After closing the museum Saturday, Robyn and I struck out for a birthday bash on the pass. “Serendipity Subdivision” is what they are calling it, and all I know is.. I want one. 46 miles from Valdez, a small collection of houses sit among Aspens with grand views of the Chugach. Our buddy, Sean and his family, have one of their own. A small log house complete with sleeping loft and an amazing view of Mt. Billy Mitchell. When Robyn and I arrived, the party was already well underway: bonfires, guitars, kids, beer, cool people and an overall chill vibe. Robyn and I pitched our tent outside and in the morning had a great breakfast before setting out for McCarthy.
Let me give you a little background of McCarthy. McCarthy sits at the foot of the Root Glacier, which pours from the high reaches of Mt. Blackburn, at over 16,000ft. Once you reach the end of the 60 mile gravel road leading to town, there is a parking lot and a footbridge to cross – access by car is only possible during winter by crossing a frozen stream, or paying a hefty toll across a private bridge. McCarthy really only has 2 .. maybe 3 streets. Incredibly charming old buildings from the early mining days have been renovated into a bar, hotel, and wilderness guide shops. Small signs along select streams on the edge of town read “Community drinking water, please no bathing”. The year round population of the McCarthy-Kennecott area is roughly 35.
Five miles up the road lies the ghost town of Kennecott, and the National Historic Landmark of the Kennecott mine. This area is being maintained and renovated by the National Park Service, and sees quite a bit of tourism in the summer months. Thankfully for us, we missed the summer rush, and had a local who knew all the cool places to go see! Paul and Maggie happened to be heading to McCarthy that same weekend, and had good friends up in Kennecott – Paul and Jenny. Both have lived there for several years and were renting this crazy mini-castle on the hill overlooking the glacier and Mt. Blackburn to the north. Also staying at the castle, were a pair of couch surfers (from couchsurfing.net), Marybeth and Bob. Jenny told us about a sweet ice cave under the side of the glacier we could go visit, and the 6 of us climbed through the mining town and down a steep trail to the edge of the glacier. The opening to the cave was a small crescent, scarcely larger than a dining room table. For about 60 feet, we were on hands and knees and then flat on our backs as we squirmed and shuffled down the glacial sand ever-further below the glacier. Just as you thought it would dead-end, it opened up. There were two main caverns and a small pool along the wall. We were just far enough under that the light passing through the ice lit the tunnel with a vibrant blue glow.
That night, we watched the sunset from our perch on the roof of the castle, had bear-ritos (yes, even Robyn tried the bear), shared stories, and climbed into 0 and -30 degree sleeping bags, respectively (you can guess who had the -30) and camped out under the stars.
The morning brought more good food (thanks Maggie and Paul!),a nice hike back to McCarthy, and our car. Just before leaving the gravel of the McCarthy road, however, Trixie got a flat. I put on my man-pants and changed it right quick. Minutes later we were on our way again albeit slower. Our max of 50mph on the way home only allowed us more time to soak in the breathtaking colors of fall through the pass, and plot our next, of surely many, adventures to the Wrangell’s.