Alaska Day 15 - A journey to the heart of Wrangell-St.Elias NP via McCarthy road
Kennicott Travel Blog› entry 723 of 1090 › view all entries
Although today's journey was certainly not the longest in distance, it still turned out one of the longest journeys in time! Today's total distance 181 km (113 miles), of which the first 86 km (54 miles) were driven in about 1.75 hours. The delay was in the last 103 kilometers (64 miles). It took us about 7 hours to move that last leg. Today's destination was the hamlet of Kennicott, in the heart of Wrangell - St. Elias National Park.
The weather was once more in our favor. Nice blue skies and sunny, and, the stormy wind had subsided. We continued south over the Richardson Highway for 11 more miles and then took the Edgerton Highway to the village of Chitina.
The CRNW donated its lands and bridges to the territory of Alaska who decided to convert it into a state road.
As said above, the first part of the journey went smoothly. We stopped a few times to gaze at beautiful views and soon we arrived in Chitina. It looked deserted, again evidence that we were at the end of the tourist season. We strolled around for some time and then made our way to the McCarthy Road. It started immediately very impressive by taking us through a narrow path carved through a hill and then onto the newly built bridge over the Chitina River. So far the road was still paved, although not very well....
At he other side of the river we made our first stop to visit some operating fish wheels. While we walked towards the river banks a friendly Athabascan man warned us there were several grizzlies spotted. And indeed in the sand we saw several fresh and huge paw imprints of the giant bears.
Now the road started for real, it became a dirt road, but just a dirt road, the horror stories seemed way exaggerated.
At 30 km (19 mile) into the drive we arrived at the Kuskulana Bridge. An amazing metal bridge built in the winter (!) of 1910, bridging a 73-meter (238 ft) deep gorge. The bridge deck consists of wooden planks and is just broad enough to comfortably driver over it with the car. A nice picture form the old days when the train was still here can be seen here. Another one of a train entering the bridge here.
Another highlight showed up at kilometer 47 (mile 29). The Gilahina Trestle. This huge wooden bridge structure was 271 meters (890 ft) long and 27 meters (90 ft) high. About 15% of the whole railroad was built on trestles to keep the tracks on a gradual slope. The Gilahina Trestle was first constructed in 1911 in only 8 days. In 1915 it burnt down due to a spark of a train and was immediately rebuilt, in 10 days! It is still standing! Of course heavily impacted by time and the elements. But that makes it even more impressive! An old picture of the first trestle can be found here.
After this exciting feature McCarthy got a bit dull. The road got less good so we crawled at a really slow tempo.
We continued our way rocking and crawling until we reached the end of the path at the Kennicot River. The old railroad used to continue here to the villages of McCarthy and Kennicott. But the old bridge over the river has long been gone. There is a pedestrian bridge, however. We unloaded all our luggage at the bridge and while Stephan stood guard I drove back half a mile to park the car at the lodge's parking. The parking lady was so kind to give me a lift back to the bridge. Our journey was not completed yet! We still had to travel 7 kilometers (4.5 miles) to our lodge, using the hotel shuttle which stood ready at the other side of the pedestrian bridge.
After some more shaking and rocking we arrived at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge.
If you want to get an impression of riding the McCarthy road, have a look at this YouTube movie. The driver in the movie drives 10 times as fast as I did, and the road is much worse in the picture than we experienced it!
And,... more pictures below!