“Dad, can I borrow the plane?”
When you raise a family 100 miles from the nearest road, you do things a little differently. The Claus family backyard is 13 million acres of the most remote wilderness on earth.
The Clauses are a family of adventurers, with this land in their hearts, in their blood. Three generations have grown up here. They know this land. They love it. And they love to share it.
Long before European settlers came to Alaska, local Athabascan tribes sent scouting expeditions up the valley. Those expeditions never returned. To this day, the elders in Glenallen will tell you their people believed the valley to be haunted, and that is why they never settled here.
“We are the first human beings to ever settle in this valley,” says Paul Claus. “As a result we fly places every week that no human being has ever been.”
It was Grandpa John Claus who first settled at Ultima Thule. In 1958, John was a schoolteacher in Anchorage. But his passion for the wilderness drove him to the cockpit of his very first plane, an early Piper Cub similar to the Super Cubs used at the lodge today.
By 1960 he had fallen in love with this patch of land by the Chitina, a hundred miles from the nearest road. He staked a claim under the Alaskan Homestead Act, and was granted five acres if he could make any use of it.
“These 5 acres were mine,” says John with a smile. “With a 13 million acre backyard.”
Armed only with axes, John and two Eskimos built the first log cabin by the shore of the Chitina. Over the years the river flooded twice, and the settlement moved farther up the side of the mountain. Ultima Thule has grown – it now offers all the luxury and hospitality of civilization to travelers in the deepest wilderness. But those same, hand-hewn logs still form part of the main lodge, the primal heart beating at Ultima Thule.
In 1982, newly married, John and Eleanor’s son Paul, along with his new bride Donna, made the land their permanent home and began building the lodge.
In the years since, they’ve raised three children here on the land. Ellie 23, Jay 20, Logan 14 have grown up in this home in the wilderness. They’ve learned to hike, fish and live off the land. Jay and Ellie are talented pilots and experienced wilderness guides, who are now beginning to take the reins as the next generation of Clauses to welcome guests to this remote patch of paradise.
The ancient Greeks used the name “Ultima Thule” to describe the unknowable realm beyond the northern bounds of their maps.
Pronounce it like this: “Ultimah Toolie.”
“Traveller! in what realms afar,
In what planet, in what star,
In what vast, aerial space,
Shines the light upon thy face?
In what gardens of delight
Rest thy weary feet to-night?”
Alaska’s Mount St. Elias is bigger than Everest.
It comes down to this: Everest starts higher. If you took St. Elias -- 17,000 vertical feet of solid rock -- and set it up on the plateau among the Himalayas -- it would be twice as high as Everest.
The Wrangell/St. Elias mountain ranges are a geological paradise – volcanos, glaciers, gold, copper – and the highest coastal mountain range on earth.
Ultima Thule guests have discovered fossilized seashells on mountaintops that have only been bare a few days.
“It’s called the Alaska Factor,” says Paul Claus.
“Everything is bigger, larger, greater – and tougher than it looks. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, if you come here, you’ll contend with the Alaska Factor.”