Rivers of Ice

McCarthy Travel Blog

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The ghost town of Kennecott is nestled into the side of the mountain.
We woke up to a sky of blue and bright sunshine.  Our breakfast at the lodge was delicious.  Served "country" style with long tables and platters of food for self-service, we had friendly conversation with strangers.  The McCarthy Airport van picked us up right on time.  My stomach was full of butterflies.  I was nervous and full of anticipation, anxious to get going.  The airport was a gravel runway with half-a-dozen small planes parked this way and that around the open grass field.  

Our pilot was also the driver of the van.  She introduced herself as "Natalie from Australia."  She was a tiny thing with dark brown hair and a heavy accent.  Cute as a bug.  She was running around her plane, checking the tires and filling up the gas tank with the help of a ladder.
Carpenter working on the rooftop of an original log home.
  She sized up our group ~ there were five of us.   After deciding who needed to sit where, she put the two smallest in the very back and Leigh and I got to sit in the middle, with the seat next to Natalie going to the largest of our group.  Before I knew it, we were moving across the grass and out onto the runway.  Natalie instructed us on the proper way to use our headphones so we could talk back and forth.  She adjusted her back pillow so she could see over the steering wheel.  Hmmmm.   This was going to be interesting.   I've never riden in a small plane but let me tell you, I would do it again today.   Of course, we had ideal conditions with no wind and clear skies, and I'm sure that made all the difference.
Mounds of solid ice covered with silt. This is actually the massive Kennicott Glacier.
   That little plane seemed to lift off the ground without any effort, taking to the skies just like a duck takes to water. 

Natalie talked to us and explained that it would take about fifteen minutes to reach our cruising altitude where we could fly over the mountains.  It was incredible.  There is no way I can decribe it to you.   With the earphones blocking out all noise, I was soaring through the heavens in complete silence.  It was actually a spiritual thing to me and I had to choke back tears.   The snow-capped mountains and massive glaciers surrounded us in every direction.  Natalie pointed out all the landmarks by name ~ every glacier and every mountain.  She showed us where she lands her plane to drop off the bravest of hikers, right on top of one of the rivers of ice that serves as a make-shift runway.
McCarthy Airport
  We saw herds of Dall Sheep as they maneuvered the precarious path up the side of their mountain-top home. 

I was sad when the hour-long tour came to an end.   Just as gently as we had taken to the skies, we landed back on the ground.    If our trip to Alaska had a particular highlight, one place or one minute in time that would forever be with me, this was it.  Our one-hour flight above the mountains and glaciers of the Wrangell St. Elias National Park with Natalie from Australia.  Thank you, Natalie.
sylviandavid says:
Very nice blog... sylvia
Posted on: Feb 14, 2008
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Natalie preparing to top-off the gas tank
From the very beginning, when I first started planning our trip to Alaska, I was fascinated by the pictures of Kennecott.  This is Alaska's largest  ghost town, situated beside the massive Kennicott Glacier.   Although the location is hours and miles away from a town of any size, I was willing to take the time and trouble to visit this special place.

Before I go any further, let me explain the spelling.  You are probably thinking, "This girl can't make up her mind."  That's not entirely true.   The original spelling of Kennicott came from the naturalist, Robert Kennicott, who worked on the trans-Pacific telegraph line in the 1880's.
Natalie with her pillow.
   The river, glacier, and valley were named "Kennicott" in his honor.  When Kennecott Mining Company was formed, a mistake was made on the original paperwork and the Company name was forever spelled with an "e".   Today, all natural features are spelled with an "i" and the town and anything man-made is spelled the "wrong" way.  Just thought I would let you know.

The history of Kennecott began in 1900, when prospectors spotted a patch of green hillside that looked like good grazing ground for their pack horses.  The "grass" turned out to be the green glint of copper ore.  From that incident, a boom town was born, with 800 workers that lived, labored, and played here.  Within twenty years the strike proved to be the richest known concentration of copper ore in the world.
River of ice, commonly known as a glacier
  Kennecott became a company town that included homes, a school, hospital, gymnasium with a silent movie theater .......  even a wood surfaced tennis court.  The centerpiece of town was a massive 14-story mill building where copper ore was processed.   Sadly, the high-grade ore played out in the 1930's and the Kennecott Copper Corporation closed.  The once-booming company town became a virtual ghost town overnight.  In 1986, Congress recognized Kennecott as a National Historic Landmark.

The immense Kennicott Glacier runs parallel with the two-mile-long wagon road that is used today as the hiking path from the Kennecott Lodge to the Root Glacier.   At first glance, people are confused by its rock-covered surface and wonder if it's just a field of mine tailings.   I suppose the appearance is deceiving because beneath the thin veneer of gravel lies nearly a thousand feet of ice.   This was the view from the front porch of the Lodge, where rocking chairs and tables were situated, allowing visitors to sit back, relax, and enjoy.
The ghost town of Kennecott is nes…
The ghost town of Kennecott is ne…
Carpenter working on the rooftop o…
Carpenter working on the rooftop …
Mounds of solid ice covered with s…
Mounds of solid ice covered with …
McCarthy Airport
McCarthy Airport
Natalie preparing to top-off the g…
Natalie preparing to top-off the …
Natalie with her pillow.
Natalie with her pillow.
River of ice, commonly known as a …
River of ice, commonly known as a…
Kennecott mill home waiting for it…
Kennecott mill home waiting for i…
A favorite path used by the black …
A favorite path used by the black…
Information Center at the end of t…
Information Center at the end of …
Fill-er up!
Fill-er up!
Wrangell St Elias National Park
Wrangell St Elias National Park
This glacier gives the appearance …
This glacier gives the appearance…
Natalie bringing us back down to e…
Natalie bringing us back down to …
Natalie with her plane
Natalie with her plane
Kennecott
Kennecott
Kennecott
Kennecott
McCarthy
photo by: kingelvis14