McCarthy and Kennecott are the perfect spot to get on a glacier. The Root Glacier is within easy approach (less than a 2 mile walk from town). One of the very few glaciers in the world that is easily accessible by foot (without having to be dropped off by plane).
Two companies offer guided ice climbs and hikes. The "Hikes" are half day, $50 per person, and any age or skill can do it. The Ice Climb takes a full day, costs around $100 per person, and is well worth it. You learn many ice climbing techniques and get to explore the changing glacier in ways you can not do with a hike. Explore deep fissures and holes in the glacier, as well as ice caves. You also get to repel and climb ice walls.
Wrangell St. Elias National Park is not only America's largest but is perfect for viewing mountains and glaciers. You simply HAVE to do a flightsee! This area has more mountains than anywhere in North America. Two flight services in McCarthy include Wrangell Mountain Air (the bigger company) and McCarthy Air (one bush pilot). I have flown with BOTH - you have to decide as both are excellent. Yea, the flight see will be the MOST amazing thing you can do in Alaska - it is my favorite activity.
In 1938 the townsfolk and miners cleared out overnight. Caught the last train from Kennecott and left everything behind that they could not carry on their backs. No one stayed behind; to do so would probably have meant certain death. With no rail service the closest town and means of supply would have been Valdez some 150 or so miles to the south--a long hike, even by dogsled.
Until 1980 it was possible to visit Kennecott and rumage around the abandoned building and find furniture and pots and pans still awaiting the return of their former owners. In 1980 Kennecott was absorbed into the 13 million acre park known as Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
In present times there is a little ranger station at Kennecott and the mining buildings are strictly off limits unless you go with one of the local guides.
Still the town remains mostly deserted. There is a small lodge and a dozen people may call Kennecott home. But you can walk down the Kennecott thoroughfare and not see a soul. It is almost possible to imagine yourself transported in time....almost, because invariably one of the locals will come zooming by on an atv.
It takes some doing to visit the abandoned mill and town at Kennecott.
First, you have to get to the vicinity of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. It is located about 220 miles east of Anchorage. About a four hour drive on the scenic Glenn Highway. Lodging is sparse in this part of the world--so make reservations ahead of time. We stayed at Copper River.
From Copper River is is a good four hour drive to Kennecott. The last sixty miles on a road that was converted from the old rail line. You will hear all sorts of horror stories about the road to Kennecott because the road is littered with old railroad spikes and other junk metal. Our driver told us that he once has three flasts coming back from Kennecott. It is not advised to drive your own vehicle unless you have a spare tire and are handy at changing tires on your own.
The end of the road is at the Copper River just short of the town of McCarthy. Either you hike the last five miles to Kennecott or catch the shuttle on the far side of the river (it will cost you a few bucks)--you cannot take your own vehicle across the Kennicott River.
BTW, you may notice that sometimes I spell Kennecott like this and sometimes like Kennicott. That is because the town and mine are Kennecott and the glacier and river are Kennicott. Why? I don't know, that's just the way it is
The purest copper vein in the history of the world was discovered at the foot of the Root and Kennicott Glaciers in the year 1900. Eleven years later the first shipment of ore from the mines arrived at the Alaskan port of Cordova. The intervening eleven years were spent on one of the greatest engineering feats to that date in time--the building of the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad. The railroad passed over the immense Alaskan river beds, above numerous glaciers and traversed gaping canyons.
The big red building pictured here is the copper mill. Copper ore was moved from the various mines at Kennecott by tram to the copper mill where the ores were crushed, packaged in burlap sacks and sent by rail to Cordova. Freighters then carried the copper ore to Tacoma, Washington for smelting into pure copper.
120 million pounds of copper ore was mined and transported to mainland U.S.A. in 1916. Vast fortunes were made due to the copper bonanza at Kennecott. But the mines and mill were in operation for less than 30 years. In 1938 the Kennecott townsite and mill were literally abandoned overnight when the Kennecott Mines Company decided to cease operations and the railroad discontinued service to Kennecott.
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