Grand Adventure in Wrangell-St Elias National Park & Preserve


Alaskan Wilderness Proves a Life-Changing Experience for SCA Member Amy J. Marks

ABOVE: A bush plane dropped off SCA member Amy J. Marks and park rangers Evan Olsen, Ed Eberhardy, Jim Hanna at the starting point for their backcountry river patrol of Wrangell St. Elias National Park, right below the toe of the Tana Glacier where the Tana River begins.

The following images were taken during my service as an SCA Backcountry Ranger Intern at Wrangell-St Elias National Park & Preserve in the summer of 2014.

This is the nation’s largest national park, but it’s mostly inaccessible by car. To get acquainted with this vast landscape, I was taken on a bush plane outing soon after I started, flying over the Wrangell Mountains and the giant valley glaciers running through them. I shot this through the window:

A valley glacier in the Wrangell Mountains shot from a bush plane by SCA member Amy J. Marks.

The other viable method of transportation through WRST (aside from hiking, of course) is via the park’s rivers. Thus, I was given the opportunity to join a backcountry river patrol with several rangers and other volunteers. We were dropped off by plane right below the toe of the Tana Glacier where the Tana River begins. We spent the next week floating the Tana (class 4) to its confluence with the much calmer Chitina River, and took out in the teeny tiny town of Chitina.

We patrol the backcountry for several reasons: To keep an eye on the conditions of the water and the terrain, to monitor human impact, and to generally get to know the land. As an example of the first, we passed by and noted the site of a giant landslide that had occurred the previous year:

The land, water, and ice of the Alaskan backcountry is constantly changing, and we need to monitor these changes and relay them to visitors. Backcountry patrols are also just a great way to give Rangers, park staff, and volunteers a chance to develop their wilderness survival skills.

Amy J. Marks on a backcountry river patrol at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.

While I went on a good deal of mind-blowing patrols in the course of my regular duties, and had additional amazing experiences during my time off, this particular patrol truly remains one of the grandest adventures of my life. We became completely self-sufficient for a pretty prolonged time. We played games, cursed mosquitoes, ate well, worked hard, and, even with every precaution in place, felt the true sense of danger that’s inherent in any journey through such an extremely remote wilderness. We were incredibly far from any human contact outside our little group. In some ways it made me feel like we controlled our own fate, but in a more important sense it showed me how great the forces of nature are in comparison to man. The biggest thing I learned in Alaska is that the sense of balance between humans and their surroundings is out of whack. I think we need to get back to a place of respect for the environment rather than trying to exert human dominance.

Did all of this make a lasting impression on me? Well, since returning to the lower 48 my efforts in sustainability and environmental advocacy have increased fourfold. How’s that for an impression? Pretty intense, right?

BELOW: SCA member Eric Tidwell at Hatcher Pass Management Area, shot by Amy J. Marks during a weekend trip from her internship at Wrangell-St. Elias.