Friday, September 22, 2006

Labor Day Extravaganza, Part II -- in which I nearly amputate my thumb

OK, I've been putting this off for a while, so I need to get it done or else I'll feel super guilty!

Day 2 of our Kennicott trip, we woke up about 8:30 and had a leisurely breakfast at the camp ground. Then we got on our bikes and headed in to Kennicott. Let me 'splain a little: McCarthy (railroad town) is on the other side of a pedestrian bridge from the campground. They only let residents bring vehicles over a bridge that's about 1/2 mile away -- I heard that they charge $100 per vehicle. There are shuttles to take you up to the Kennicott mine and lodge if you don't wish to walk/ride a bike. But it's $5 per shuttle ride, so we thought we'd ride our bikes. First we stopped by McCarthy to look at the museum, which was abou 1/4 mile or maybe 1/2 mile away. Then we headed on to Kennicott (mining town), which was 5 miles up the road. It is literally all up hill, so it was a long ride. I rode with my friend S.L., who was 5 months pregnant, so we had to stop a lot. I was impressed with her, though, for riding all that way!

The weather was gorgeous. It was about 65 degrees, and sunny, with the leaves falling all around us. Very nice for a bike ride. When we got to the mine, I met up with S and K (the two people I was camping with, they had gone on ahead) and had lunch. Then, at the suggestion of the park ranger, we rode up Silk Stocking road, which went up above the mine and over a bridge over a gorge. Well, at first we rode. But then the path got very steep, so we had to walk a little ways.

After a while, it turned into more of a path, so there was some mountain biking, and some walking in places where it was just too hairy to ride (like near the gorge). It was cool to see the mine buildings from behind. (The brown stuff in the background is actually the glacier -- it's covered in dirt).

After that we decided to head out to Root Glacier along the Stairway Icefall trail, home of the Worst Hike Ever. When E and I visited Kennicott 2 or 3 years ago, we took that hike because you would get to see the Stairway Icefall. I didn't know what that was; I thought it was a frozen waterfall or something. So we hiked 4 or 5 boring miles through the shrubbery (and through lots and lots of bear crap) to find out that the icefall is where the Root Glacier comes down off Mt. Blackburn. You could see it from the beginning of the trail. Hell, you could see it from our campsite on Labor Day! Anyway, I would not recommend that hike again.

Going to the glacier was cool -- Root Glacier is very accesible. So we rode our bikes out there (uphill all the way) so we could stand out on the glacier. I was afraid I would fall down, because that is my special talent. But I managed to get down off the steep parts with no problem, only to fall down and cut my thumb on the flat part at the end. Figures. Here I am, looking dorky on top of the glacier. My pants are all jacked up from the bike ride.

I got a bandaid from a park ranger who was out there, looking for a dangerous bear. This bear apparantly had been a problem for a while, and had finally gotten into some people's packs while they were ice climbing. Now he knows that backpacks/tents=reward, so they are going to have to shoot him. Which is too bad, really. Part of the hazard of having wildlife and humans in such close proximity. Riding back to the mine was awesome! Now it was downhill all the way, and since it was a hiking trail, it was total mountain biking. I had so much fun!

When we got back to Kennicott, we took a tour of the mine. Here's a little history for you: the Kennicott lode was the richest lode of copper ore ever found. Originally, the explorers were up in the valley, looking for some place to rest their horses. They saw a big green patch up on the mountain, and when they got up there, discovered it was copper ore. The Kennicott mine was operational until the 30s, when they basically closed it down in almost a month. Rumor was that people left all their stuff sitting in the houses because they had to run to catch the last train out -- well, according to the ranger, there's only a little kernel of truth in that. The company gave them about 2 month's notice that they were going to close down. But then, when they were pulling out some of the supports for the mine, they found a new vein of ore. So they extended the mine's closure date. At that point, they did give very little notice when the mine was to be closed. Plus, people didn't want to ship their stuff out. So they left it sitting there when they left.
Here's a picture of the main mine building from below.

Finally, we rode back to camp. Again, downhill all the way. While it wasn't mountain biking, it was still awesome -- we hardly had to pedal at all!

When we got back to camp, we discovered that a large group of Japanese tourists had set up camp next to our site. Crappy! But they had a right to be there, so what could we do? We built a fire and had dinner. As it started to get dark and the stars were coming out, the campground manager started shooting off bottle rockets. I will never forget sitting there in the cool evening, smelling the smoke, hearing the rushing river and people laughing, eating S'mores and watching the bottle rockets against the fading light.

It was a beautiful night, with almost no clouds, which made perfect viewing weather when the Northern Lights came out! They started around 10 and lasted until 11:30 or so. Not a super-impressive display; they were all green, and mostly just stripes -- no curtains, and one or two spirals. But it was still cool. I pointed them out the the Japanese tourists, who hadn't even noticed. They were amazed! It was neat to hear them get so excited about it.

Finally we went to bed around 1:30. We didn't get up until 11:30 the next day, and drove the 8 hrs back home. I ended up catching a cold that week, from the cold nights, the lack of sleep (we left after I got off night shift the first day), and K having a cold. But it was worth it! It was a gorgeous trip and a very memorable one! A great end to the season.


eaf said...

Nice pics of a nice place. Kennicott is damn cool. Reminds me of when we first saw the glacier and thought it was a big pile of slag from the mine...

Lynn said...

Sounds like fun. D and I wanted to go there, but we signed an agreement for our rental car saying we wouldn't take that road or Denali highway. Oh well, it gives us something to see next time visit

baasheep said...

Sounds like you had a blast, am muchly imspressed by SL! Oh yeah and I also share your *special* talent. Sigh, you think I'd be a little sturdier on my feet at 25..