Sunday, 20 August 2023, McCarthy
Ahh, the stress of filling a free day. I looked forward to not overdoing it, taking things slowly.
Woke up before dawn, opened my eyes long enough to verify no Northern Lights. (Hollis sent me a picture of the green glow he'd taken the night before, but he had a clear view to the north. I didn't.)
Went back to bed, then dawdled in rising until dawn's light came streaming in.
I noticed soreness in my face when I blew my nose. Haven't seen any signs of bruising yet, though.
Went early to McCarthy to treat myself to breakfast at The Potato. Here's what I wrote about the town in 1991:
McCarthy seemed like a caricature of an old west town. The windows of the McCarthy store, the town's sole business, advertised meals, bar, showers, and lodging. The available accommodations were across the dusty main street, in either the Ma Johnson Hotel (one could almost picture a cowboy cradling his rifle, rocking on the chair that sat on the porch) and the bunkhouse. We rented a room in the latter, which turned out as little more than two mattresses and blankets on wire cots, with walls near thin as paper. Down the road we found a few abandoned buildings, including one proclaiming MERCANTILE in large block letters.
After a leisurely repast, I hopped on the 9:30 shuttle to Kennecott. In contrast to yesterday's full bus at 8:30, I had the bus to myself today. I chatted up the driver, telling her about my meet-up with Hollis. "Yep, that sounds like Hollis," she said with a smile that suggested she had Hollis stories of her own.
In Kennecott I went through the visitor center, looking at the exhibits (the general store is stocked with period items),
talking with Ranger Dianne. I then strolled through old buildings the NPS had stabilized or restored,
going through those displays, watching park films, and soaking up the history of the town.
At noon I returned to have a picnic lunch outside the visitor center, waiting for the Ranger Talk scheduled for 1:00. Ranger Dianne made her appearance right on time, and she proceeded to give her spiel to an extremely attentive audience of one (me!). My first-ever private Ranger Talk! She talked about the women of Wrangell. I had already heard about Dora Keen, the first person to summit Mt. Blackburn (which towers over this valley), but Dianne fleshed out her story.
I hadn't heard about Katie John, one of the native people who engaged in a several-decade fight with the state and Federal government over the rights of indigenous people to fish in their ancestral rivers and streams. The Supreme Court finally established that right - a few years after Katie passed away.
After the talk, I strolled further down Main Street, checking out more exhibits. I reached the edge of town just as a group of tourists and their guide returned from an ice-cave tour. OMG, it's Rohan and Demeca and Nanoud and Sam from yesterday! They excitedly waved at me and called out greetings, and I waved back. But why is the guide waving also? Oh - it's Olga, who took me paddling two days ago! What a surprise!
The six of us chatted for a few minutes, and they asked how I was feeling. Before long I gave my apologies and moved on to search for more photo ops. Earlier, I had walked down Silk Stocking Lane, where a bridge took me over a tall waterfall on National Creek. Silk Stocking Lane was where the mine management lived (and the mine workers said, "They're so full of themselves, they prance around in Silk Stockings" - thence the name. They look more kept-up
that what I remember from years ago.
I had taken a shot of the waterfall from above,
but knew that a shot from below would look better. First I tried walking through loose rocks on the north bank of the creek, but a sheer rock wall stopped me. Not ready to admit defeat, I tried the south bank. A weedy, unmarked trail took me behind two buildings, then I scrambled over a boulder, across loose stones, and crouched down at the creek's edge. There - a glimpse of the falls!
(Interpretive signs nearby talked about how a 2006 flood down this placid creek had damaged the old hospital, assay office, and bunkouse.)
Mission accomplished, I wandered back to the guides' office. Olga hadn't yet left, so I showed her the photo, along with shots of yesterday's blue holes. She asked, "I heard several people on your tour did the plunge. Were you one of them?"
No chance of that! I told her of my falls. She consoled me, "It happens. One of my guide friends fell as she led a group to the glacier at the same spot, two days in a row!"
