"One Of Alaska's Last Undiscovered Treasures," McCarthy-Kennicott

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by AKDuc, Jul 21, 2009.

  1. AKDuc

    AKDuc Alaska Born Ducatisti

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    Not my words but those on this cool video about the abandoned mining towns of McCarthy-Kennicott: http://alaska.org/mccarthy/mccarthy.htm

    And here's a link to a few more informative paragraphs about the area as well: http://www.travelalaska.com/Regions/CommunityDetail.aspx?LocationID=42

    Probably called "undiscovered" because IMO it's still one of THE roughest 60mi dirt roads I've ever been on! Even tho I was born and raised up here, I'd still never been back to the very famous McCarthy/Kennicott area. Oh yeah, I had made previous attempts. Actually been down that road 3 times previous about 12-15mi by myself in a pick-up truck getting bounced around before finally saying WELL that's enough of THAT, thank you very much! :huh :lol2 I guess the rough road helps keep the masses from venturing that far back into the heart of the largest U.S. National Park and Preserve, The Wrangell-St.Elias. 12 MILLION acres! Yeah, things are big up here. :D

    So anyway, me and a couple other ADV inmates decided to ride our bikes back to the mine. One was my next door neighbor Adv'er 'FarNorthBusa', aka Vic, on his new highly farkled WeeStrom. Vic had a friend we could spend the night with in Copper Center 200mi Northeast of Anchorage before making our way the remaining 100mi to the mine. Also on this trip was ADVn00b and 1 month recent Alaska Cheechako 'Nordkapper', aka Jon the Brit. Jon just moved to Anchorage on a 3yr job and has been busy putting a lot of miles on his newly acquired WeeStrom he got from another ADV'er up here. :thumb

    Now truth be told, because I'd been feeling guilty going on trips w/o my best buddy dogbrother Comet and I wanted to do some ocean kayaking in Valdez after this trip, for the first time ever, I loaded the KLR into my handy minivan with kayak on top and made my way to Copper Center. :D There the following day the motorcycling would begin for me. :ricky

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    We've been having some crazy weather (with a fair amount of sun, thank Heavens!) this year and we went through some HEAVY thundershowers on our way north! Thunder and lightening every 15-20 seconds for about an hour just before Glennallen! :eek1

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    We were all VERY impressed with the "cabin" our friend Karen was staying in for the summer!
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    Lucky for Comet, she said she'd take care of him while we were on the ride the next day.
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    So first we do the 35 paved miles of the Edgerton Hwy to the town of Chitina on the Copper River where I look to say hello to a good friend Douglas from Valdez. His wife Jeanne and I have been best buds for many years. Douglas is also one the few people who's ridden my pretty highly modified Ducati 996. Much to my surprise afterward he exclaimed that he thought it was more fun than any plane he's ever flown including the small jets he and his brother sell! :evil It's also his Russian Antonov biplane you see in the latest Indiana Jones movie. He and Jeanne said it was fun hanging and flying with Harrison. :brow

    The Edgerton Highway. Think I'll put this one in the 'Long Lonely Highway' thread. :wink:
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    The Highway closer to Chitina.
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    Me and Douglas in his ol waxed cotton Belstaff motorcycle jacket. :D He was in Chitina to meet up with some friends for a few days of fishing for the well renowned Copper River Red Salmon. Oh, and that's his pretty highly modified '60's era school bus/camper rig. :lol3

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    We cross the bridge over the Copper River with the many fish wheels on the left. Currently, there are literally a million acres ablaze up here making some of my photos a bit hazy. The fires are a fairly common yearly occurrence up here because of the many lightening strikes during the summer. :eek1

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    Then begins the 60mi McCarthy Road. It's a road built on top of the old railway that brought the copper ore out from the mine. The mine and railway was only active from 1911-1938. The road, which wasn't built till the late '50's, was made by just covering the tracks. For years it was strongly recommended that you carry two spare tires in your car/truck as many people would have a tire shredded beyond repair by the railroad spikes in/on the roadway! On my way out I was surprised to see the sun glimmer off rails running in the middle of the road that I hadn't even seen on the way in! :eek1 Like I said, roughest road I've ever been on.

    About 15mi in is the Kuskulana Bridge. Friends on mine used to run a bungee jumping operation off this bridge. Yeah, I jumped. I actually enjoyed jumping off it more than out of the hot air balloon bungee operation I was part of years ago. Crazy fun! :D

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    Farther in on the road.
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    And another railroad trestle comes into view.
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    And even farther into the Park.
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    Coming up: The end of the McCarthy Road and into the Kennicott. Mark H.
    #1
  2. AKDuc

    AKDuc Alaska Born Ducatisti

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    Before this footbridge was built just a few years ago the only way across this last river just a mile before McCarthy was a 2-person tram. :huh Ah, the good ol days.

