A MASSIVE PYRAMIDAL MOUNTAIN, BOTH BEAUTIFUL AND DEADLY, LONG BELIEVED TO BE THE TALLEST IN NORTH AMERICA. MOUNT SAINT ELIAS IS THE SECOND HIGHEST PEAK AFTER MOUNT MCKINLEY (20,322 FEET).
Name: Mount Saint Elias
Height: 5489 m (18,008 ft)
Location: Yukon and Alaska border, Alaska, United States
First Climbed: July 31, 1897 by Luigi Amadeo di Savoia- Duke of the Abruzzi, Vittorio Sella, and their team
Climb Time: About three weeks
Best Season to Climb: Jun, Jul, Aug
INTRODUCTION TO MOUNT SAINT ELIAS
Mount Saint Elias is located on the border of Yukon and Alaska, making it the second highest peak in both Canada and United States. On the Canadian side, Mount Saint Elias is part of the Kluane National Park and Reserve, and on the U.S. side, it belongs to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
The mountain is just 35 miles away from the sea. Its vertical ski run is the longest in the world. It is often compared with Denali and the Himalayas.
Mount Saint Elias was climbed nearly more that fifty times since 1897 when the duke of Abruzzi and his party conquered the mountain for the first time. And it took eight attempts before the first ascent was made.
HISTORY OF MOUNT SAINT ELIAS
Vitus Bering (1681-1741) is the explorer that gave the St. Elias Mountains their name. He was a Danish explorer that was selected to explore the Northeast Siberia. In 1728 Vitus Bering was supervising the Siberia mapping and exploring and led the expedition across the sea to Alaska. That sea now has his name and it’s the Bering sea.
On July 16th 1741, Bering detected huge costal mountains. This was the first piece of Alaska that Bering laid eyes on, the magnificent summit of Mount St. Elias. The land around seashore was named Elias. In the end, the mountain also got this name and became Mount St. Elias.
The Kennecott Mine town site would be one of the park’s most significant historical mark, a National Historic Landmark, declared such in 1986, but now deserted. In 1900, copper was discovered in the area. After that, wealthy investors formed the Kennecott Copper Corporation. The funny thing about this is that the name was a spelling mistake by a worker trying to spell the name of the town Kennicott. The Corporation built the Copper River and Northwest Railroad, and also the Million Dollar Bridge. It is noted that the company made more than 100 million dollars from 1911-1938 by mining the richest copper accumulation in the country.
The second ascent was in 1946. It was by a group from the Harvard Mountaineering Club. The group consisted of the historian Dee Molenaar, Cornelius Molenaar, Andrew and Betty Kauffman, Maynard Miller, William Latady, and Benjamin Ferris. The expedition was including a female member, which was very unusual for that era. For this mission they used eleven camps and were supported by air drops of food.
Wrangell-St. Elias was designated as a national park in 1980. Along with Canada's Kluane National Park it represents one of the world’s largest wilderness. Together, the two parks have 20 million acres.
On February 13, 1996, Mount Saint Elias had its first winter ascent. It was made by David Briggs, Gardner Heaton and Joe Reichert. The team had an idea to begin from the ocean and go cross the Tyndal Glacier. The terrain was not in so good condition so they had to switch the route.
Today, Mount Saint Elias is infrequently climbed regardless of its difficult route and the height, and the bad weather. Snow is known to fall any mont of the year, followed by poor visibility.
There is also a movie inspired by this mountain. The Mount St. Elias movie is about three mountaineers that want to reach the summit, and to ski back down. It is a documentary about their voyage and their courage mixed with madness.
GEOGRAPHY OF MOUNT SAINT ELIAS
Plate tectonics, glaciers, volcanoes and erosion contributed to the formation of the incredible number of different natural features of the Mount Elias National Park. Some studies have shown that there are as many as 7 distinctive types of bedrock that form this area. Hundreds of million years ago, the Pacific plate crashed into the North American plate, which lifted the massive mountain ranges in Alaska. Then glaciers, rivers and wind further eroded them and shaped them into huge U-shaped valleys and high snow-covered peaks.
Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park is the largest National Park in the U.S. as it covers around 13.2 million acres of land. The whole Park is protected, including the surrounding areas, making this region the largest protected land in the world. These mountain ranges are still widely unexplored, and even the highest peaks are not climbed very often. All this makes this National Park a perfect place to experience a true wilderness.
