Early morning in the old town of Kennecott, mill and buildings are in full glory. (More about the buildings and what they mean in the next blog). The weather looks to be really stellar. This time of year it often rains in this part of Alaska, so we are feeling quite fortunate to be under clear skies and sunshine. The decision is made to put off exploring the mill site and mine and we are in favor of taking advantage of the weather and seeing how many miles we might put under our boots. An adventure and a half lies just over the bridge spanning National Creek as we head for the Root Glacier and Erie Mine trail head.
Colors are kicking in as we follow an old tractor road that at one time serviced the Erie Mine, and now serves to give access to a number of great hikes. We are heading for the Root Glacier.
This is a view of Fireweed Mountain. Much of the Wrangell mountains are volcanic, and from a distance this looked very much like the morphology of Mount St. Helens after its blow, complete with a plug in the middle. Turns out the rock is limestone, the bowl is glacial, and the plug is moraine material. There is a pluton (a body of intrusive igneous rock, which is to say molten rock that has not become lava by reaching the surface) beneath it, at any rate.
Taking the trail to the Root Glacier, I am fascinated by the structural morphology of ice and moraine. The brown piles to the left side of the photo is a glacier, but covered in moraine material (dirt, rocks, gravel and the like from the glacier’s abrasion of the mountains.) I can see the source of the moraine along the top and center of the clean ice trailing off into the distance. It is, by definition, a medial moraine.
This is a photo of the glacier covered in moraine. Lot of texture, lot of layers in the photo of different colored material. The layered banding is what drew my eye to this scene, along with the exposure of ice below the rocky material. Glacial retreat is real in the country, though the lateral extent of the glacier has not retreated as much as the glacier has “deflated,” meaning it is shrinking in height.
Approaching the Root Glacier. A HUGE medial moraine comes off the glacier and dominates the scene in the left side of the photo. A lot of people hire guides to walk them up on the glacier with crampons. The rest of us just take off and do it on our own. It was a slippery slope toward the top, but very doable. We did regret that we left our strap-on cleats at home. The lower stretches of the ice have LOTS of frictional coefficient. Bottom line: save your $$. The majority of hikers climbed the glacier without crampons or cleats.
Arteries of an ice field.
A waterfall of melting ice on Root Glacier. With some crampons I might have been inclined to approach this lovely for a closer shot. As is, I let my lens do the zooming. It is a wonderful warmish day and I have mixed feelings watching the wondrous interplay of water and ice as the sun and temperature take its toll on the ages-old accumulation of ice.
IMG_0775 A link to a little video you can download suggesting a fun ride for a water park?
Atop the Root Glacier, a picture perfect day behind us, while clouds loomed ahead of us. Views in every direction, regardless, though we are not sure if the perfect day will hold with weather moving in from behind the peaks to the north. This view is looking south while Carolyn is peering westward.
Viewed from the Root Glacier, massive tailings pour out of a high valley from workings at the Bonanza Mine, which provided the copper ore to the mill at Kennecott for processing. Between the Bonanza and four other mines, over 4 million tons of ore were processed between 1911 and 1938.
Looking north toward the source of the Root Glacier, the Stairway Ice fall five miles in the distance is the second highest icefall in the world, with a relief of around 7000 feet. It has never been climbed. Local climbers insist they are crazy but not stupid. We decide to get off the glacier and continue up the Root Glacier Trail toward the Erie Mine for (hopefully) a break-out view of the falls, though we are not sure if the weather will hold for us. I spent quite a bit of time standing around this area hoping the clouds would raise and break up and give us a better view of the ice fall. This shot is the best of the bunch for having stood around for about a half hour.
At the end of the trail we could make out the bunkhouse of the Erie Mine high above. This is a very difficult site to reach, and the route up is tricky. We did not engage in that endeavor at this time. I am going with lighter gear next time. This was one of five mines that supplied the Kennecott Mill with ore. An old tractor trail provides much of the Root Glacier Trail, (actually running above and along the side of the glacier) and a knife edge trail on the top of a lateral moraine provides a bit more adventure.
At the end of the four-mile trail, there is a great view of the Stairway Icefall, which is reportedly the second highest icefall in the world, with a relief of just over 7000 feet. It remains unclimbed to the best of our information. The last section of trail is a very narrow and precipitous knife edge at the top of a lateral moraine, and the moraine is quickly falling away under the trail.
Carolyn is feeling a bit edgy as she takes in the view on the crumbling edge of a high lateral moraine. The remnant of the trail was altogether precarious as it slowly crumbles away under the forces of weather and gravity. We saw a lot of bear scat full of soapberries along the way. After a while I had the epiphany to crank up the bagpipe music in my iPhone to warn the bruins of our coming. Seemed like the perfect tunes for the country. As we progressed down the trail, we heard dogs barking from the glacier below, perhaps in response to hearing the approach of the bagpipes?
Autumn colors kick into play, late in the day. Glaciers near and far continue to carve under heaven’s watch.
We will explore the Kennecott Mill next. This was a welcome sight yesterday as we were on the last leg (literally) of a nine mile hike on and around the Root Glacier. Too much photo gear in the pack and a broken toe. No pain, no gain. Time for Motrin and vodka.
Part 1 of the Kennecott series: The Road to Kennecott, on Time & Space, where the tale begins of our first big trip into Alaska’s Wrangell St Elias National Park.
Meanwhile, for a collection of full resolution images seen here and more, visit my SmugMug Gallery: Kennecott Country | Wrangell St Elias for a full selection. Click on the icon and whisper: “We aren’t in Kansas anymore.”
And there is always more adventure to be found along the full range of photo galleries through Time & Space at: http://timenspace.net/photo-galleries/