I caught the 3:00 shuttle back to McCarthy, ready to pass the rest of the day. First priority: ice cream at the store, to complement the temp in the mid-60s. while enjoying the day, I touched base with Sue back home.
I filled the time before dinner with writing the blog for yesterday. That task completed in time for me to step over to the Bear and Salmon restaurant for my final meal in town.
I think I'll miss this place.
If you ask different people for one word to encapsulate the essence of this park, they may throw out Wilderness. History. Glaciers. Rivers. Peaks. Adventures. Personally, I would choose 'Community'. A sense of friendliness and acceptance among those people who populate it. That must be what keeps Hollis coming back, 28 summers and counting. It's being able to park my loaner bike anywhere and have it untouched when I return hours later.
Yes, I'll miss this place.
Monday, 21 August 2023, McCarthy airstrip
No sign of the driveway bear this morning. Still, I keep up my bear chatter as I use the open-air facilities. "Better stay away, Gentle Ben. This aroma ain't gonna tickle your nostrils!"
Hollis arrived at 9:00 to take me to the airstrip. As we chatted on the way back to McCarthy, we passed a local heading west, and Hollis and he traded waves. Then it hit him. "Shoot, that guy's my enemy! I can't believe he waved back."
Ah, the dark side of Community.
We had oodles of time, so we detoured to Hollis's place, where I helped him unload his Schwinn. En route to the strip, he took another detour. "Did you get a chance to check out the wagon road? Let me drive you down. Plane's not due until 11:00."
The wagon road led a short distance on the terminal moraine to a wide-open expanse overlooking a proglacial lake just upstream from where I'd kayaked.
A spectacular backdrop stretching from Mt. Blackburn to the glacier completed the scene. "The park service lets people come out here and party," Hollis explained. "I've come out for some of them. At other times, I come down here for the peace and quiet."
He mentioned that the park entered shoulder season last week. "They had forty guides here at peak season, but twenty left on the 15th [six days ago]. Next month - on September 15th - everything shuts down. No guides, no ranger, no Potato or Bear & Salmon, no store. You visit after that, you're on your own. But they still fly in the mail."
He smiled as his mind took him back. "But when they shut down - WOW! The bars hold a Last Man Standing party, when they bring out all the alcohol and food they have left and have at it. One year they ran out of beer, so they handed out bottles of whiskey. Then that's it until May 15th, when the town and the park spring back to life."
As we sat on the ridge talking,
a swish-splash would interrupt us on occasion. Looking to the lake, we'd see another ice- or rock-fall split from the dirty glacier face and splash into the lake.
Hollis reminisced about the 28 summers he'd spent here. "I've set the record for the number of times that anyone has driven the shuttle back and forth. When my boss estimated I had completed four thousand trips, she threw a big party for me, and gave me a metal sign that said. 'Hollis 4000'. I had no place to hang it, so I welded it to the cable at the old cable tram. I'm really surprised that the people who don't like me haven't shot it up."
Finally time to move on. Hollis made one more stop to fill up his household water container at the pipes carrying fresh spring water into the creek.
Then we took the short hop to the airstrip, where we connected with Mailman George, patiently awaiting the plane.
I should mention that I didn't actually fly on the plane carrying the mailbags. Copper Valley Air flies two small planes into McCarthy every Monday and Thursday - one four-seater for passengers (once again, we had two for this flight), and one with seats removed to handle the mail. The mail plane landed first, taxiing close to the mail shed. The pilot handed a mail bag to Hollis and to George,
who hauled them a few yards into the shed. A couple more people stepped up to the plane, and the pilot loaded them down with Amazon boxes. The plane had PLENTY more, so I pitched in also, making three or four trips from plane to shed. There! Now I can apply to work during the holiday season for UPS, and tell them I have delivery experience.
Nothing left now but to thank Hollis effusively for his help, promising to send him an Underwear book when I get home. The pilot again loaded me as co-pilot, a front-row seat for another beautiful flight. On my inbound flight, Jonathan had flown over the river to avoid clouds; this pilot flew close to the mountains, unlocking views that had remained hidden four days earlier.
Wrangell-St. Elias, I'll remember you fondly.