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Bagley Icefield

Listed under Frozen Landscapes in Alaska, United States.

  • Photo of Bagley Icefield
  • Photo of Bagley Icefield
Photo of Bagley Icefield
Photo by Andrew McLean
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There were many inspirations for this expedition, but first and foremost was a trip up to the Wrangell-St.Elias Mountains the year before which redefined my idea of mountains. As a skier visiting this area for the first time, it is like a sailor going from his local lake to the Pacific Ocean-the scale is too vast to comprehend and it makes other mountain ranges almost seem irrelevant. Once you have skied there, you have to go back.

Another inspiration is that aside from endless mountains, the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve (WSE NPP) also has some of the largest icefields in North America, which make for great kiteskiing. Unlike glaciers which are steeper and thus more crevassed, an icefield is more like a frozen reservoir of ice. There are a few cracks here and there, but for the most part, icefields can be safely navigated at high speed using a kite or in poor visibility, which is a huge safety factor.

The open-ended concept of this trip was to get dropped off on the Bagley Icefield just below Mt. St. Elias right on the US-Canadian border (no customs hassles), then kite west down the Bagley as far as time allowed, skiing peaks along the way and then use a satellite phone to call in our coordinates for a plane pick-up. For the most part, this is what happened, although like most expeditions, it had its share of surprises.

Dropped off in the shadow of the 18,008' Mt. Saint Elias, the second tallest peak in North America we set up Camp 1. The next day was spent kiting and scouting, including finding a possible ski descent line off of Mt. Huxley. After an early start the next morning, we arrived at the business end of the Mt. Huxley climb/ski and we democratically decided to pass on it. As an alternative, we continued up "The Hump" which is a popular access peak to Mt. St. Elias, and an excellent 6,820' ski descent.

The next day we were able to move camp under kite power, we made it about three miles before the wind shut down, but it was enough to refresh our skiing objectives for a few days and we were able to ski some nearby peaks, including a beauty which we retreated off of due to avalanche danger.

A day later, with no wind, we tromped another three miles down the icefield and set up Camp 3, skiing a nice little pyramid peak in the morning.

The next day started out with light, swirly winds, but once we hooked into the main flow, it was an exciting ride.

The following day we skied a nearby peak, returning to camp in a steadily increasing snow storm. By sunset, the winds were steady at 35mph with gusts on top of that and it was snowing heavily. We battened down the tents, crawled in and hoped everything would survive the night, and aside from a few items getting buried, most of it did.

We may have been cursed with weather that was almost too good (clear, sunny and calm for the most part), but the Bagley didn't seem like an overly windy zone compared to Patagonia, Baffin Island or Antarctica. However, what it may have lacked in wind during our trip, it more than made up for with scenery!

Like almost any trip to Alaska, it wasn't quite what we had anticipated, but the people we met and experiences we had along the way made it a classic adventure in the wilds of AK.

Full Article on Andrew's website.

Written by  Andrew McLean.

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