One memorable research trip in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska, began late August 1994 when we towed our two ATV’s through the tiny town of Chitina and followed the McCarthy road about 10 miles to Strelna. Here a narrow dirt road, the Kotsina, forked to the north leading to the Nugget Creek trailhead at Strelna Creek where we parked our rig and unloaded the four wheelers. We secured waterproof dry bags, a small ice chest, and two 2 gallon cans of fuel to the all terrain vehicles, and headed down the trail with enough gear for five days. If you plan to take this trip today, check with the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, ORV’s may not be allowed anymore but hiking and biking should be fine. We had a permit to use ours back in 1994.
Rain clouds threatened as we rode the crude trail that skirted the foothills along the Kuskulana River twenty miles to our destination. Dressed in rain gear, rubber boots, gloves, and hats, we each wore a waist pack with water bottle, bear spray, snacks, bug repellent and camera, additionally Bob carried our 12 gauge shotgun loaded with slugs for protection. The trail crosses five creeks before it reaches Nugget Creek and during a wet year the crossings can be impassible. It had been six weeks since rain so we were expecting a trouble free trip. We planned to stay at a very remote private cabin in the canyon near the headwaters of Nugget Creek near Skyscraper Peak in the foothills of 16,390 foot tall Mt. Blackburn in the Wrangell mountains.
At the beginning of the trail is a spongy, muddy bog that we were warned might not be passable. Part way through the muck, Bob’s vehicle high centered and was hopelessly stuck. I couldn’t imagine what these mud flats would be like during the rainy season if they were this bad after six weeks without rain.
Gail Niebrugge, Alaska artist