Alaska Day 16 - Visiting the Root Glacier and going into the Kennicott Mine buildings

Kennecott Copper Mine - AK Travel Blog

 › entry 725 of 1090 › view all entries
Along the Root Glacier trail: view on the moraine

Since our stay in the Kennicott Glacier Lodge was for two nights, we had the whole day to spend in this magnificent part of Wrangell - St. Elias National Park. Right after breakfast the waitress gave us our packed lunches, the heaviest lunch we ever carried with us during any of our hikes so far! We had two main topics on our list today. Visiting the Root Glacier and doing the Kennecott Mine Tour.

Root Glacier is one of the many glaciers in the park. Like other glaciers it is rapidly shrinking due to the higher temperatures. At the time the mines were still open the glacier reached as far as the mine site and beyond.

Kennecott Mine
Now one has to walk 4.5 km (3 miles) towards the ice fied. We hiked the Root Glacier Trail, one of the few hikes in that area. Fresh bear droppings on the path warned us for the presence of our big furry friends.

The glacier reaches technically seen still until the mine and the lodge. There is, however so much debris that it looks like huge piles of sand and rocks. So, our first kilometers gave us views on the moraine hills. Although no white and blue ice, still pretty impressive. At the border of the moraine and the real ice slab the ice became blackish. Many little brooks of melting water had curved themselves a river bedding into the ice plates. Even at the ice slabs, the ice was still dirty so it looked like walking on grey ice. We did not go too far, because we had to get back in time at the lodge where we would join a tour trough the mill buildings of the great abandoned Kennecott Copper Mine.

You may have noticed I am using both the name Kennicott and Kennecott.

The power house, Kennecott Mine
The idea of the founders of the mine was naming it after the Kennicott Glacier (which was was named after Robert Kennicott). But due to an administrative error the mines were registered as Kennecott. Eventually both names were used. In my blog I refer to the village of Kennicott and the Kennecott mines.

The basis for the Kennecott Copper Mines, was the discovery in 1900 by two prospectors. They discovered copper ore that contained about 85% copper (while 10% was a normal standard for ores). Stephen Birch, a freshly graduated mining engineer picked up the news and managed to interest wealthy investors to invest in a mine at the site.

looking up to the mill of Kennecott Mine
 The mine was immediately constructed and the first ore was packed out using horses. Later financial giants as J.P. Morgan and Daniel Guggenheim contributed in founding the Kennecott Copper Company. With the completion of the Copper River and Northwestern Railway (see previous blog) the rich ore could be shipped more efficiently and faster, all the way to Cordova to be shipped to smelters in Tacoma Seattle.

The mine grew steadily. Besides the 14-story mill building it encompassed two aerial tramways, 5 mines (high above in the mountains), several bunkhouses (both at mill level as well in the mountains), a hospital, a power house, a complete chemical plant (for the processing of the least rich ores), a sauna, a post office, houses for supervisors and the 20 families, a station, and a school. Where Kennicott was a company village with structure and rules, the nearby boomtown McCarthy was the opposite.

One of the slides for proscessed ore along the mill building, Kennecott Mine
Miners went here to spend their money in bars, shops, and brothels.

The mine was a huge commercial success. It yielded lots of copper and generated millions of dollars profit. The end of the mining era started in 1929 with the first of the five mines being closed. On the 10th of September 1938 the last mine closed and so did the mill and the railway. Everything was left behind and decay started. An effort to revive the mine in the 1960s failed. A destruction company, which was hired to tear down the abandoned structures, fortunately failed to do their job. So the ruins were spared and only the elements did their destructive work. But, the mine did not decay as fast as the Independence Mine (see earlier blog). In 1980 tourists discovered the charm of the ruins, in 1986 the ruins were declared a National Historic Landmark. In 1998 the National Park Service acquired almost all the lands and property of the mine, and is currently still busy restoring or stabilizing certain buildings.

The top of the mill building, Kennecott Mine
St. Elias Alpine Guides is providing mill tours. They hike you to the top of the mill hill and then take you into the huge 14-story mill building and show you all the inside of this gigantic wooden structure.

The tour was pure joy for me as a ghost town-o-holic. I wish I could have spent twice the time we had in the structure. Despite the fact that the mine was stripped over time the mill's rooms still looked like people had been working there yesterday. The views from the mill were brilliant as well. After the tour we walked a bit more between the other old buildings, like old personnel houses and the hospital that was recently flooded by the river.

