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Wrangell-St. Elias National Park – into the Wild

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park – into the Wild

Now that we were running on our summer schedule, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park was our next stop on the route. Well, actually it was quite a detour from our trip but for Alaskan measurements, it was basically around the corner. In addition to that America‘s biggest National Park is just not that easily accessible. By the way, up here was still preseason so barely any visitor center was open yet so we had to get reservations, permits, and information via phone calls. This we all did still in Valdez and now our plan was set. Mira and I would spend four days in the National Park. At the end of a 25-kilometer hike, there was the Nugget Creek Cabin which offered free, rustic, shelter to sleep in. Sleep and cooking equipment should be brought. A tent as well, if the nearby Nugget Creek would run on high water and would be impassable. It’s spring, we thought, this might be a possibility, so we packed all our camping gear into our backpacks. The start from the trailhead was lying on Native Land, which required to pay a small fee for every day. Directly after paying that we had to cross the first creek. So we had to take our shoes off, pass the creek and take them on again. And after that, the endless trail started. The trail itself wasn’t technical at all, just long. Ideal for Mira to break in her new boots. Or maybe not, just after a little while, the first blisters had to be patched up. Anyways, we marched on, that’s part of the game. The whole trail was continually leading through the forest, which was rather thin and small but covered all the views around. Nothing else worth mentioning happened either. Only a lot of rabbits and some partridges were visible along the way, no bigger wildlife showed itself.

A rabbit in the bushes.
And a partridge on a nearby tree.

Maybe the reason for that was that we were frequently yelling „EOH EOH“, „YIB YIB“ and „HURRAY‘s“ to make those wild animal aware of us and don‘t surprisingly run into one. The bears were already awake, wolves were roaming this land and moose had just got their baby’s and are extra cautious. So that should make clear the whole hubbub. After seven endless hours, we finally reached the Nugget Creek by early evening. Against all worries, it only ran on a very low level so it was no challenge at all to get across. 

Nugget Creek only had a small amount of water, luckily.

We made it! Across the creek behind the shore was the Nugget Creek Cabin. And behind it towered the big Mount Blackburn, 4996 meters in height. What mountain!

on the left the roof of our cabin, behind the big Mount Blackburn.

Sharp cliffs, huge glaciers, seracs and icefalls like in the Himalayas. That’s so impressive.

North America or Himalaya?

First of all, we were moving into our little home for the next three nights. The Nugget Creek Cabin is a true gem in this pristine wilderness. Small, cozy with surprisingly good equipment in there. A wood stove to heat and cook, pots, pans, cutlery and even mattresses with blankets. Definitely, more than we expected. 

The inside of the cabin.
Another angle.
And the other side.

Around the corner from the hut, there was a small outhouse with probably the best view in Alaska. This is life!

Outhose with the best view in Alaska. Obviosly, there was no door on the other side!

We quickly moved into the cabin, started a fire and cooked our dinner. Once we ate we headed out to the shore of the creek again to gaze at the impressive summits in the slowly fading evening light. This is unbelievable here, eh?

Evening light above the summit of Mount Blackburn.

Back at the cabin we first met our neighbor Otto. We had called him so. Otto was a porcupine strolling by our hut on this first evening. 

Hello everyone, may I introduce to you: Otto the porcupine.

In the dim light of the fire, we still relaxed our muscles a bit and then went to bed.

Cozy atmosphere in the hut.

Shortly after midnight, we both were suddenly wide awake. Something was scratching at the walls of the cabin, just after Mira got back from the toilet. Panic broke out. What if that was a bear that was out for our food? The scratching continued. Damn. It didn’t stop, however, it didn’t sound like something big and aggressive either. I armed myself with a broom and the bear spray and unlocked the door. Slowly I stepped out into the night. I could not see anything. I searched my environment with the beam of my headlamp and listened to where the scratching came from. I had a dim suspicion. Slowly I moved around one of the corners of the cabin and suddenly jumped. On the height of my waist, Otto was clinging to the walls of the cabin and was chewing on the logs. Goddammit, we’re in the wilderness among bears and wolves and moose and a silly porcupine scares the shit out of us. Otto, on the other hand, wasn’t impressed by our presence at all. Only when I carefully poked him with the broomstick from around the corner he slowly moved… to the other side of the cabin where he happily chewed on another log. Seriously? I started to throw small pebbles at him to get him moving, scare him or whatever. Nothing happens. A slightly bigger rock flies towards him, hits his back and Otto falls back down from the wall. He quickly hides under some of the stacked firewood outside. Well, we didn’t get rid of him. We had to give up and accept those annoying noises knowing that there was at least no danger coming from them. What an eventful night. 

The next morning the sun shone brightly and we could sleep in as long as we wanted, just to enjoy our breakfast afterward in front of the cabin. 

Later on, we decided to explore our environment. The goal was to get to the toe of the big Kuskulana Glacier which runs out of the large Mount Blackburn massif. Without a trail, our trail finding skills were necessary to balance through rocks and boulders. Still, we made it to the endless moonscape that could be found at the exit of the glacier.

Heading to the huge Glacier.

Piles of rock and sand were piled up as far as we could see. In between, there were beautiful blue lakes, glacier streams and a bit further away from the huge ice walls that marked the end of the Kuskulana Glacier.

An unbelievable landscape.
And an unbelievable blue!

Closer towards those, we tried to find a way through the rough terrain until we made it right to the edge. We came super close to the ice, however, we still kept a safe distance to it as there were tons of pebbles and rocks falling down from it frequently.

We got as close as this to the huge glacier.

Around us everything was melting in the warm sun, that’s why there was so much rockfall happening. From one to another wall we walked along the glacier, made some breaks here and there and enjoyed the beauty of this place and that we were the only people there. 

Great Ice formations of the glacier.

In the afternoon we decided that it was time to head back to our cabin.

Bye bye, Kuskulana Glacier.

Our way back led through high shrubs, then again over wide, open, riverbeds. Once at the hut, we relaxed and enjoyed our little home. That second night Otto became active again. I had thought about different approaches during the day on how to scare him off but we came to the conclusion that we would just let him do his business. Plans like building a torch to light up were swirling through my head but he was rather quickly that night and let us sleep afterward. 

The third day in the wild we just spent in and around the Nugget Creek Cabin. We read in our books, solved some riddles in a book we found in the cabin and I was writing blog posts on my phone.

Relaxing right by our little cabin.

All this was mostly to have a break from our strenuous walks and to prepare for the next day. Also, on this third day, we read in the cabin record book that Otto was actually named Herold and already annoyed quite a few people before us. This made him somehow quite sympathetic. At least until the last night came. Because then Otto aka Herold decided to bring his friend and they both started gnawing at the walls of our cabin. It drove us crazy so I couldn’t do other than rushing out again and use all that I had to make those beasts shut up. I think it was a win that they seemed to be afraid in the end and gave us a break until one hour later,  you can guess it, they started scratching a gnawing again. In addition to those porcupines, the mosquitos struck us very hard that night. So altogether, that night wasn’t the best rest we could get. Anyhow, the next morning we packed up our stuff and started the long trip back to our van. In only about six-and-a-half hours we finished the whole trail, even though it felt like an endless walk. 

Well, we had made it. Our first big Alaska Adventure finished successfully and we can now look back on a lot of great memories and a bit of a dislike on porcupines. 

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