Root Glacier – Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Twenty years ago, Tabitha and I took our first backpacking trip together out of McCarthy. That was an arduous five-day trek to Nicolai Pass. This past weekend we returned to celebrate that trip by exploring the Root Glacier. We were greeted by a much better road that makes the drive from Valdez doable in about four hours.  This would be Tabitha’s first time on crampons and glacier travel. The trip was excellent.  Here’s the video followed by short trip report and pictures.

It’s a unique feature, this ice that pounds, pushes and pours off the Wrangells to the valley below, forming the white and crevassed Root Glacier. At its terminus, the Root is crushed by the gravel filled Kennicott Glacier which is moving down from the south side of Mt. Blackburn and past McCarthy.


Kudos to the Park Service. When we first trekked here, we pulled ourselves across the river to McCarthy on a hand trolley that barely sat two people.  Our packs hung off the side of the trolley, late at night.  The historic mine and town of McCarthy were in poor shape. Since then, the Park has spent good money fixing up the mining buildings.  One such building has been converted to a hotel.  A few hundred people visit the area each week which keeps it just right, as far as crowds.  The buildings look beautiful, renovated and safe for visitors to explore some of the ruins of what was the largest copper mine in the world.


The 3-Season BD HiLight for two only weighs 3 pounds.

Mt. Blackburn1

Mount Blackburn (16,391′) Kennicott Glacier on the left, Root Glacier on the right.

Some minor trail improvements in the area have made access to wilderness much easier.  Excellent day hikes are available to the Jumbo or Bonanza mines high above the main complex.  In the past, we have spent the night near the Bonanza mine, which offers spectacular views of the region.


Tabitha peers into one of dozens of water pools filled with the clearest water imageable on Root Glacier

There is parking right next to the foot bridge to McCarthy for $5 a day. Camping overnight is $20 and there are some good campsites if you look behind the gravel parking lot.


Mt. Goodlata (7641) stands tall in the Chugach to the south.

From there, you simply walk across the foot bridge and either walk on into McCarthy (another 15 minutes) or wait for the hourly van shuttle. The rate is $10 each round-trip to the Kennicott Historic Mining District.  From the mine, it’s about a 45 minute walk to the Root Glacier.  Just before the glacier are a number of excellent tent sites along with a food box.  There are no permits required to walk as far or as long as you want in the Park.


We continued a bit further beyond this point and well beyond the medial moraine following this tiny thread of gravel weaving its way to the icefall

This is one of the best weekend get-aways for Valdezeans.  Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is a great protected wilderness area in the U.S., along with the adjacent Kluane Park in Canada.  This tremendous asset is an economic driver for the region and a place for visitors to experience the great wonders of Alaska – both historically and geologically.

by Matt Kinney June 16, 2015