So, is the Kennecott mining activity completely gone forever? The answer is no! The Kennecott Copper Mines took ownership of a mine in Utah. This mine is still open and currently still know as the Rio Tinto Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation!

For the fans, here some great links: NPS info on the mine, an NPS map of the mine lands, the story of the mine (NPS), a nice picture of the mine with the aerial tramway, and a really cool movie on the mine's history.

Kennecott Mine: Past versus present
And,.. more pictures below!

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Along the Root Glacier trail: view…
Along the Root Glacier trail: vie…
Kennecott Mine
Kennecott Mine
The power house, Kennecott Mine
The power house, Kennecott Mine
looking up to the mill of Kennecot…
looking up to the mill of Kenneco…
One of the slides for proscessed o…
One of the slides for proscessed …
The top of the mill building, Kenn…
The top of the mill building, Ken…
Kennecott Mine: Past versus present
Kennecott Mine: Past versus present
Our hike to the Root Glacier
Our hike to the Root Glacier
Along the Root Glacier trail
Along the Root Glacier trail
Along the Root Glacier trail: view…
Along the Root Glacier trail: vie…
Along the Root Glacier trail: bord…
Along the Root Glacier trail: bor…
Melting water finding its way thro…
Melting water finding its way thr…
Grey ice, Root Glacier
Grey ice, Root Glacier
Ice crystals, Root Glacier
Ice crystals, Root Glacier
Grey ice, Root Glacier
Grey ice, Root Glacier
A hint of blue glacier ice at Root…
A hint of blue glacier ice at Roo…
Grey ice, Root Glacier
Grey ice, Root Glacier
Grey ice, Root Glacier
Grey ice, Root Glacier
Autumn in Wrangell-St. Elias Natio…
Autumn in Wrangell-St. Elias Nati…
Bear droppings warned us to pay at…
Bear droppings warned us to pay a…
Kennecott Mine
Kennecott Mine
Left overs of the Kennecott Mine
Left overs of the Kennecott Mine
Left overs of the Kennecott Mine
Left overs of the Kennecott Mine
Decaying personnel houses at the K…
Decaying personnel houses at the …
Decaying personnel houses at the K…
Decaying personnel houses at the …
The power house, Kennecott Mine
The power house, Kennecott Mine
The power house, Kennecott Mine
The power house, Kennecott Mine
Kennecott Mine
Kennecott Mine
Left overs of the Kennecott Mine
Left overs of the Kennecott Mine
Inside the power house, Kennecott …
Inside the power house, Kennecott…
Inside the power house, Kennecott …
Inside the power house, Kennecott…
Kennecott Mine
Kennecott Mine
Decaying structures around the mil…
Decaying structures around the mi…
National Creek bunkhouse heavily d…
National Creek bunkhouse heavily …
The hospital, recently completely …
The hospital, recently completely…
The bunkhouses and hospital along …
The bunkhouses and hospital along…
Starting the tour at the 14th stor…
Starting the tour at the 14th sto…
View on the train trestle and Nati…
View on the train trestle and Nat…
View on the chemical plant, Kennec…
View on the chemical plant, Kenne…
View on the power house, machine s…
View on the power house, machine …
Roofs midway the mill building, Ke…
Roofs midway the mill building, K…
Rails midway the mill building, Ke…
Rails midway the mill building, K…
Your reporter (downstairs, with re…
Your reporter (downstairs, with r…
Inside the mill building, Kennecot…
Inside the mill building, Kenneco…
Inside the mill building, Kennecot…
Inside the mill building, Kenneco…
Inside the mill building, Kennecot…
Inside the mill building, Kenneco…
One of the slides for ore towards …
One of the slides for ore towards…
Inside the chemical plant, Kenneco…
Inside the chemical plant, Kennec…
Inside the chemical plant, Kenneco…
Inside the chemical plant, Kennec…
The mill building seen from the si…
The mill building seen from the s…
The top of the mill building, Kenn…
The top of the mill building, Ken…
The Kenncott Mine during operation…
The Kenncott Mine during operatio…
The Kenncott Mine during operation…
The Kenncott Mine during operatio…
Near sunset, view from the Kennico…
Near sunset, view from the Kennic…
Kennecott Copper Mine - AK
photo by: mdalamers