Sunday, August 19, 2007

Wrangell-St Elias National Park & Preserve
It's Big!!!!!!

As we left Thompson Pass towards Wrangell-St Elias we got one more chance to view and climb on the Worthington Glacier.
Beauty.. eh!

We arrived at the cutoff to the old Edgerton highway to the Town of Chitna, along the Copper River. There are only 2 roads into the huge Wrangell-St Elias park. Both are gravel. The road to Chitna was fine, but the 60 mile drive on the McCarthy road towards the Kenicott mines was the absolute worst road we've driven to date. The road made the Dempster highway we drove to Inuvik above the Arctic circle seem like a smooth paved highway in comparison. The McCarthy road is a unique driving adventure. It's gravel and dirt surface makes for slow travel. Hazards include muddy and slippery conditions; sharp rocks can cause flat tires; narrow and one-lane bridges make maneuvering large vehicles difficult. We will never do it again in a motorhome. No fuel is available after Chitna. We experienced spectacular views, high narrow bridges, dust, bumps, and railroad spikes!! YEP, you read that right. RAILROAD SPIKES!!. We brought one back as a souvenir. Apparently they poured gravel directly over the original railbed, timbers and all. The graders sometimes reveal spikes. We drove slow and very methodically. We had many rewarding views along the way.
The Gilahana railroad trestle is something to see. It was built in 8 days, during the WINTER!

After fighting hours of dust, rain and all sorts of mean and nasty road conditions, this was view from camp. Was it worth the drive? Hmmmmm...... We are glad to say we did it... at least once. The picture below is of the Root glacier. The subsequent picture shows a panorama of our view from camp. Look closely and you can see the Kennecot mine.buildings.

Hiking trails are few and the best stuff in the park is very hard to access. This is a good thing and makes for a perfect wilderness expeditionary trip for those who wish to see the world without wheels and trails in the primitive way mother nature designed her. The road ends at McCarthy and the last five miles to the Kennecott mine require hiking, biking or taking a shuttle. Unfortunately, my chain broke on my bike and we had to take a shuttle ($20 round trip).

We did a somewhat grueling hike up to the Bonanza mine. It was an all day affair that offered incredible views of Mt Blackburn (over 16,000 ft!!!) and the moraine glaciers of the Kennicott and Root Glaciers.
In the Bonanza basin we saw many artifacts (trash?) from the mining operations. The remains of the mine and the bunkhouse looked pretty ghostly and eerie.
Up above the mine, on the upper ridge one could see into Canada (Kluane park) and we got views of 19,524 ft Mt Logan and a peek-a-boo of of 18,008 ft Mt Elias. If the clouds were gone, it would have made for perfect views of this spectacular World Heritage Park. As it was, we had no complaints.
The weather was nice and hot. The views were heavenly and Yukon Johann had a great time.

At the end of the day, we took our time and toured the mining community. Most of the buildings are in near ruins and the park service is attempting to restore many of the more impressive buildings. Mother nature has other ideas and in 2003 a normally benign creek swelled from moulins and glacier-marginal lakes to flood the town and destroyed a couple of historical buildings. The concentrator and some of the other more impressive buildings remain however. They stare out over the glacial moraines of the Kennicott and Root glaciers like sentinels against the sands of time. We left Wrangell-St Elias knowing that we had not even scratched the surface of the all the park has to offer. We vow to come back someday, loaded with cash for air drops and back country access. We wish to see what this country has to offer.

We took off towards Anchorage and that evening we were rewarded to heavenly views from our roadside camp. The GlennAllen Highway is a spectacular drive not to be missed.
Another day, another wonderful sunset. It has become a cliche for us all summer. Yet, each one is different and they offer a nice closing to the days of wonder we have experienced all summer.

We spent a night out by the Portage Glacier and then we had to make the turn to go back home.

The drive along the Glennallen hwy is wonderful.

Safe Travels,

Moose Lee and Yukon Johann