Tuesday July 31, 2018
I had hoped to spend another night in the Wrangell-St. Elias area, but I wasn’t about to spend a 2nd night overlooking the cable spools, cell tower and the yellow and brown port-o-let by my tent-site. Any other tent camping prospects were dismal due the contraindication because of bears in the area,, I broke camp with the intent of spending a half day in Wrangell St. Elias NP and then push the last 350 miles to Soldotna. It was a sunny clear morning and I headed out with great anticipation of another day of drop dead scenery and rugged glaciated land. The drive from Copper Center to Chitina – the gateway to the route to McCarthy/Kennicot was miles of feasting on the lofty summits, glacier sweeps, forests, lakes, and the braided Copper River east of the highway.
The town of Chitina is a classic AK town that has mostly gone bust with the closing of mines and demise of the railroads as the primary movers of freight. It is the gateway to Wrangell-St. Elias, marked by a very narrow rock cut entrance.
I anticipated another challenging 61 mile, minimally 2 hour upwards of 3 hour drive from Chitina to the Kenicott River just west of McCarthy Historic footbridge. I was not in the least disappointed. The area is so vast and with its remoteness, and there were very few other cars. So I merrily bumped along the gravel road, with my heart and soul singing. Numerous bridges cross the rivers and the old Kuskulana River Railroad bridge build in 1910 is still is being traversed.
With the road rapidly elevating, I was soon above the clouds, thus obscuring the meandering rivers in valley below but glimpses of the mountains looming above previewed the grandeur of these glaciated mountains.
The road abruptly ends at the Kennicot River – icy cold silt laden water rushing powerfully off the fingers of the Kennicot and Root Glaciers. Before venturing across, we made our way towards the edge of the glacier with a brief stop at my #1 rated pit toilet on this trip. It was definitely a loo with a view.
The only public access to McCarthy was an open-grate footbridge which crossed the river to the old mining town of McCarthy. The campground I had briefly considered was definitely not conducive to tents or privacy.
I started to meander over to McCarthy and though the grated bridge is quite safe, there was something unnerving about seeing the icy swirling water rushing below. Once my wobbly legs made it across the grating, Kili and Simba had their first ATV ride from a local worker who offered us a transport across a shallow tributary so we didn’t have to wade through the icy ankle deep water to get to McCarthy.
This was a quaint old mining town to explore, but knowing I still had many hours of driving left, I only stayed for an hour and then began the 61mile torturously slow, rocky, winding gravel road down back to Copper Falls.
The upside of the slow-mobile was better viewing of wildlife, the best of which was a bear running across the road and further on down two moose grazing in an open meadow and adjacent slough. The clouds had lifted so there we’re good views of the Copper River and its network of sandbars, islands and channels.
My intent was to gas up in the town of Copper Center. For some irrational reason I expected this to be a cute quaint little town but was sorely disappointed in its offerings and was a tad nervous about fueling up at the rusted old gas pump. I was in need of a restroom and asked the proprietor of this sparsely stocked store if there was one. There was, but he very ungraciously gave me permission to use it. Didn’t like the fact that so many visitors, upwards of 300 daily, could be compromising his septic system and he would prefer if I used the port-a -john across the street. I opted for his restroom since I felt I was entitled to stress his septic system after filling up my gas tank for $45.00. Back on the road around 3:00 pm,
I headed back through Glennallen and the straight out the Glenn Highway, Route #1, to Palmer. Once I hit Palmer, a sizable town, I felt I had left the remoteness and wilderness behind and was soon on a limited access highway to Anchorage. The scenery out of Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula continues to be stunning, but driving along the Turnagain Arm of the Cook inlet and then on through Girdwood and Portage became tedious due to the high volume of traffic. It was still the height of the tourist and sport fishing season so traffic abounded. Before long, perhaps 2.5 hours, my little 650 square foot house with its Tyvek covering and my wonderful daughter were a welcome sight when arriving around 10:00 pm and having clocked 3370 miles of the most rugged and remote, yet exhilarating , driving I had ever done.