Can't Run and Never Will


Before I get to the odd title of this post (and no, it doesn't have to do with my poor physical shape), I want to mention an experience that I forgot to put in yesterday's post. After I left Valdez, I was lucky to have to go through Keystone Canyon and Thompson Pass again. As I reached the pass I saw that the construction was still in progress and I would be the first car behind the pilot. We made our way slowly through the construction area and I was marveling at the different view from south to north when came around a curve and I literally gasped at the magnificence before me. I'm talking about an involuntary physical reaction - something that has never happened to me before and I have seen some pretty amazing things. I don't know if it was the light and clouds, the glacier that suddenly appeared, or my state of presence at the moment but it was an experience I won't soon forget.

Now, to get to the title of this post. 

I made my way north to the Edgerton Highway which would take me east to the McCarthy Road.  This road leads to the towns of McCarthy and Kennecott which are situated in the middle of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. There is legend surrounding this road and area - so much so that the Discovery Channel has a show focused on it called Edge of Alaska. The wild beauty along the way is stunning... if you can take your eyes off the road long enough to appreciate it. It's not that the road is dangerous, it is just hell on your vehicle and body. 60 miles of washboard gravel with huge potholes and short sections of paving that have such bad frost heaves that, if you don't see them and slow down until it's too late, you will become airborne. It took me about 3 hours to drive that 60 miles but I (and my van) arrived in one piece and parked at the end of the road along the river with an unobstructed view of Root Glacier.

The McCarthy Road roughly follows an old railroad route - a railroad that was only in existence from 1911-1938 when it was abandoned and partially dismantled. The 196 mile line was called the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad (CR&NW) and ran between Cordova and Chitina to transport copper ore from a mine in Kennecott to Cordova to be shipped to Tacoma, Washington.

Copper ore was discovered in the remote mountains alongside Kennicott Glacier in 1900 and attracted the attention of two well known financiers - J.P. Morgan and the Guggenheim family. In 1908 they formed a company called Kennecott Mining Company and set out to mine the ore. The railroad was a necessity and was a real challenge which led people to nickname it the Can't Run and Never Will Railroad. But $25 million dollars and three years later, the last spike was driven (copper, of course) and the first shipment made its way to Cordova. The financial gamble paid off for Kennecott as over $200 million in ore was extracted from the mine, making it the richest concentration of copper ore in the world to this day.

The town of McCarthy (5 miles from Kennecott) grew as an area to provide illicit services not available in the company town of Kennecott and is now a tourist attraction in its own right. The main street has only 4-5 buildings but that doesn't stop the town from having 3 restaurants with bonafide chefs and well reviewed food offerings.


Kennecott is remarkably well preserved given it was abandoned in 1938 when the ore ran out. The remote location helped to keep it from human destruction and the National Park System bought the buildings and has been fortifying them so that some can be toured. The 14-story mill has a fascinating story about the process of extracting the copper from the rock and the school, post office, general store and other various buildings help to weave the tale of life for the workers and families in the remote company town.

A trail leads from the town to Root Glacier where you can walk right out on the ice. It is 4 miles round trip so I decided to check it out. Earlier in the day when I was walking from my campsite to the town of McCarthy, a black bear crossed the road about 50 feet in front of me. I still hadn't bought any bear spray so I was a little worried about the hike. I had an empty soda can and I put a few rocks in it so I could rattle those and make noise as I walked. It was either that or sing and I don't think even the wildlife would want to hear that. I got to about 1/4 mile from the glacier and could see that the trail made a steep descent to get down to it. A 4 mile hike is a lot for me so the thought of having to come back up that hill on the way back caused me to bail on walking on the ice and turn back. I talked to another hiker back in town who told me that a black bear sow and her two cubs were on the trail maybe 20 minutes after I passed that spot. Either my rattling rocks kept them away or I got lucky.

I spent the night (slept great after all that walking) in my beautiful campsite and set out in the morning. I was on a mission to find a campground with electric hookups and good wifi so I could get charged and caught up. I succeeded in finding a really nice spot right on a creek and the wifi was adequate. I spent quite a bit of time working on this post and when I went to save it, the internet had disconnected and I lost everything. I was pretty frustrated so I got up to pour myself a glass of wine. I checked my info panel to see how my battery was charging up and noticed that I had no fresh water in my tank. I knew it was full when I left McCarthy and I hadn't used any water since then. Ohhh, now it makes sense... when I was driving along the McCarthy Road, a car came up along side of me and said it looked like something was leaking out from under my rig. I thanked him but didn't think much about it because my sewer hose is kind of messed up and sometimes a little grey water leaks out of it. Now I see that I must have kicked up a rock while driving (I'm sure I kicked up a million of them) that punctured my fresh water tank. Not a catastrophe because I could always work with jugs of water but I would rather not. As I write this tonight, I am waiting to take my van to an RV service place in the morning to have it checked out.

The McCarthy Road was an adventure (maybe an expensive one if my van needs a lot of work) and I wouldn't have missed it.