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This is really embarrassing but I'm not the only one this has happened to. I was near Chitina in the Wrangell St Elias NP and my group wanted to go down to the rivers edge to watch the fishwheels catching salmon. I drove down there with our 15 passenger van and followed some wheel tracks across the 'wet' sand. Well, suddenly the van just sunk and got stuck! The wheels were spinning and I couldn't move!!! Since I was responsible, I HAD to get out and step in that gunk - my shoes sunk in as well and were almost sucked off my feet! I was quite alarmed because the van was a 2001 model and leased by the company I worked for. I was imagining the van sinking deeper, and deeper... a horrible feeling. I was already imaging the $$$$'s I'd have to pay for damages... Three of my 5 passengers were very helpful. We collected branches, old wooden boards, etc., anything to get some traction under the wheels but it was useless.
I went and spoke with a fisherman to see if he could help. His friend had a 4X4 but the van wouldn't budge even after tying up to him with chains. He offered to drive to Chitina (5 mins away) to get a fire truck! This was getting embarrassing... Anyway, the fire truck came - it was a small one with a wench and finally we were pulled out. In total it cost $125 and took them all of 10 minutes. Stay to the higher ground if you venture down to the fishwheels or make sure that what your driving on is solid...
Updated Oct 15, 2002
The road to McCarthy is a 58.3-mile/93.8-km gravel road through virtually untouched Alaskan wilderness. (Although keep in mind that some of the wilderness might be privately owned land.) The road begins where the Edgerton Highway ends (just past Chitna) and dead ends on the west side of the Kennicott River. The McCarthy Road is only recommended for the adventureous traveler and only in the summertime. Allow about 3 hours driving time, with a maximum speed of 20 mph/32kmph. The road is suitable for most vehicles to Milepost 15 (Strelna Creek). The road is narrow and unpaved; it may be dusty in dry weather and muddy in wet weather. Beyond Strelna Creek there are turnouts for meeting oncoming vehicles. If you are driving a large vehicle or are towing a trailer, be extra careful, especially in wet weather. Watch for old railroad spikes in the roadbed. This road is where the railroad used to be and through weather, etc., spikes can become exposed - they're not tire friendly! :). Unless it was recently graded, watch for potholes, soft spots and severe washboard. Tire repair and mechanical service are available at the Silver Creek Campground at Mile 9.3. I came through here every two weeks with my tour groups and the road conditions sometimes changed drastically in that time frame. Be careful and make sure you have at least 1 spare tire. The photo is of the McCarthy road (recently graded) with some free ranging domestic horses. The owner lets them wander free in the summer. This was in the middle of nowhere!
Written Oct 4, 2002