McCarthy, Kennicott, & the Glaciers of Wrangell-St. Elias

McCarthy, Kennicott, & the Glaciers of Wrangell-St. Elias

McCarthy, Kennicott, & the Glaciers of Wrangell-St. Elias

Deep in the Alaskan wilderness, you will find a town of 200 people. It used to be an old copper mine; it was actually the richest copper mine in all of America at one point. 

 Root Glacier, Alaska

Root Glacier, Alaska

To say getting to this copper mine is difficult would be a drastic understatement. It takes 6-8 hours to drive from Anchorage and includes driving 60 miles on unpaved road. If you pop a tire, or if your car breaks down, be ready to flag down another car because there is no cell service.

When you reach the end of the journey, however, you realize that you are now peering across the landscape of Alaska that you had been picturing in your mind. Out in the wilderness and with no cell phone to speak of, the beauty that surrounds you is inspiring. Looking out from the town, you'll see the tail end of four separate glaciers, all combining into one large formation. You’ll be able to differentiate one from the other only by the varying soil colors that each glacier has carved out of its respective valley.

The town is quaint by anyone's standards. The hotels here are more akin to your college dorm room, and largely feature shared bathrooms as well as family style dinners. The dinners are a great way to meet people, especially if you are travelling alone!

 

Root Glacier

While you are here, there are a few different items to accomplish and things to see. The first is hiking onto the Root Glacier.

The hike is about a mile and a half, starting in town and arriving right at the glacier. If you don't have your own gear to use, there are a number of local touring companies that can outfit you. You can wander for miles upon miles on the Root Glacier, but you will absolutely need crampons when doing so. The touring companies are also the best resources to show you some of the amazing sights on the glaciers.  

 Root Glacier, Alaska

Root Glacier, Alaska

 

When I completed this hike during my trip to the area, it looked like it was going to rain that day, which kept most visitors indoors. This was fortunate for me, as I was able to capture some incredible shots with no one in sight once I arrived at the glacier.

 Root Glacier, Alaska

Root Glacier, Alaska

Crevasse, Root Glacier, Alaska

 

The lines running through the glaciers created a beautiful, abstract contrast with the blue ice that sent my mind spinning.

 Crevasse, Root Glacier, Alaska

Crevasse, Root Glacier, Alaska

 

As you walk out a couple of miles, you can make your way around the bend and begin to see the tallest ice wall in North America. The wall is around 6,000 feet high and utterly massive-- nearly half of the time visitors arrive here, it's impossible to see the entire thing because it sits in fog. 

 Ice Wall, Root Glacier, Alaska

Ice Wall, Root Glacier, Alaska


Kennicott Mill Tour

 Kennicott Mill, Alaska

Kennicott Mill, Alaska

The second thing to see here is the Kennicott Mill. The Mill's tour is enjoyable and informative, as it provides some of the history of the town including the rise and fall of this historic place. The Mill itself is actually the largest wooden structure in North America.

 

 

Ice Caves of the Root Glacier

The pièce de résistance of this trip is a journey to the ice caves of the Root Glacier. These ice caves change every year as they melt and reform each summer and winter, which means you’ll never see the same one again.

To get there, you take the same hike down the mile and a half trail leading out of town. However, instead of continuing to the glacier, you jump off the trail early and head down to where the glacier meets the rock.This is where you start looking the caves. I would suggest taking the guides from town for this as they can show you the best caves, and again, can help you with the necessary equipment.

 Ice Caves, Kennicott, Alaska

Ice Caves, Kennicott, Alaska

When you find a cave and walk into it, an immediate sense of calm washes over you. The blue from the ice casts a cold glow over the entire cave. When I entered these for the first time, I could have sat there for hours staring deep into the blue ice. I have never experienced something so intense and beautiful than sitting in the ice caves. 

 Ice Caves, Kennicott, Alaska

Ice Caves, Kennicott, Alaska

Travel Tips:

  • You can fly into Kennicott on a prop plane if you do not want to do the drive
  • For the hikes, bring a lot of water and make sure you are physically fit enough to accomplish them

Photography Tips

  • Tripod is a must for the caves 
  • Bring an extra body if you are shooting professionally. Learned my lesson on this trip as I dropped my camera and jammed my lens onto my 6D and couldn’t get it off for the entire trip
  • Make sure you are thinking outside of the box with these shots. The lines provide a great palate for abstract images, and you can incorporate leading lines into almost all of the shots
  • I would encourage the use of a polarizer for shooting on the glaciers

Gear

  • Canon 6D
  • Canon 24-70mm ƒ2.8 L II
  • Canon 70-200mm ƒ2.8 IS II
  • Canon 24mm ƒ1.8 I
  • MeFoto Tripod

Nonprofit Highlight

Alaska Geographic is the official non profit partner to Alaska's 15 national parks, 16 national wildlife refugees, and America's two largest national forests. They have been helping these areas for over 50 years and were created by park rangers to help provide the few existing books on Alaska’s natural and cultural heritage to visitors while also creating new content. 

Since the group's founding, it has used the proceeds from its bookstores and membership donations to help support the educational efforts of Alaska's parks, forests, and refuges.

 

Lemaire Channel & Peterman Island

Lemaire Channel & Peterman Island

The Gear

The Gear

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