778
Do you think early July would be a decent time to head to the Wrangells? What risk factors should I be most sensitive to and do you have any advice on how to mitigate/minimize them?

July is a great month, although I'd prefer the latter end, mainly due to fewer biting insects.

Glad to hear of previous WFR training, hopefully you don't need it.

Glacial creeks/rivers are crazily dynamic. The water is cold, barely above freezing. The big issue is that runoff is thick with glacial flour and you cannot see into it at all. Warm weather/hot sun melts lots of ice. In glacial areas there's relatively little to soak up runoff so nearly all ice melt comes down drainage. Streams can rise a couple feet in an hour and all you are doing is enjoying a nice day. Lots of rain has the same effect. I prefer cloudy, cool days when my hike requires crossing anything glacial. Be very cautious if you have to cross a glacial creek. Probe the bottom with a trekking pole or stout branch. Don't just step in and hope for the best.

By July, most of the snow is off the glaciers so you can at least see the hazards (crevasses, bergschrunds, etc); just tread cautiously.

I forgot to mention that there's a lot of shi**y rock in AK. Not the solid granite of the Winds. Stay away from cliff bases and other exposed areas.

As for other risks, exercise the standard bear resistant camp practices, keep an eye on the weather, have a reliable back-up plan.

As the trip approaches, if you have any other questions or small details to iron out, you can PM me.

Sounds like fun!
 

Ben Miller

Member
Joined
Feb 26, 2018
Messages
5

They were out there during the same time our party was out. Sobering to say the least, the water levels were insanely high, all the streams and rivers were blown out. Will write up a trip report here soon! We ended up doing the Goat Trial and then ended up exploring the Skolai area because Chitistone Pass was snowed in over 10 feet. Ended up doing a moving basecamp of sorts to Russell Glacier and to the Seven Sisters. It was an epic trip to say the least.
 
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