The tale will begin, of our first major foray into Wrangell St.-Elias National Park via the McCarthy road, and our visit to the Kennecott Copper mine. The weather was splendid (a pleasant surprise for this time of year) and the autumn colors were beginning to make their turn. The entire trip was magnitudes more interesting than I had anticipated. The tale will continue. Remain calm; Stay tuned.
On our way to McCarthy ... I knew there is a ranger station at the Kennecott Mine, but along the way I thought it prudent to stop in and visit with the main visitor center along the Richardson Highway on our way in. Stories and information varies, and it would not hurt to hedge our bets with more input. It was a good call. The ranger Katie was delighted to hear we are from Haines, and we found we have mutual friends. She recommended we stop in and see Ranger Vickie at the Chitina station along the McCarthy road, which we did. To our delight, Vickie told us we would have a nice surprise if we back-tracked slightly and went down the O'Brien Creek road. The view was wondrous, where O'Brien Creek enters the Copper River, a favored dip-netting location for salmon harvests. I believe the distant view may be of Spirit Mountain.
Along the McCarthy Road (Mile 17) the Kuskulana Bridge was a major trestle along the Copper River and Northwestern Railway line completed in 1911 to transport copper ore from Kennecott to Cordova. The Kuskulana Bridge spans a 238' gorge. The bridge was constructed during the winter of 1910.
Along the McCarthy Road, got a flat tire at the Kuskalana Bridge. Really appreciated my Subaru's low pressure sensor alert. Twenty miles in, forty miles to go, Proceed or retreat for a repair? Forged ahead and trusted that at the end of a 60-mile dirt road, someone would be ready to capitalize. Lovely views along the way. What, me worry?
Fireweed Mountain. Much of the Wrangell mountains are volcanic, and from a distance this looked very much like the morphology of Mount St. Helens after its blow, complete with a plug in the middle. Turns out the rock is limestone, the bowl is glacial, and the plug is moraine material. There is a pluton beneath it, at any rate (igneous but not volcanic).
Taking the trail to the Root Glacier, I am fascinated by the structural morphology of ice and moraine. The brown piles to the left side of the photo is a glacier, but covered in moraine material (dirt, rocks, gravel and the like from the glacier's abrasion of the mountains.) I can see the source of the moraine along the top and center of the clean ice trailing off into the distance. It is, by definition, a medial moraine.
Approaching the Root Glacier. A HUGE medial moraine comes off the glacier and dominates the scene in the left side of the photo. A lot of people hire guides to walk them up on the glacier with crampons. The rest of us just take off and do it on our own. It was a slippery slope toward the top, but very doable. The lower stretches have LOTS of frictional coefficient. Bottom line: save your $$.
Viewed from the Root Glacier, massive tailings pour out of a high valley from workings at the Bonanza Mine, which provided the copper ore to the mill at Kennecott for processing. Between the Bonanza and four other mines, over 4 million tons of ore were processed between 1911 and 1938.
The Stairway Ice fall five miles in the distance is the second highest icefall in the world, with a relief of around 7000 feet. It has never been climbed. Local climbers insist they are crazy but not stupid. We decide to get off the glacier and continue up the Root Glacier Trail toward the Erie Mine for (hopefully) a break-out view of the falls, though we are not sure if the weather will hold for us.
At the end of the trail we could make out the bunkhouse of the Erie Mine high above. This is a very difficult site to reach, and the route up is tricky. We did not engage in that endeavor at this time. I am going with lighter gear next time. This was one of five mines that supplied the Kennecott Mill with ore. An old tractor trail provides much of the Root Glacier Trail, and a knife edge trail on the top of a lateral moraine provides a bit more adventure.
At the end of the four-mile trail, there is a great view of the Stairway Icefall, which is reportedly the second highest icefall in the world, with a relief of just over 7000 feet. It remains unclimbed to the best of our information. The last section of trail is a very narrow and precipitous knife edge at the top of a lateral moraine, and the moraine is quickly falling away under the trail.
Carolyn is feeling a bit edgy as she takes in the view on the crumbling edge of a high lateral moraine. The remnant of the trail was altogether precarious as it slowly crumbles away under the forces of weather and gravity. We saw a lot of bear scat full of soapberries along the way. After a while I had the epiphany to crank up the bagpipe music in my iPhone to warn the bruins of our coming. Seemed like the perfect tunes for the country.
We will explore the Kennecott Mill next. This was a welcome sight yesterday as we were on the last leg (literally) of a nine mile hike on and around the Root Glacier. Too much photo gear in the pack and a broken toe. No pain, no gain. Time for Motrin and vodka.
The National Creek Bunkhouse, the West Bunkhouse and hospital on National Creek. The hospital was one of very few buildings that was not painted red. It was structurally compromised in a flood of 2006. Seems like an odd place to put so many important buildings, but there were never any flood issued during the mine's operation.
National Creek supplied a voracious demand for water in the operations of the mill. Dams were constructed both above and below these falls. Steam-generated electricity was used to run the mines up in the mountains as well as the entire town, including heating the buildings and even melting snow off the sidewalks. I am trying to find the information about how much water was actually required each day.
Falls on National Creek above the mill site. A dam was placed up stream, and radiators were installed in the reservoir to keep it from freezing in the winter. Water from the creek was used to heat the creek water! The mill could afford no interruption to their water requirements. The photo was taken from a bridge above the creek that is on the trail to Silkstocking Alley, a local inholding in the park.
This is a wide angle composite of four photos, detailing the interior of the power plant. Four furnaces, diesel generators and pelton wheel all served to guarantee something would provide sufficient power for the needs of the town. We toured the interior at the ground level a little later in the day.
I am enjoying the pale and structured look in some of the post processing. It conveys that old and cold feeling. That IS a glacier in front of the mill. The Kennicott Glacier has its head fields on Mount Blackburn. During the operation of the mill, it rose above most of the townsite.
Along with some other buildings, the National Park Service has finished renovating the Power Plant, and has opened it up for public viewing. The power plant at the Kennecott Mill was built in 1924 after a fire destroyed the original power house. The plant once produced enough steam-generated electricity to run the mines up in the mountains as well as the entire town, including heating the buildings and even melting snow off the sidewalks. A local legend has it that a murder victim was disposed of in those furnaces, and her spirit is said to still live here.