Testing the Waters of Alaska’s Wrangell Mountains

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Guest post by Brad Hurd

Have you ever taken your height into consideration when planning for a backcountry trip? I guess maybe when it comes to sleeping bag and pad length, tent length, backpack measurements… Okay, so you should take into account a lot about your height when planning for an excursion. How about river crossings? Yeah, me neither. Matt and Agnes however, had it all planned out. We had spent most of our second morning in the Wrangell Mountains side-hilling mountains of pure scree. By the time we crossed through our first pass, my trekking pole tips were ground down to the baskets and my brand new boots were already de-laminating. Luckily, we nailed a great weather window, which would stay with us throughout the majority of our trip. After our descent, we reached the Kluvesna River – one of the many glacial fed rivers in the Wrangells. By glacial, I mean we were at the foot of the glacier and our route required us to cross the river here. Walking up and down the riverbank, we searched for the shallowest area to cross. When we finally found a potential spot, it was determined that the tallest person should test the route.

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Here is a list of our member’s heights:

Saya, a representative from Montbell Japan – maybe broke the 5-foot mark.

Agnes – 5’4”

Matt – 5’9”

Me – 6’1”

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By default, I was chosen to test our desired route and since we still had about 40 miles to go, I removed my hiking boots and stripped off my pants. My first steps into the river were somewhat comforting, as the flow of the water wasn’t terribly swift. The water soon reached waist-level and I had to keep a fairly quick pace as the water was terribly cold and the silty river bottom was trying to swallow me hole. Mid-way, I looked back to nod to the group that this was a decent route and they gave me a look as if to reply, “Screw that.” After two-dozen more steps I reached the other side of the braid (crossing one river in Alaska means crossing multiple braided streams) and proudly turned around only to see Agnes nearly across and barely shin-deep just a few meters downstream. Saya and Matt followed suit and we were all quickly scrambling to put our dry socks back on. As we continued along, we were quickly made aware that this would become the theme of our journey: wake up, side-hill, descend, cross a river, bushwhack, sleep, repeat.

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Regardless of my attitude in the midst of each of these obstacles, they’ve now become features in the stories I tell of one of the most pristine areas I’ve ever been. Over the top of each pass was a breathtaking vista and a Dall sheep or two; on the other side of each river was a feeling of accomplishment with a hint of luck. We were really out there, and if anything bad would have happened, help was days away. For those reasons I’m tempted to do it all over again – but only if I’m not the tallest.

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