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    Yeah, just a bit of a raging torrent. A bit hazy but nevertheless a very lovely area.
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    Across the river I come upon a cow moose and her two young calves enjoying a small pond.
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    And noth'n like a bit of Fireweed in the foreground to brighten up a photo, eh?
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    Into the "ghost town" of McCarthy we go.
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    Then 5mi farther to one of the richest copper discoveries of all times, The Kennicott Mine. When I got there I ran into a couple from Canada that were touring around on their KLR's, each with a young daughter on the back. Cool.

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    I was a ways ahead of Vic and Jon and had time to visit with Park worker Earl who was also a friend of Karen's. Earl was himself a rider owning some Brit bikes in the past and a current Harley "project." Karen said later that he had really enjoyed visiting with us. Yep, locals talk'n bikes. :choppa

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    I also had time to walk around the area a bit before going on the free hour long Park tour of the mine.

    When I first saw this huge glacial moraine I thought it was mine tailings. Turns out that a hundred years ago there was a 300' (100m) tall glacier RIGHT here butted up against the mine! :eek1 As you might imagine, some of the old photos are absolutely amazing! You can just barely see some white of the current glacier off in the distance.

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    Next to the Park office was an old refrigeration building that you could go into unescorted.
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    A Park guide led a group of us into the mine coming first upon the main living area.
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    About 10yrs ago the area was hit by a flood coming out of that chasm causing damage to many of the buildings.
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    The hospital.
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    Main housing.
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    Pretty good sized building.
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    But dwarfing everything was the huge 14 story mill building. While National Parks now owns the mine, a $25 tour with a local vendor is the only way to go through the mill. Next time. Point of interest, as you might imagine with so many wooden buildings in such close proximity, concern for fire prevention was of paramount importance. For this reason, a hundred years ago when the mine was active the whole area was COMPLETELY void of the now thick foliage and forestation!

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    A covered area on the front of the mill building where ore cars were loaded.
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    More frontal views from the street.
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    Next: Inside a couple more buildings. Mark H.
    #2
  3. (none)

    (none) poser

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    awesome. :lurk
    #3
  4. Teeds

    Teeds Don Quixote

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    Very nice and it looks like a fun ride.
    #4
  5. Alcan Rider

    Alcan Rider Frozen Fossil

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    Glad you got all those pictures back at Kennicott, Mark. Good coverage of all the old buildings. It's a fun ride, isn't it? :D
    #5
  6. BikerGeek99

    BikerGeek99 Horizon Chaser

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    Good stuff! Thanks for sharing.

    :lurk
    #6
  7. GB

    GB . Administrator

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    Fantatic discovery... thanks for sharing it.. we won't tell a soul! :D

    Say, what did you have to do to fit the KLR in the minivan? Remove the little screen, anything else? Handlebars? :ear

    Keep it comin' :lurk
    #7
  8. mtbspeedfreak

    mtbspeedfreak Adventurer

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    nice pics dude! I hope to get over to Kennicott before my time in Alaska is up... this is just further motivation! Thanks for posting this trip
    #8
  9. AKgeekgrrl

    AKgeekgrrl Ride now. Talk later.

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    One of my favorite destinations in the state! Never done it on two wheels, though *jealous* Dream about bungee jumping off that bridge every time I see it!
    Thanks for the great pics, Mark.
    #9
  10. AKDuc

    AKDuc Alaska Born Ducatisti

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    Thanks everyone. Very glad to be able to record it and share it here on ADV. :thumb

    Good question, Gadget Boy. While I've hauled numerous sportbikes and naked standards in my Dodge Grand Caravan, the height of the KLR was a bit of a challenge. I wanted it to be as simple and quickly done as possible or I knew I wouldn't even want to bother.

    I'm glad it ended up being as quick and simple as it was. All I had to do was undo 3 screws to remove the windscreen. Then I loosened 2 of the 4 handlebar clamp bolts and rotated the bars downward. I compressed the front forks all the way with a ratchet strap and the rear just a bit with just a quick release cam strap. And since getting a bike through the rear door requires that I lean the bike towards me, I prefer the bike have a near empty gas tank. Works for me. And yep, still room for me to sleep in there as well. :D

    More to come. Mark H.

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    #10
  11. AKDuc

    AKDuc Alaska Born Ducatisti

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    Buildings, buildings, and more buildings.....

    Continuing on around to the other side of the mill. 14 stories tall to make full use of gravity for copper extraction.

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    Next we'll go into the settling building on the right just across the street from the mill.
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    Inside are many very large tanks used for settling or chemically separating the copper from the ore. The mine had to incorporate new extraction techniques as the amount of copper in the ore decreased. They were able to get down to about a 98% efficiency.

    The tanks are about 30' (10m) tall.
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    The roof of the settling building. Pretty cool architecture for a fair amount of snow load.
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    Walking farther down towards the power building with it's 4 tall smoke stacks. Centered in the distance is the 6670' (2033m) Bonanza Peak first climbed by a WOMAN back in 1912! Seems a well to do Miss Dora E. Keen was doing some adventuring of her own around here back then. :wink:

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    Amazing there's so much intact glass in all these buildings! Hey, is that a ghost looking back at us? :huh
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    Nah, it's yours truely. For the self portrait thread? :lol2 Next: Into the Powerhouse. Mark H.

