Summer in Alaska (longing sigh).

A time when the flowers, as well as people, bloom into vibrant and more colorful versions of their wintery selves. Alaskans cherish these summer days with vigor and embrace the many gifts this great state has to offer. To celebrate the first warm weekend, we loaded up the plane (a crimson Cessna 180 that we have affectionately christened “Big Red”) and flew to McCarthy to explore this funky and feisty turn-of-the-century mining town.

McCarthy is nestled at the foot of the Kennicott and Root Glaciers and is home to no more than 40 permanent residents.  In the summer, it bustles with tourists, guides and adventures eager to explore the surrounding glaciers, mountains and the famous Kennicott Mine.  We landed at the airstrip just north of town and decided to attempt to climb Donoho Peak, a behemoth looming to the north surrounded on either side by glacial ice.  After landing, we changed into running gear under the wing of the plane and headed toward the old mining town of Kennicott three miles up a gravel road.

After passing through town, the route narrows and eventually dives off the edge of the moraine providing access to the edge of the glacier.  From there, we scrambled over the ice field dodging many frigid sapphire pools of melted ice and tortuous glacial creeks. Eventually, we found ourselves at the base of Donoho Peak whose approach is shrouded in a blanket of dense shrub and alder.  We spent an hour following bear trails and bushwacking until we hit our three-hour turn around mark. Eventually, we opted to bask in the sun on the edge of a small lake instead of ascending the peak.  In total, we ran for 18 miles and cruised back to McCarthy on tired legs.  After cleaning up a bit, we walked into town for a burger and ice cream at The Potato (a charming and delicious resto in town).   After dinner, a table of pilots recommended we fly 10 minutes east to a forest service cabin to stay the night. And so we did.

The next day we had several hours to explore our surroundings before flying home.  From the cabin, we ran up the valley toward Glacier Creek. After having been defeated the day before, we were eager to summit something in the Wrangells.  We had scoped a long scree field leading up to a hanging glacier the day before on the other side of the river and decided crossing to the opposite bank seemed reasonable.

Fording the river   

We found what looked to be a fairly shallow section of the river, however, there was one deep and vigorously flowing channel at the far end.  We linked up and attempted to cross as one unit but were eventually swept off our feet and pulled downstream for several meters.  We clambered onto the shore, soaking wet and thankful to be on dry ground.  Water is one of the most powerful forces in the backcountry and deserves a healthy amount of respect.  Luckily, other than some soggy electronics, we made it out in one piece!  I certainly recommend McCarthy for a long summer weekend to unplug and enjoy the incredibly wild Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.