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Climbing
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Alpine climbing NCCS rating
Grade II
Elevation Gain
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Distance
14.00 mi (22.53 km)
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Donoho Peak is an iconic feature of Kennecott Valley’s breathtaking landscape. Offering staggering views and diverse terrain, Donoho is a one- or two-day expedition best completed during late spring or summer. Some may find the climb easier when there is still snow in the main gully, which melts to semi-loose scree as spring turns into summer. While the climbing itself isn’t very technical, climbers should have crampons and an ice axe for glacier travel and should have strong endurance and navigation skills. There are great local guiding companies such as St. Elias Alpine Guides that can help you summit Donoho if you don’t want to go solo.

The expedition begins at the end of the road in the historic mining town of Kennicott. Climbers can reach Kennicott from the tiny town of McCarthy by foot, bike, or shuttle only. Visitor vehicles are not permitted beyond the McCarthy Creek. Following the Root Glacier Trail for roughly 2.5 miles will lead you to the edge of the Root Glacier, where you’ll need to don your crampons and pull out that ice axe. The toe of the Root Glacier is mellow in terms of glacial terrain, but safety is nothing to mess around with when you’re in the middle of the Wrangell-St. Elias. When crossing the glacier, you’ll want to aim for the low area of Donoho basin in between the summit and the 3,000-foot hill at the end of Donoho’s “peninsula." It is recommended that you take off your crampons when crossing over the medial moraine.

You’ll be able to exit the glacier on the lateral moraine to the right of Donoho Falls. Atop the moraine is one of the better places to camp along the route, and you’ll notice many small trails and cleared out spaces for backcountry camping. If you choose to camp along the trail at any point during the expedition, be sure to follow bear safety protocol regarding food storage as there are many bears in the area! A trail leads into the basin at the northern end of this campsite—be sure you’re taking the trail going into the brush, not north along the west side of the Root Glacier. You will battle the foliage for the duration of this trail, but the path is navigable.

This trail will take you around Donoho’s left side and along the northeast banks of Lower and Upper Donoho Lake. As you near the main gully on Donoho’s western flank, try to find a trail leading toward it—you may end up bushwhacking your way near the end. As you hike up into the gully, the vegetation thins and turns into scree. From here on, the summit is straight up the gully. Roughly halfway up the mountain, some may find it easier to climb onto the grassy ridge to the gully’s left and continue from there. The last stretch ascends scree, and it is steeper than earlier in the ascent. Move slowly and be careful as you near the summit of Donoho.

The view from Donoho’s summit cannot be beat. To the northwest rises 16,390-foot Mount Blackburn with the Kennicott Glacier spilling down beneath it and merging with the Gates Glacier. To the northeast is the formidable Stairway Icefall. It's one of the world's largest and taller than even Mount Everest's famous Khumbu Icefall! On a clear day you can even gaze south to the Chugach Range before heading back down the gully. Look south and see if you can spot Kennicott in the distance across the Root Glacier—you’ve traveled a long way!

Weather in the McCarthy-Kennicott area is unpredictable. The best way to check the forecast is with your eyes. While running out of daylight at this latitude is not an issue during the summer, be wary of storms moving up the valley or over the mountains. Make cautious decisions; there is little medical help in the area.

You’ll notice that constructed features carry the “Kennicott” name while geographical features carry the alternate spelling, “Kennecott." This is because a clerical error was made when the mining town was under construction in the early 1900s.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Summer

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

Not Required

Pros

Diverse terrain. Great views. Solitude.

Cons

Unpredictable weather. Bugs. Bushwhack.

Pets allowed

Not Allowed

Trailhead Elevation

2,000.00 ft (609.60 m)

Net Elevation Gain

4,696.00 ft (1,431.34 m)

Features

Backcountry camping
Historically significant
Big vistas
Wildflowers

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Adventures

Wrangell - St. Elias National Park + Preserve
Wrangell - St. Elias National Park + Preserve

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Wrangell - St. Elias National Park + Preserve

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