Wrangell-St. Elias National park
Trip Start May 29, 2009
114Trip End Oct 03, 2009
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Where I stayed
We got to the ranger station and talked to the ranger about our plans. He explained that the McCarthy Road takes about 2 to 3 hours to drive each way. That killed our plans to day trip into the park for two days of activities. We drove back to the coach, quickly packed overnight bags, and returned to Chitina. The ranger had given us a list of accommodations in McCarthy and Kennecott
The McCarthy Road begins by crossing the Copper River (as in Copper River salmon !), named for the big copper mines that were located here. The river is slate gray from the glacial silt in its tributaries. The road follows the railroad bed that carried the copper ore from Kennecott to Cordova. People still get flat tires from railroad spikes. Along the way we saw a moose in a lily pond and two of the leftover railroad trestles. The highway still uses one of these trestles, 238 feet above the Kuskulana River. The views of the mountains were not very good, due to the clouds and rain. We made the drive to McCarthy in 2 ¼ hours. We found a B&B for the night that was really just 5 small cabins, each with beds and bathroom. An extra cabin had a kitchen with breakfast items for make your own cold breakfast.
We stopped at the McCarthy Ranger Station, but they no longer have the passport stamp that was on Jim's list. We then parked at the footbridge, and walked across to catch the shuttle van. From the schedule posted, it looked like we had just missed the 2:00 pm shuttle, so we decided to walk into McCarthy. We purchased a shuttle ticket and checked out the town (one short block) while waiting for the van.
We caught the 3:00 shuttle and rode to St. Elias Alpine Guides in Kennecott for the tour of the old mill building. We learned a great deal about the operation of the mines, the mill, and the people who worked here. The mines were located 5 miles up the mountains. A tram system carried the rock to the mill. Here the limestone was separated, yielding copper ore at least 70% pure. Then it was transported by rail to Cordova and by ship to a smelter in Tacoma. The Kennecott Copper Company started here and still exists elsewhere. They pioneered leading edge techniques in this mill, built the railroad, and made over $100 million in profits in the early 1900s. This was a very risky venture in unfriendly and extremely remote territory. The mill and railroad operated around the clock even through the Alaskan winter. During the Depression of the 1930s, they could no longer be profitable, so they shut down, and left everything as is. After the park was created in 1980 under ANILCA, the park service began buying the buildings as a National Historic Site. They are trying to stabilize and restore the buildings as budgets permit.
After the tour we checked on activities for tomorrow. We decided on the half day glacier hike with the same tour company, St. Elias Alpine Guides. We rode the shuttle back into McCarthy for dinner at the Golden Saloon at McCarthy Lodge. Then, it was back to our B&B for the night.