Justin badly needed some recovery time following his 23-day Denali expedition. So we went camping and hiking. Yep, apparently more outdoor exposure cures severely sunburnt lips and frost nipped fingers.
We spent 3 nights in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, which is the largest national park in America. To give it some scale, it equals six Yellowstones. Or Vermont and New Hampshire, combines. The park is riddled with eternally-snow-capped mountains and braided rivers that lead to receding glaciers covering 25% of the park (more than 150 glaciers!!!). It has a few claims to fame: 9 of the 16 highest peaks in the United States take up residence here, as well as the longest tidewater glacier (Hubbard) and the largest piedmont glacier (Malaspina). With only 2 gravel roads to access one little percent of the 13,000-acre park, there’s a whole lot of rugged grandeur. You just have to see it to believe it, as pictures (at least my pictures) can’t do it justice.
We went down both roads, which are … rough (to say the least).
On the northern side to Nabesna, we camped and day hiked 15 miles around the trails. This side of the park sees less than 1500 people a year. And, even though Dall sheep, grizzly bear, caribou and moose are rumored to patrol the area, we saw none. Beautiful, nonetheless.
On the southern side to McCarthy–where most of the still-low visitor population flocks–we took a history lesson. So many of our friends/family recommended visiting McCarthy … and now I know why.
McCarthy is home to Kennecott Mining Co., an extremely productive copper mine, which operated between 1911 and 1938. Since the mining boom, only 30 people live in the off-the-grid mill town year-round, with a higher summer population to feed the tourists. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and apparently has a Discovery Channel Reality TV show, “Edge of Alaska.” Like a time capsule, the mining district relics serve as a living museum. The National Park Service does a great job of maintaining the buildings for us to tour. It was quite amazing.
Back in the mining heyday, the pioneers built a railroad to the mines and mill in order to transport the copper ore out of town to sell. The railroad was a huge endeavor, with hundreds of high bridges and trestles above icy rivers. Turns out the investment was well worth it; the mining company made $1 million profit! The old railroad is now the road to McCarthy, and very few brave the path like we did. Most take the smarter route and fly in for the visit.
Following our visit to Wrangell-St. Elias, I FORCED J to take 2 days of true R&R. Who doesn’t enjoy a good soaking and beer once in awhile?
We have a whole other week of touring Alaska to do with our 13-year-old nephew, so I need him not to collapse.