Where is The Alaska Range?

High resolution map of the Alaska Range. Does not include the Tordrillo Mountains and only the northern Neacolas.

I have been getting requests to see a map of the Alaska Range and the area I am photographing. So I teamed up with the Alaska Center for the Environment and their GIS wizard Doug Tosa, to create a map. We figured we could just whip this thing out in no time, we were wrong.

The issue was that the Alaska Range is hard to define. The main area of confusion is the south, south-western sections of the Alaska Range. This is where two mountain ranges, the Alaska Range and the Aleutian Range, come crashing together, making it difficult, if not impossible, to decide exactly which mountains are part of which range.

Alaskan’s are very opinionated bunch and mountaineers, geologists, geographers, volcanologists and geothermorphologists, all disagree on what constitutes southern end of the Alaska Range. The mountains that generally can’t be agreed upon are the Neacola and Todrillo Mountains.

Often, the Neacola Mountains get grouped together with the Chigmit Mountains, which include the beautiful volcanoes Mount Redoubt and Mount Illiamna. Having been in every section of the Alaska Range, I find that the Neacola Mountains, with their steep, foreboding granite walls, have the same feel and look as the Kichanta and Revelation Mountains and not like the volcanic Aleutian Range. I know, that has no scientific value, but sometimes you need to just go with your feelings!

The Tordrillos are a unique, isolated group of beautiful mountains that sit on a high plateau. Mount Spurr, is the last, large volcano of the Aleutian Range and acts as a huge anchor at the south end of the Tordrillo Mountains. In the book Todrillo: Pioneer Climbs and Flights in the Tordrillo Mountains of Alaska, the authors consider the Tordrillo Mountains to be part of the Alaska Range and the Neacola Mountains as part of the Aleutians.

Up to this point, I have not put any focus on the Todrillo Mountains.  Because of their volcanic nature, I have grouped them with the Aleutian Range. Don’t get me wrong, they are beautiful and I would be more than happy to explore them in-depth, I just don’t know if they fit into the Alaska Range or not.

Another opinion of the Alaska Range is that it doesn’t include the Neacolas or the Tordrillo Mountains! When you look at a geographical map, that makes sense.

Some the of the named mountains on this map are “local” names that have developed over time.

Let me know what you think about which mountains should or shouldn’t be included in the project.

UPDATE:  Please see Steve Gruhn’s comment below. Here is a version without either of the “disputed” areas.


3 thoughts on “Where is The Alaska Range?

  1. Hi, Carl.

    Your conundrum is not a unique one. Vin Hoeman had the same issues regarding the same sub-ranges.

    My take on it is similar to Rod Wilson, the author of Tordrillo: Pioneer Climbs and Flights in the Tordrillo Mountains of Alaska, 1957-1997; I think the Tordrillo Mountains are in the Alaska Range and the Neacola Mountains are in the Aleutian Range. But there is certainly room for disagreement between geographers and geologists on this issue.

    On issues such as this, I usually defer to Donald Orth’s Dictionary of Alaska Place Names. Orth describes the location of the Alaska Range as extending “in an arc 650 miles from Iliamna Lake at [the southwest] end to [the] White River in Canada at [the southeast] end.” Orth includes the Tordrillo Mountains as part of the Alaska Range, but doesn’t address the Neacola Mountains because they were named after Orth wrote his Dictionary. But the USGS Geographic Names Information System (the official gazetteer of toponyms in the U.S.) lists the Neacola Mountains as being in the Aleutian Range (search for the feature name Neacola Mountains at http://geonames.usgs.gov/pls/gnispublic/f?p=132:1:910383575447858 and then click on the link).

    So, back to you original question: what are the boundaries of the Alaska Range? I take the Alaska Range to be the mountains inside the area circumscribed by a line from Trading Bay, following the McArthur River to the Chakachatna River to Ch’akajabena Lake (formerly known as Chakachamna Lake) to Kenibuna Lake to the Neacola River to Telaquana Pass to the Telaquana River to the Stony River, then skirting around the Lime Hills to Little Underhill Creek to the South Fork of the Swift River to the Swift River to the Kuskokwim River to the Selatna River, then skirting around the Kuskokwim Mountains to the Big River to the Middle Fork of the Kuskokwim River to the North Fork of the Kuskokwim River to Jim Lake to Lake Minchumina to the Muddy River to Birch Creek to the Kantishna River to the Tanana River to the Chisana River to Scottie Creek to Snag Creek to the White River to Solo Creek, then skirting the Wrangell Mountains to Solo Mountain Pass to Geohenda Creek to the Chisana River to Cross Creek to Notch Creek to Cooper Pass to Cooper Creek to the Nabesna River to Jack Creek to Jack Lake to Tanada Creek to the Copper River to the Tazlina River to Tolsona Creek, then skirting the Talkeetna Mountains to Lake Louise to Susitna Lake to Tyone Lake to the Tyone River to the Susitna River to the West Fork of the Susitna River to Monahan Creek to the Nenana River to the Jack River to Cantwell Creek to Summit Lake to Broad Pass to the Middle Fork of the Chulitna River to the Chulitna River to the Susitna River to Cook Inlet and back to Trading Bay. Whew! Bet you didn’t plan on such a long-winded answer, but I hope it helps.

    I’ll send you a national Geographic Topo! map that might help give you a visual representation.

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