Trip Start Mar 04, 2005
253Trip End Dec 31, 2014
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Well, you know that old line about the best laid plans....Three of our group had to head into the Anchorage area a few days early for various reasons. That left us & the Bells. Doug is a fisherman and hasn't had the opportunity to 'wet a line' yet. So we headed out of Valdez northbound along the Richardson Highway pulling over at a wide spot at about mile post 101 - you see, the salmon were running!
The next morning Ken & I headed out for the drive along the McCarthy Road. First, some back ground. The Wrangell - St Elias National Park is the largest unit in the National Park system, encompassing 13.2 million acres of wild lands, 9.7 million of which are designated wilderness. The park also contains the largest concentration of glaciers AND the greatest collection of peaks over 16,000 feet on the continent.
There are only two roads into the park. One is the Nabesna Road which runs off the Tok Cutoff Highway and travels 41 miles into the park. The other is the McCarthy Road which travels 93 miles ( one way ) from the Richardson Highway to the town of McCarthy. The road is paved for the first 33 miles and graded gravel for the last 60 miles.
We were intrigued by everything we had read and heard about the McCarthy road and had chosen to travel it on this trip. I have to admit to a fair amount of uncertainty in doing this trip when we woke up and discovered a light drizzle and overcast skies. I really wanted to do it on a bright sunny day when all those previously mentioned 16,000 foot peaks would be visible. Realizing that we may never be back this way again was all it took to convince me to 'go for it'!
The drive was in fact quite pretty. The graded gravel section was, for the most part, in good shape. In fact, it was better in some sections than the paved highway. When we arrived at the end of the road we parked the car ( $5 for parking ), walked across the foot bridge over the Copper River and hopped on the shuttle van. ( it runs every hour - our timing was perfect! )
The van makes a short drive to the town of McCarthy before heading the 5 miles up to the Kennicott mill site. Approximately 200 million dollars worth of copper was taken from this mine between 1906 and 1938. The population reached a high of 800 and the town of McCarthy was 'born ' to provide services to the miners and their families. In 1908 a railroad was built so that the ore could be transferred from Kennicott to Cordova. The railroad right of way is in fact the road we drove in on, the tracks have been removed but the roadbed still remains.
The Kennicott mill site was purchased by the National Park Service in 1998 along with 3,000 acres of surrounding land and became part of the Wrangell - St Elias National Park. The summer season sees quite a few visitors to the park and the year round population is estimated at 55.
It was a great day. If we visited again we would leave the car parked in the dirt lot at the end of the road and spend the night at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge which is located at the mill site. There is actually quite a bit to do here - including guided tours of the old mine as well as guided glacier walks. Something to keep in mind for our next visit!