Blog 304 The route to McCarthy and back 9th – 11th August 2013

Current News – We will release a seperate current news with a Christmas message shortly. Please just enjoy our latest two part instalment of McCarthy and Kennicott one of the highlights of our Alaska trip.

It had rained all morning and having checked in the visitor centre that the road to McCarthy was open we endured the strong gusts of winds over the pass. We had to double back about 60miles before we turned off on the “road” to McCarthy but at least by then the rain had stopped. We were reminded of our travels in Russia when we saw the bowser we needed to use to fill our fuel tank. Later we saw this moose enjoying a drink from its local watering hole. Although initially wary every time he heard Kev’s camera click he eventually relaxed and let us get these great shots. The road was dirt and we learnt it was the old railway track from the Copper river and North western railway and we were warned that occasionally some rail spikes still come up to the surface.

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The start from Chitina when we left the tarmac/pavement behind was interesting, it felt almost like riding through a rock wall as the track ran close to the water’s edge and the floor made up from the rock it was blast from. The first few miles were rough and loose with gravel piled scarily deeply in places but gradually that gave way to harder packed dirt which was much easier riding. The improved conditions meant we could speed up a little which was good as we had a fair way to go. Along the way we travelled over the spectacular Kuskulana trestle Bridge, built in 1910, spanning 238 feet (73m) high above the Kuskulana River. This route was the only one way in and out to Kennecott mine so we would be retracing our path in a few days time (lucky us).

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The weather improved and we had a great ride in, approximately half way was this superb example of an original railway trestle bridge. The Gilahina trestle, it also served as a stunning back drop for our free camp that night. Our tent was still sopping wet from the night before so we decided to make camp early under it for the night and get a fire going whilst we cooked dinner and wrote a blog.

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Our destination was the virtual ghost town of Kennicott a once thriving copper mine established in 1911. Nearby McCarthy is a little town with a year round population of about a dozen people and is just five miles from Kennicott, the next towns are over 100miles away.IMG_0391

Since no gambling or drinking were allowed in the company town of Kennecott, McCarthy quickly sprang up as a place where miners could enjoy “wine, women and song,” in saloons, restaurants, hotels, pool halls, stores, and oh yes, a red light district.

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Not only was Kennecott at the end of a one way dirt route built on the old railway line but there was also no regular vehicle access from McCarthy for the last five miles. Story has it that a landowner in McCarthy built the only vehicle bridge across the river to link to the road on his land and only allows two trips across free of charge for the residents (in for the summer out for the winter). The fee for outside these times was rumoured to be huge so a pedestrian bridge was erected by the parks authority who now own most of the Kennecott mine buildings. This just happened to wide enough for quad bikes to cross so became an unofficial bike route and was our way in also. All visitors in cars have to park up and walk across the pedestrian bridge and be collected the other side if they do not wish to walk all the way to the mine.

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From the bridge we could see the distant Kennicott glacier which we would visit later. It had an eerie blue luminosity about it.

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The Gilahina trestle was so magical we came back on the way out to camp here again which is why some of the some of the shots are in full sun. This time we found a track and walked to the top as well.

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It is said that some of the bridges were cheaper to rebuild every year after the thaw than to construct permanently, so they did just that in temperatures of 40 below zero.


In places we followed close to the river for a while where we saw fish wheels (pictured below) which are mechanical fish traps. We also watched fishermen dip netting salmon with 20 foot long poles. They waded out as deep as they dared and then poked the dip nets out still further into the river to catch passing salmon. We watched them haul some huge salmon in this way.

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We enjoyed the ride back just as much, the sun brought out the colours in the water.

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Next up – Our destination – Kennecott mine and Kennicott glacier!


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