Kenny Lake to Wrangell –St Elias National Park and Preserve and back.
This morning driving east along the Edgerton Highway to Chitina, AK we had clear skies and could see the snow covered Mt Wrangell and Mt Blackburn of Wrangell –St Elias National Park and Preserve. We had 33 miles of paved road to Chitina, This is where Wrangell –St Elias National Park and Preserve starts, the road from here to the town of McCarthy and nearby Kennecott Mine is 59 miles of gravel road. The McCarthy Road follows the right of way of the old Copper River and Northwestern Railway. The “Milepost” states that the McCarthy Road is recommended for those who like adventuresome driving, which after driving, we do not want to drive again. As it made the road to Prudhoe Bay seem like a major interstate highway. They recommend motorists watch for sharp rocks, railroad spikes, no shoulders and no guardrails (this is not uncommon for many Alaska roads), narrow sections of road, soft spots, washboard, frost heaves, potholes, and a few “roller coaster” curves – just to name a few of the problems we faced on this road. At the end of the road there was no vehicle access from the visitor’s center across the Kennecott River from the end of the McCarthy Road. We crossed the river by a pedestrian bridge that bicycles and possibly a 4-wheeler could use. There is a bridge downstream owned privately that charges $300 per vehicle when crossing in or out of McCarthy/Kennecott. It is a mile walk from the footbridge to the town of McCarthy and a 6-mile walk to Kennecott. We rode a shuttle service provided by the local businesses for a fee of $5 per person one way.
At the town of Chitina, we stopped for breakfast at Hotel Chitina. This is a restored historic full-service restaurant and saloon. Chitna was established about 1908 at the northern terminus of the Copper River and Northwestern railroad as a railroad and mining supply town for the Kennecott copper Mines at McCarthy. When the mines and railroad were abandoned in 1938, Chitiina became a ghost town. Today the population is 105. The Copper River dip-net salmon fishery, considered one of the best place to dip-net is open only to Alaska residents.
Kennecott is now a national historic landmark. The mill was built in 1907 by Kennecott Copper corporation (an early day misspelling made the mining company Kennecott, while the glacier and river are Kennicott). Some of the building are privately owned but the one the park service owns are being stabilized. From Kennecott you can walk to the toe of Root Glacier. Many people were wearing a spiked shoe to walk on the glacier. This place would be great for solitude and scenery.
NOTE: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest unit in the national park system encompassing 13.2 million areas of wild lands and 9.7 million acres of designated wilderness. Mount St. Elias (18,029 feet) is the second tallest peak in the US. This park is larger than New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island combined and is larger than Switzerland and has taller mountains. It has 9 of the 16 tallest Mountains in North America. It also has the largest piedmont glacier, Malaspina Glacier, which covers an area of about 1,500 square miles-larger than the state of Rhode Island. It has been designated a national natural landmark. Hubbard Glacier, which flows out of the St. Elias Mountains into Disenchantment bay, is one of the most active glaciers in North America. It is presently advancing in spite of global climate change.
On our drive from Kenny Lake to Tok, AK we drove along the north side of Wrangell-St Elias NP however it was overcast and we had limited views of the mountains. In Tok, we filled up with gasoline and got our badly needed free car wash, picked up some free fudge, and moved on to Lakeview Campground at Yarger Lake.