The Beauty of the Wrangell-St. Elias Range

Destination: The Great Outdoors

Sitting on my 70 pound pack, roped to my teammates with snowshoes inhibiting me from removing my harness (forcing me to hold my pee all day), I just wanted a snack. Every time I attempted to bring my granola to my mouth, the whipping winds of the Nabesna Glacier swept it from my spoon and into the snow around me. Hungry and defeated, I packed my bowl, re-taped the blisters on my cheeks and nose, and turned around to hear my teammate and friend, Piper, moan, “why are we doing this?” And at that moment my answer was “I have no idea.”

My body was the most exhausted it had ever been. We were nearly at camp when Piper said “I bet up that hill is a really good view.” I did not want to walk up that hill, but Piper and I were on a rope together so if she was going, so was I. So, we walked up, and the instant we reached the top was the instant my body shifted from depleted, to overflowing with life and beauty.

Connection and Surrender

I was overlooking the absolute, rugged, wilderness of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. It changed me. My chest expanded, I felt taller, and I was filled with a calm strength I had never felt before. These were the kind of mountains and glaciers that humans could, at most, pass through. And even then, a safe passage could not be guaranteed by knowledge, preparation, and gear. It has to be granted by the mountains themselves.

A summit or a serious expedition in this mountain range takes a great deal of  teamwork and determination. And an even greater deal of luck. A mentor once told me that a successful expedition is never really up to the climber. Either the mountain allows you upward, with good weather and a good route, or the mountain does not. It is your responsibility to read that message well, because your life depends on it.

This advice rang in my ear as I soaked in the landscape surrounding me. With every blue sky, freezing blizzard, and radiant alpenglow, I overall was left with an immeasurable feeling of luck and joy. This feeling is a gift from the Nabesna glacier and the Wrangell St. Elias range. 

New Perspectives

Throughout the 50 days I spent there, I did not see a soul outside of my party. I was tested in ways I could not have predicted, and I left with more questions than answers. When I am exhausted I remember walking up that hill with Piper. I feel the strength the Wrangell St. Elias mountain range showed me, and I know how to answer Piper’s question; We were doing that because we were unsatisfied with life. We wanted to feel challenged and alive, and there is no better place to feel challenged and alive than the 13.2 million acres of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. 

Written By: Nell Decker