Three mountain ranges converge in this region - The Chugach, Wrangell, and St. Elias mountain, and this area is often called "the mountain kingdom of North America".
Around 25% of the Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park is covered in glaciers, and some are enormous. The Malaspina Glacier covers an area larger than Rhode Island and the Bagley Icefield is the world's largest sub-polar icefield.
Glacial rivers that carve their way through the park are a perfect place to observe the ever-changing landscape and the power of the nature. The river level fluctuate drastically over the seasons, melting the ice, draining the glacial lakes and creating new river bed as it flows onward. Rafting is the best way to see all the changes - landslides and erosion in the carved hills around. In winter, the rivers freeze again into the perfect backcountry highways though the frozen snowy wilderness.
The weather in Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park varies with the terrain. The temperatures vary from 80 F in summer to low 40s F in spring and bellow freezing in winter. The weather is unpredictable, and mountains are almost always covered in cloud decks. Pacific storms hit these mountains frequently, usually with very little warning.
WILDLIFE OF MOUNT SAINT ELIAS
Vegetation may appear far apart and deficient, mostly in the interior, the park has a lot of plants and wildlife. The slopes have a range of different plants- dwarf shrubs and grasses. That’s where you will see sheep and goats keeping a lookout.
The inside and costal forests tend to have shrubs, like blueberry and prickly rose. Mooses feed on sedges and on the liches found on the slopes.
The wildlife includes Alaskan moose, mountain goats, wolverines, wolves, Dall sheep, arctic ground squirrels, snowshoe hares, bison, caribou, hoary marmots, weasels, black bears, grizzly bears, lynxes, martens, river otters, coyotes, red foxes, and many others, possibly even cougars.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park has one of the largest Dall sheep concentrations in North America - with approximately 13,000 sheep.
You can see whales, sea lions and harbor seals in the costal waters of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
Fish that are in the waters of the Park include Dolly Varden, Chinook, coho, chum, sockeye salmon, Pacific lamprey, rainbow trout, eulachon, lake trout, burbot, round whitefish, arctic grayling, northern pike and sculpins.
Birds include hermit thrushes, hairy woodpeckers, rock ptarmigans, robins, ravens, and a lot of owls. There are around 93 bird species living in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, but only 24 species stay for the winter.
FIRST ASCENT OF MOUNT SAINT ELIAS
Mount St Elias was first discovered in 1741, but the first ascent was not until 1897. The second ascent was in 1946.
The mountain was first climbed by Prince Luigi Amadeo di Savoia and his party, with mountain photographer Vittorio Sella. It was on July 31, 1897. Lots of details about this expedition were found from the diary of Vittorio Sella.
Mr. Sella writes about the route, the gear that weighted thousands of pounds. He also mentions a “black tent“, where he developed the photographs that he was taking on the way to the top. From the notes, we can see that the Prince was determined to reach the goal of the expedition which was reaching the summit. In the end he did it with lots of excitement and strength.
Climbing on mount saint elias
Mount Saint Elias is one of the most rugged and harsh mountain ranges in the world. Most places in the National Park can only be accessed with bush planes. The other way of accessing the mountains is hiking for miles and days, helped by the air drops of food and gear.
Mount Saint Elias is the highest mountain so close to the ocean, and has an immense vertical relief. Even though Everest and Denali are of course higher, they don't have much of vertical relief as Saint Elias. If you're climbing the mountain from tidewater, you have the whole 18,000 ft of ascending in front of you.
The "least terrible" time to climb this mountain would be from May to August, but even then be prepared for the unpredictable weather. Even during summer, the storms can turn the mountains into freezing conditions, hurricane winds with complete whiteouts.
There are no entry fees or gates in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, but it is requested you check in with park rangers before and after your climb. And remember, there is no high-altitude rescue team in this park, no one will come looking for you if you don't return.
Most routes on these mountains are a well kept secret, and because you absolutely need a bush plane or a boat to approach them, you need specialized guides and a lot of planning and preparing. Remember, its size, steepness, remoteness, extreme weather and lack of any rescue service makes this mountain one of the most elusive in North America, and should only be attempted by experienced and very motivated climbers.