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    #11
  12. Curtis

    Curtis Life serve the risk taker

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    You guys should take the ferry to Cordova and ride back to childs glacier. About 80 miles dirt but well worth it.
    #12
  13. Frostbit

    Frostbit Is it cold in here?

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    Great RR and pictures Mark...:thumb

    Thanks for sharing.
    #13
  14. 2touringtheworld

    2touringtheworld World Shrinkers

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    Mark,

    Thanks so much for posting Kennicott. It was/is one of Kim and my favorite places when we visited AK.

    Thanks again, :clap :clap :clap

    Mike
    #14
  15. AKDuc

    AKDuc Alaska Born Ducatisti

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    Inside the power plant there are 4 huge boilers. I'd mentioned that upmost precautions were taken to prevent fires. The power building is the only structure that suffered a fire while the mine was operational. It was quickly rebuilt so as to not slow up mining any longer than necessary.

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    We were told that most of the mine workers only lasted about 1yr before calling it quits. The mining company did what it could to try and keep it's white collar workers as comfortable as possible in such a remote location, hoping to postpone their departure as long as possible. This included, among other things, nicely furnished housing complete with steam heated walkways from the neighboring power plant.

    The last building we went through was pretty nice and this is a view out one of it's many windows. I think we've all heard that glass continues to flow downward from the force of gravity. Since the panes in these windows are about 100yrs old it's fairly obvious tho only mildly in this photo.

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    So thus concluded our tour. I took a little time to walk around a get a few more shots of the surrounding area. Another of Bonanza Peak.

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    I was wishing for more zoom on my little point and shoot to better record the lovely surrounding mountains. As I mentioned, the smoke was already creating some haze. I'm glad we went when we did because the surrounding fires have led to health alerts being issued as well as a request that everyone driving in the area to please keep their lights on at all times. :eek1 I would imagine you wouldn't even be able to see the mountains right now.

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    And one last view of the mill with a little Fireweed thrown in for effect before heading out. :D
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    Getting back closer to Chitna with the Copper River down below.
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    I'm really glad I pulled over to take the above photos because last time I was in the area I was surprised to notice a wonderfully strong scent of Sage in the air. Before then I, like many even now, didn't even know that we had Sage growing up here. I was wanting to get more to take home with me on this trip. I've never seen it growing anywhere else in Alaska. MMmmm good stuff.

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    You have to drive through this notch just outside of Chitina. The sun was just starting to get just a little lower and it had been a long day going in and out on the rough McCarthy Road and touring the mine. Fun!

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    Looking down on the Copper river as viewed from the Edgerton Hwy heading out of Chitina back towards Copper Center.

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    Above photo with the lovely little KLR and the below with more lovely Fireweed. :brow
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    Thundershowers roll through interior Alaska with great regularity during our summers.
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    And with this flower I conclude the riding portion of another wonderful adventure in the "Last Frontier."
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    The next morning Comet was anxiously awaiting our departure for the next leg of our journey: Valdez.
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    One of my longtime favorite roads is between Anchorage and Valdez because of sights like this one. Worthington Glacier in Thompson Pass.

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    Just before you get into Valdez is Keystone Canyon with Bridal Veil Falls. The canyon is only wide enough for the river and the road with 600' (200m) cliffs on each side. And with this photo, Comet and I bid you adieu.

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    Thank you for sharing our adventure. So long till next time, Mark H.
    #15
  16. vegasphotog

    vegasphotog Las Vegas Cheechako

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    GREAT write-up Mark......nice trip!
    #16
  17. Throttlemeister

    Throttlemeister Long timer

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    Awesome this is on the to do list next time I'm up north. Thankyou for your time posting this good stuff.
    #17
  18. sandgroper

    sandgroper Long timer

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    Hi
    Great pictures of McCarthy-Kennicott, we missed the turnoff during our wide in 2001. We crossed Thompson Pass at about mid night during the Summer Solstice with the heavy mist and twilight while riding thru Keystone Canyon, it was really the highlight of our AK ride. I didn't realize that there was a 200 meter drop on each side, I'm glad that it was dark and misty so we couldn't see it.:lol3
    Ed

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    #18
  19. windburn

    windburn Long timer

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    Alaska, The Great Land a fine report. Thank you!
    :clap
    #19
  20. Ratman

    Ratman Lucky Rider

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    Great report. I've ridden there a couple times in '05 & '06. You did a great job with the pictures of the copper works. Those copper works are definitely one of AK's great destinations.

    When I was there a ranger told me that one smart feller started to mine the copper going into it from the other side of the mountain. It caused a big ruckus up there, but the smart feller eventually made a deal with the Kennecott folks and lived happily ever after.

    Both years that I went out there, there was an ice cream shack along the way at about 20 miles from Kennecott. Is it still there? I couldn't believe my eyes when I came upon it. The ice cream hit the spot. :clap
    #20