The Saint Elias Mountains are a stunning range located in North America, stretching across the border of Canada and Alaska. Rising to a height of 18,008 feet (5,489 meters) at the summit of Mount Saint Elias, this range is the highest coastal mountain range in the world and one of the most remote and challenging to explore.
In this article, we'll explore the history of the Saint Elias Mountains, from their geological formation to their significance to the First Nations peoples and European explorers.
The Saint Elias Mountains: At a Glance
Highest Peak: Mount Logan (19,551')
Interesting Fact: The Saint Elias Range is home to some of the world's largest non-polar icefields.
10 Mountains in the Saint Elias Range
Here are 10 of the most important mountains in the Saint Elias Range:
Mount Saint Elias 18,008 feet (5,489 meters)
Mount Saint Elias is the second-highest peak in both Canada and the United States and the highest coastal mountain in the world. Located on the border of Alaska and the Yukon Territory of Canada, it is a popular mountaineering destination due to its impressive size and challenging terrain. The mountain was first climbed by the Duke of Abruzzi.
Mount Logan 19,551 feet (5,959 meters)
The highest peak in Canada, Mount Logan, rises to a height of 19,551 feet (5,959 meters). It is located in Kluane National Park and Reserve, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its diverse ecosystems and stunning landscapes.
Mount Lucania 17,257 feet (5,260 meters)
Another notable peak in Kluane National Park, Mount Lucania, reaches a height of 17,257 feet (5,260 meters). It is a popular destination for mountaineers due to its challenging ascent and remote location.
Mount Cook 13,760 feet (4,195 meters)
Located in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Mount Cook, is a stunning peak that rises to a height of 13,760 feet (4,195 meters). It is known for its steep and rugged terrain, as well as its impressive glaciers and ice fields.
Mount Vancouver 15,787 feet (4,812 meters)
At 15,787 feet (4,812 meters), Mount Vancouver is the fourth-highest peak in Canada. It is located in the remote St. Elias Mountains of eastern Alaska and is known for its impressive ice fields and glacial valleys.
Mount Queen Mary 13,712 feet (4,179 meters)
Rising to a height of 13,712 feet (4,179 meters), Mount Queen Mary is a prominent peak located in the southwestern part of the range. It is known for its steep and jagged ridgelines, as well as its impressive glaciers and ice fields.
Mount Augusta 14,070 feet (4,289 meters)
Located in the heart of the Saint Elias Range, Mount Augusta rises to a height of 14,070 feet (4,289 meters). It is known for its challenging climbing routes and remote location, as well as its impressive glaciers and ice fields.
Mount Steele 16,644 feet (5,069 meters)
Another notable peak in Kluane National Park, Mount Steele, reaches a height of 16,644 feet (5,069 meters). It is known for its rugged terrain and impressive glaciers, as well as its role in the history of mountaineering in Canada.
Mount Wood 15,912 feet (4,851 meters)
At 15,912 feet (4,851 meters), Mount Wood is the fifth-highest peak in Canada. Located in the eastern part of the range, it is known for its impressive ice fields and glaciers, as well as its challenging climbing routes.
Mount Bona 16,421 feet (5,005 meters)
Rising to a height of 16,421 feet (5,005 meters), Mount Bona is located in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. It is known for its impressive glaciers and ice fields, as well as its role in the history of mountaineering in Alaska.
Is Mount Saint Elias Hard to Climb?
Yes, Mount Saint Elias is a challenging peak to climb. At 5,489 meters (18,008 feet), it is the second-highest peak in both Canada and the United States, and its remote location and unpredictable weather patterns make it a difficult and dangerous climb. Mountaineers attempting to summit the peak must contend with steep, icy slopes, high winds, and extreme temperatures, as well as the potential for avalanches and crevasses.
Additionally, the mountain's proximity to the ocean can lead to rapid changes in weather conditions, adding an extra layer of difficulty to any ascent. Climbing Mount Saint Elias requires significant experience, technical skill, and preparation, and should only be attempted by experienced mountaineers with proper training and equipment.
The Saint Elias Range was largely unexplored by Europeans until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1897, the Duke of Abruzzi made the first ascent of Mount St. Elias, the range's highest peak, with a team of Italian climbers. Other notable first ascents in the range include Mount Logan by Albert H. MacCarthy and a team of Canadian climbers in 1925, and Mount Lucania by Bradford Washburn and Robert Hicks Bates in 1937.
The Saint Elias Range has been the subject of several geological surveys, beginning with the work of geologist Israel C. Russell in the late 19th century. Other notable surveys include the International Boundary Commission Survey in the early 20th century, and the US Geological Survey's Mapping of the St. Elias Mountains project in the 1950s and 60s.
The range's extensive glaciers and ice fields have also been the subject of scientific research, with notable studies including the work of glaciologist Austin Post in the 1930s and 40s, and the St. Elias Erosion/Tectonics Project in the 1980s and 90s.
Today, the Saint Elias Range is a popular destination for outdoor recreation, with activities such as hiking, mountaineering, and skiing attracting visitors from around the world. The range is home to several national parks and protected areas, including Kluane National Park and Reserve in Canada and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in the United States.
Challenges and Risks
Exploration and mountaineering in the Saint Elias Range can be extremely challenging and dangerous, with unpredictable weather patterns, extreme temperatures, and rugged terrain posing significant risks to climbers and researchers. Several notable tragedies have occurred in the range, including the 1986 Mount Hubbard avalanche that claimed the lives of three climbers.
