The call of the wild

Bush planes, rough trails, and a family of adventurers

Ultima Thule is an adventure centric wilderness outpost inside the vast Wrangell/St. Elias Mountains of Alaska on the banks of a raging glacial river. It is one hundred miles from the end of the pavement. Weather dictates unexpected days with a combination of land-based and bush plane experiences for a maximum of 14 guests from May-September.

Sunlight streams into the lodge after an afternoon of exploring. You stretch out on a bearskin rug, breathe deep the smell of wood smoke, and gaze out at the vast expanse of water and the mountains towering over Alaska’s
Chitina River. The smoke coming out of the chimney tells guests that the fire is lit and time to rejuvenate awaits inside the wood–fired sauna. Later, it’s up to the main lodge where the table is set awaiting the chef’s creation.

Farm-to-table is a way of life out here. The smell of the freshly baked bread is nearly irresistible and fresh ingredients grown under the midnight sun in organic gardens and greenhouses are always on the menu. (Ask for a tour!) Salmon and wild game is harvested locally. A selection of Alaskan microbrews as well as lodge favourite reds and whites are available.

Off the beaten path
Guests are invited to sip a drink, take a seat on the deck and enjoy stunning vistas of the mountain peaks that are being gilded in pink. They trade stories and pictures of their day’s adventures. The main lodge sits at the top of the hill and houses the dining room, open kitchen, and sitting room with floor-to-ceiling windows. The deck has cozy furniture and a beautiful fire circle for those crisp nights. Every touch of civilization was either handmade on site or thoughtfully selected and flown here by the owners.

Each handcrafted cabin has a unique arrangement, some with two bedrooms, one room boasting an over-stuffed King size feather bed, a full bathroom and a sitting room with amazing views of the mighty river and surrounding mountains. Although cabins are off the grid, all of them have 24-hour electricity and running hot water which is a real nod to the crew for making this happen day in and day out.

Raw and wild
When you raise a family 100 miles from the nearest road, you do things a little differently. Today the Claus family backyard is 13 million acres of the most remote wilderness on earth. Three generations of Clauses have grown up with this land in their hearts and blood. They know and love to share this land.

It was Grandpa John who staked a 5-acre claim under the Alaskan Homestead Act and built the first log cabin deep in the wilderness. Over the years, Ultima Thule has grown and now, John and Eleanor’s son Paul, along with his wife Donna, are the stewards of the land that they now make their permanent home and have raised their three children, Ellie, Jay and Logan here on the land. Growing up they learned to fish, hike, live off the land and now they are all pilots and experienced wilderness guides.

No itinerary
Although Alaska contains some of the largest wilderness on earth, most adventurers never get past the major hubs of Southeast and Denali. The Wrangell Mountains are famously wild and difficult to navigate on foot, even in summer. The Chitina is a braided river, a network of intertwined currents and sandbars miles across. Here in the heart of the wilderness, bears roam glittering sandbars, moose feast on wild vegetation and Dall sheep tread their ancient mountain paths while eagles soar from cliff to spruce.

Each day is different and activities revolve around the weather—a combination of daily fly-out drops and flight tour adventures. There’s always a guide and lunch is served alfresco. But ultimately, it’s the thrill of being in a place where nature leaves behind daily routines and fills the long, brilliant days of Alaskan summer with wonder that’s exhilarating.

Flying high
Getting here and traveling so far is part of the experience. Fly into Anchorage and let the lodge help you arrange a seat on the shared flight charter bound for McCarthy where you’ll be met by one of Ultima Thule’s world-class bush pilots. Ultima Thule is a wilderness sanctuary for a maximum of 14 guests.

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