Honeymoon, Day 3: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Kennicott, Alaska

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 3 of 13 in our Honeymoon Series.

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

We once again had multiple false starts to our day due to being roused by the sun that barely sets. This morning our host brought over fresh coffee cakes that were crowned with deliciously crystalized cinnamon and sugar. We didn’t feel bad cramming in the calories knowing the hike that was in store for us today.

Unlike other parks we’ve hiked, here at Wrangell-St. Elias there is not a network of trails that penetrates the heart of the park, due to the large glaciers and steep peaks that can be seen from Kennicott dominating the park’s interior. Yesterday we hiked parallel to the glacier; today we planned to scale the peaks above the glacier. There are two trails that go to the mines above Kennicott, the Bonanza mine and the Jumbo mine, ridiculous names probably quite fashionable in the 1910’s. These trails were both described as strenuous, rising over 3500 vertical feet from Kennicott. We were also told by the National Park Service that the trails were impassable due to ‘several feet of snow’ along the trails. Naturally, we were skeptical of this claim and needed to see for ourselves.

On our way up the trail we were able to get a view from above of the mill; climbing up just a short distance brought the hugeness of the glacier into clearer perspective. We also became acutely aware of the presence of bears, as they left warm evidence of their recent passing. Feeling comforted by the fact that we remembered the bear spray (this time), we continued on our way. Compared to Pennsylvania climbs, these Alaskan mountains are a cinch (at least in terms of gradation). The most difficult aspect of this leg of the trek was the muddy terrain. Little did we know what was in store above.

We started up toward the Jumbo mine, the least steep of the two trails, whose greatest hazard, according the NPS guide, is thick alder bushes. We soon found the trail was ankle deep in running water and mud.

Creeping along the sides of the trail, getting intimate with the alders, we slowly pushed onward and upward. We eventually discovered the source of the flow, a 4 foot deep snowbank covering the trail for a length indeterminable from our vantage point. We feared our hike might have to end. Aaron, unwilling to accept defeat at the hands of snow, decided to climb the mound to investigate its stability and inevitably ended up with snow up to his buttock. However, if he stepped carefully he could stay on top of the mound.

He somehow convinced Jacqui to join him, with promises of spectacular views and the satisfaction of a mission accomplished. We conquered the mound and continued on the muddy path elated and yelling ‘yo, bear.’ Aaron’s yelling grew louder and louder to compete with the roaring stream we were approaching. We rounded the bend and saw the thundering water, which stopped us in our tracks, but did not stop us from pondering how we could overcome this blockade.  Uncomfortable with the idea that a grizzly could happen upon us at his dinner table at any moment and not wanting to become his dinner, we begrudgingly turned back. Falling into the rushing, freezing water was too much of a risk, even for this bonkers couple.

We decided we would turn back and try the other mine trail. This one was steeper, and Jacqui longed for her beloved trekking poles. However, it brought us to within sight of the tree line very quickly. The water running swiftly down the trail again was annoying, but the large mound of snow sourcing it just seemed redundant. We once again stepped on top of the mound in search of the perfect picnic spot. We soon found one and munched on our salami and cheese sandwiches from our vantage point 2000 feet above the glacier valley.

Aaron determined that this snow mound was impassable, so we began our descent. Spectacular views coming down sparked feelings of accomplishment, together. When we reached the bottom, we decided to call it a day. We sat by the mill and took in our last views of the glacier.

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