Flora and Fauna
The Saint Elias Mountain Range is home to a diverse array of plant and animal life, adapted to survive in the harsh and unforgiving alpine environment. Here are some notable species:
Mountain goats - These agile and sure-footed animals are found throughout the range, with their shaggy white coats helping them blend in with the snowy terrain. They are able to climb steep cliffs and traverse rugged terrain with ease and are known for their impressive horns.
Grizzly bears - These iconic predators are found throughout the range, feeding on a variety of plants and animals. They are known for their incredible strength and power and are an important part of the local ecosystem.
Hoary marmots - These large rodents are found in alpine meadows and rocky areas throughout the range. They are known for their loud calls and social behavior and can often be seen sunning themselves on rocks or scurrying through the underbrush.
Alpine wildflowers - Despite the harsh environment, Saint Elias Range is home to a variety of beautiful wildflowers, including lupines, fireweed, and buttercups. These hardy plants are able to survive in the thin, rocky soil and bloom in brilliant colors during the brief summer months.
Climate and Weather
The Saint Elias Range experiences a harsh and unpredictable climate, shaped by its location on the edge of the Pacific Ocean and the polar ice cap. Here are some key features:
Heavy snowfall - The range is known for its high levels of snowfall, which can occur at any time of year. This snow is responsible for the large glaciers and ice fields that cover much of the terrain.
Extreme temperature fluctuations - Temperatures in the range can fluctuate widely throughout the day and between seasons, with freezing temperatures and strong winds common even in the summer months.
Coastal influence - The proximity of the range to the Pacific Ocean can lead to high levels of precipitation, as well as occasional storms and high winds.
Microclimates - The Saint Elias Range is known for its varied microclimates, with different areas experiencing different weather patterns and temperatures depending on their location and elevation. This can make predicting weather patterns and conditions challenging for visitors and researchers alike.
History of the Saint Elias Mountains
The Saint Elias Mountains were formed by the collision of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates, which created the intense pressure that led to the rise of these towering peaks. This process began around 60 million years ago and continues to this day, as the mountains continue to grow at a rate of a few millimeters per year.
First Nations Connection
The Saint Elias Mountains have long been an important site for the First Nations peoples who have lived in the region for thousands of years. These peoples have a deep connection to the land and the mountains, with many of their creation stories and cultural practices rooted in the natural beauty and power of the range. Today, the Kluane First Nation and other indigenous communities continue to call the area home and work to preserve its natural and cultural heritage.
The Saint Elias Mountains were first explored by Europeans in the late 18th century when Russian explorers ventured into the region seeking new fur trade routes. Over the next century, other explorers and mountaineers followed, including the famous Canadian climber Conrad Kain, who made the first ascent of Mount Logan in 1925. The area also played a key role in the Klondike Gold Rush, as prospectors crossed the mountains to reach the gold fields of the Yukon.
Today, the Saint Elias Mountains are recognized as a critical site for conservation and scientific research, with much of the range protected by national parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These protections help to preserve the fragile ecosystems and unique geology of the range while also ensuring that the First Nations peoples and local communities have a voice in its management and protection.
Where are the Saint Elias Mountains?
The Saint Elias Mountains are located in the Pacific Cordillera range, along the borders of Canada, the United States, and Alaska. The range runs for approximately 500 km (311 mi) from the Chilkoot Pass in Alaska, through the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park in British Columbia, and into Kluane National Park in the Yukon Territory of Canada. The southernmost part of the range is located in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska is also the largest national park in the United States.
What is the highest mountain in the US, not in Alaska?
The highest mountain in the United States, not located in Alaska, is Mount Whitney, which is located in California. It has an elevation of 4,421 meters (14,505 feet) above sea level and is the highest peak in the Sierra Nevada range.
What is the best time to visit the Saint Elias Mountain Range?
The best time to visit the Saint Elias Mountain Range depends on the activities you plan to do and the specific area you want to explore. Generally, the summer months of June to August offer the best weather conditions for hiking and climbing, with milder temperatures and longer daylight hours.
However, these months can also be busy with tourists and hikers, and some areas may still have snow and ice on the ground. Spring and fall can also be good times to visit, with fewer crowds and cooler temperatures, but weather conditions can be more unpredictable. Winter is typically not recommended for most visitors due to the extreme cold and snowfall.
Are there any guided tours or outfitters available for exploring the Saint Elias Mountain Range?
Yes, there are several guided tours and outfitters available for exploring the Saint Elias Mountain Range. These include companies that offer guided hikes, mountaineering expeditions, backcountry skiing, and other outdoor adventures. Some of the most popular outfitters in the region include Icefield Discovery, Kluane Backcountry Guides, and St. Elias Alpine Guides. It is recommended to research and book these tours in advance, as many of them can fill up quickly during peak seasons.
Are there any cultural or historical sites to visit in the Saint Elias Mountain Range?
Yes, there are several cultural and historical sites to visit in the Saint Elias Mountain Range. The region is home to several First Nations and Indigenous communities, who have lived in the area for thousands of years and have a rich cultural history. Visitors can learn about this history and culture by visiting museums and cultural centers in nearby towns or by participating in cultural tours and events. The region also has a rich mining history, with several historic mining sites and ghost towns that can be explored.
Additionally, the national parks and protected areas in the region have a wealth of natural and historical resources that can be explored through interpretive programs and ranger-led tours.