By Alice Freidemann
Photos by Jeffery Kahn
Wrangell-St.Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska, America’s largest national park, had only come into being in 1980 – and since then, it has acted as a drawing card for those who are drawn to wild landscapes.
The few people who have actually settled there continue to live off the land as they have for centuries. Traces of old mines still dot the landscape in a few areas. In fact, in 1915, the famous Kennecott Mining Company began to ship copper from locations around Tebay Lakes and beyond. Today you can see evidence of mining ruins below from the small planes that carry visitors to camping and hiking destinations in the remote areas of the park itself. . . and then return at the requested date to pick them up again.
We found that whether you are there to hike its mountains and see its glaciers, float its rivers, or fish its lakes, you will be flying over the park’s stunning landscape by one of the many small planes – gasping at the beautiful world below. And because there are so few people who have found this untouched and isolated park, you have the sense you are the very first to see such sights.
The two of us had been dropped off in a remote area of the park to hike, to camp, to feel we were in another world all by ourselves. We saw not another soul. Four days later, our small plane had arrived to pick us back up at the designated landing site.
We were now excited over the second part of our park journey – Tebay Lakes. Landing in an open meadow at the end of the lake-filled valley, we saw hanging glaciers in all directions, jagged mountains filling the skies. And the first people that we had seen for a while. Day hiking would be filling our time – and fulfilling our long wished-for dreams.
Although we’d flown in to Tebay Lakes, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska, by small plane in bright sunshine, it wasn’t long before the weather changed. All travellers in Alaska are soon to hear the saying: If you don’t like the weather here, just wait 15 minutes. It is true – as you can see in the following photos:
But, that first evening, the sky put on a special light show for us.
Our first morning at Tebay brought with it rare delights.
The two of us had been to a wealth of Alaska’s diverse and wonderful places in this vast state over time. Yet we have seldom seen beavers. But here – in this area – the waters were full with dozens of very large beaver dams as you see below. Just somehow knowing we would be delighted, this beaver couple performed a beaver water ballet for us – the first we had ever seen!
Hiking in this lush area was wonderful – and full of unexpected surprises always. No, we didn’t see any bears or moose (though we heard they could be nearby), but often heard the melancholy melodies of loons floating across the water.
All too soon it was time to leave and fly back to the little town of McCarthy. As you can see, Tebay Lake was a beautiful turquoise blue. Only in areas where glacial silt is present – those millions of tiny grains of crumbling rock about the size of grains of sand – do you see water of this lovely shade.
Below are Tebay Falls, one of the landmarks of this area that no one wants to miss. Beyond you will see the famous Bremner glacier and river.
And now nearly back, in the distance you can see the Kennecott Mines — and over it, a tiny plane similar to our own.
Driving out from the town of McCarthy was a bit harrowing. A forest fire had expanded greatly over the days since we had arrived. Smoke choked the air. We got out as quickly as we could, and made it safely under the unusual circumstances.
As you can see, we made it!! And here I am back in civilization . . . safe at last!
After 25 years, Alice Friedemann managed to escape her day job as a systems engineer and architect. When she’s not traveling, throwing dinner parties, reading non-fiction, baking, volunteering to take 4th and 5th graders on hikes at Audubon Canyon Ranch, gardening, or walking, she’s in the back yard with her husband Jeffery listening to the birds and breezes, watching redwoods sway, and enjoying the cats, squirrels, scrub jays, skunks and other wildlife that roam our back yard. She’s been baking with whole grains for ten years, and spent the past three years making many batches of chips and crackers, which resulted in her cookbook “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers.”