Honeymoon Day 2: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

This post is admittedly not about Sprout. In fact, it is pre-Sprout. However, we thought some people may be interested in our Alaskan travel and wanted to move our prior posts to this blog. This is post 2 of 13 in our Honeymoon Series.

Location: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Kennicott, Alaska

We awoke late, being confused in the night by the prolonged dusk, but were greeted by delicious muffins, fresh out of our host’s oven. We rushed to get our gear together to make the 9am shuttle from McCarthy to Kennicott, an old copper ore mining town.

It was abandoned in the late ’30’s and has been revived as a historic landmark in the last 40 years. It is one of the gateways to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest park in the national park system. The town lies at the base of the Kennicott Glacier, which descends 5,000 vertical feet as an icefall from one of the nearby peaks.

Kennicott Glacier
Erie Mine Bunkhouse

Once passing the off-shoot for the glacier, the path was completely devoid of other hikers, but instead was occupied by large piles of bear scat. As we became aware of the obvious presence of Grizzly bears, we realized we had left the bear spray in the car. Smart move. We reviewed the formal procedures for defensive bear encounters. Playing dead unless the bear begins to feed on you is recommended by the United State Park Services.  We decided to continue nonetheless.Once we got to the town and were accosted by thieving tour guides, we set out alone on the Root Glacier Trail. The trail is an 8 mile out and back (with a short off-shoot onto the glacier) that skirts along the top of the glacier’s lateral moraine toward the peak ending below the Erie Mine Bunkhouse. This structure, the sleeping quarters for miners, kept the men separate from the town’s young women and sits precariously on a high cliff above the glacier with a beautiful view of the massive icefall. However, its position provides little protection from the elements.

Glacial Pool

This appeared to have happened more recently as the mud was fresh and sticky to our shoes. Each time we encountered one of these hazards we considered that it might be the end of the trail and thought to turn back, but perseverance (stubbornness?) is in our spirits.  On the other side of the mudslide, entire sections of the trail had slid onto the glacier 500 feet below as the result of rock slides.

Along the way we had to circumvent a few minor hazards. A section of the path covered by several feet of snow, the result of an avalanche earlier in the season that crashed down the slopes of the mountains towering thousands of feet above us. Continuing on our way, we again lost the trail, this time to a mudslide – and not the kind containing Kahlua.

Looking out over the glacier

Making our own trail we scrambled over the rocks and it was well worth our efforts. We rounded the base of the mountain and found a picnic rock with a magnificent view of the towering icefalls that were finally in sight.

The Trail

We picked our way back along the rocky trail to Kennicott, where we caught the shuttle down to McCarthy. We wanted to spend some time exploring this rural Alaska hamlet (and Jacqui thought State College was rural!) We visited the local eatery, The Potato (they have an espresso machine and breakfast burritos!), we admired the historic architecture and didn’t see a single vehicle made before 1992. As we walked along the river bank, we surprised a local who happened to be big, brown, furry, and nonhuman. It was a moose that was confused by the sudden intrusion to its peaceful evening drink. Jacqui swiftly unfettered her camera and snapped a few quick shots as we backed away from the threatened creature.

We strolled through the woods on our way back to our cabin and we passed a woman and her child collecting their water. We were surprised by the truly rustic lifestyle of those around us.

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