By Tim Daly
The WISE Team spent the first week of August exploring the history of McCarthy and Kennecott for our annual Geology Camp. As is typical for WISE programs, the week was filled with education and adventure in a beautiful place. Throughout our adventure, we were joined by numerous guests who helped us understand the role that both nature and humans have played in shaping the area.
We were joined by 7 campers, 2 BLM staff (Kaylee Rodriguez and Amanda Friendshuh) and the WISE Team (Robin Mayo, Tim Daly and Tommy Matia). We set off for 3 days of backpacking, leaving WISE HQ for a scenic drive down the McCarthy road. At the end of the road, we unloaded our packs, covered the basic principles of Leave No Trace and hiked into the small town of McCarthy toward our first destination: The Wrangell Mountains Center. Upon arrival, we were shown to our cabin by WMC’s Executive Director, Nate Anderson, who prepared dinner for the team. The evening was spent playing games, building rapport among the students and telling stories.
The next morning, we were joined by Kate and Jason, SCA interns from Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, for a lesson about ecosystem succession and the impact of invasive plant species that ultimately endanger some of our favorite animals, namely salmon. They explained how an area transforms over time through various stages of succession, how these ecosystems can be disturbed by the introduction of invasive plants and taught us the basic methods for harvesting seeds from native plants, which are vital to re-establish local biological communities.
After lunch, we took the shuttle up to Kennecott, an historic mining town famed for its rich deposits of copper. We were given an insightful tour of the town’s buildings, including the spectacular old mill, and learned about the history of the brave folks who defied all odds and brought Kennecott to life. Our guide, Julia of St. Elias Alpine Guides, painted a vivid portrait of the surge of intrigue, enterprise and construction in Kennecott from 1901 to its abandonment in 1938.
We continued on to our next stop: Jumbo Creek Campground. A 2-mile hike lay between us and our destination, and so – in the spirit of those pioneers who founded Kennecott – we mustered up our strength and set out. We were lucky to be joined by Maya, a staff member from WMC. Despite some rain as we hiked, clear weather prevailed and the evening was filled with celebration and cheer.
We were joined the following morning by Mike Loso, geologist with the National Parks Service, and Mandy, a guide from Kennicott Wilderness Guides. We hiked to the end of the trail, attached our cramp-ons and began our exploration of one of nature’s grandest, most breathtaking structures – a glacier. Mike visualized the way icefalls flow, crevasses form and interior layers ooze by ingeniously using a Snickers Bar. We studied the different moraines, ate lunch and discussed the pace that Root Glacier is receding. After a long day exploring the wonders of Root Glacier, we returned to the WMC and concluded the evening with a game based on everything we had learned in our whirlwind trip to McCarthy and Kennecott.
We awoke on our final morning of Geology Camp to eat, gather our belongings and say our goodbyes to our wonderful hosts at the WMC. We trekked out of McCarthy with our minds full of memories and knowledge. We gazed out at Root Glacier one last time and then began our journey back home.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.