Inger and Jeff Latreille
Poor Billy Jean!
~Wednesday, July 6, 2022~
Day 752 (Travel Day)
Day 16 of Alaska Trip
It’s time to finally put the Milepost to use, especially since we’ve now been in Alaska for about 4 days, heading into areas where cell reception will virtually be non-existent. I talked about the Milepost (the bible of North Country travel), about 6 months ago when we were deep into the planning stages of the trip. Moving forward it will be all about the maps and the “bible” to be our fool-proof guides. This book is so detailed to the mile, not to mention its reliant information about routes, major attractions and how-to help for various modes of transportation. It will definitely be like having a friend along for the ride.
I’d say now is as good a time as any to introduce ya’ll to a few facts and figures about the North Country:
🏔In it’s 571,951 square miles, the state of Alaska has a population of 737,625 (it ranks 48th in population)
🏔Its highest point is Mt. Denali (Mt. McKinley as it was formerly known) at 20,310 feet
🏔Its state flower is the Forget-Me-Not
🏔The state tree is the Sitka Spruce
🏔The state bird is the Willow Ptarmigan (or Willow Chicken)
🏔Major industries are tourism, petroleum and fishing
🏔It is the largest state in the union (twice the size of Texas)
🏔Alaska has 17 of the 20 highest mountains in the United States
🏔The state falls into 6 natural geographical regions: Southeastern and Southcentral (we’ll be focusing on these 2 areas), Southwestern, the Interior, Western and the Brooks Range/Arctic…….and we can’t wait to delve into epicness!
Our roadside camp last night was the perfect place to get some zzz’s for the long, stressful day ahead. We will be glad to put these rough roads and LOOOOOOONG days of driving behind us as it’s been quite the haul. First on the agenda was driving to the nearby town of Chitina to see if they knew what the water situation was like at our next destination of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. We’re getting conflicting information about what Jeff’s heard vs. what the Milepost says. Even with our freshwater tank full, we could never have too much water (wanting to put a few collapsible bottles worth in the truck). The young kid working the desk said he could offer us 5 gallons for $5 to which Jeff said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” We think we’ve got enough anyway. It’s just a drag that we have to haul the weight on what we’ve been told is a nasty road…..all 59 miles of it via the Edgerton Highway/McCarthy Road, which will take us approximately 2-½ hours.
Months back in our research, we had read about the Wrangell-St. Elias Wilderness area and how beautiful it was, thinking we would just take a day trip to see it, WITHOUT the trailer. But when Jeff read a post by “StreamingWith Colleen” , highly recommending the area for camping, he was intrigued. She couldn’t say enough about its incredible beauty, though remote. It contains the largest concentration of glaciers on the continent and is the largest national park in the state at 13 million acres. If she could camp there for a week in a 30-foot Airstream, we were willing.
Initially, we ran into a few road construction blocks, but nothing too terrible. It appears that Alaska’s roadwork is a constant and that filling potholes alone is a full-time job. The other delay took a bit longer and looked impassable. They were working fast and furious putting in a HUGE pipe under the highway, to what looked like a way to divert water? It wasn’t easy getting through what little road was left.
Everyone’s right. The Edgerton Road is nasty!
The first 3 miles are HELL, then it eases up, eventually turning into miles of washboard which we’re pretty familiar with from our boondocking road in Sedona. Washboard roads are especially bad on turns, as the tires tend to slip side to side creating a fishtail. S-L-O-W is key. Because of the challenging drive, it was nice to see a few noteworthy landmarks along the way.
One was the Kuskulana Bridge in the national park. We pulled over to take a few photos and read up on its history.
AND we also scored with a place to dump our trash (always a challenge when in a pack-in, pack-out situation). From 1911 to 1938 the Copper River and Northwestern Railway was the lifeline for the Kennecott mines. Nicknamed the “Can’t Run and Never Will” by its skeptics, the CR&NW overcame incredible challenges in its construction and operation. Amazingly, construction of this bridge through the bitter cold and darkness took only two months. They say that’s what made them work fast rather than the ease of summer which might have taken twice as long. After it was completed, they felt the difficulty in working with steel at frigid temperatures was just too great to ever be attempted again.
We also stopped at a few pullouts that highlighted the first telegraph system in Alaska. A vital link to the outside world, soldiers constructed the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System between U.S. Army posts, carrying civilian messages during the Gold Rush era. And WE feel lost without even 1 “bar” of service.
As we got closer to our campground, otherwise known as “Base Camp” in the national park, the road actually improved (about 10 miles worth). The mountains in the distance are gargantuan and mind blowing. On our approach the standout was Mt. Wrangell at 14,163 feet. But what really caught my attention was a set of 2 mountains with a low lying mountain between them in the shape of a heart. Maybe it was its way of saying “welcome”.
Feeling like a mac truck ran us over, we were happy to finally arrive at our special place. The office location was pretty straight forward, but the route to the campsites was not. We ended up driving onto a raised gravel area, big enough for only 1 RV. For the time being, we’d park it and walk the area to scout out where we should go. And we weren’t alone. We met another RV’er who was equally frustrated saying,“They sure don’t sign this place very well.” At this point, it was blind leading the blind, until we found a pretty open area, big enough for the both of us. Mind you, there are no designated campsites. Everyone just claims their space on the dirt, between shrubs and small hills. The route to get to where we thought we wanted to go was pretty tight where at one point, I didn’t think we had the width to do it. But we made it thanks to Jeff’s awesome driving skills. Our fellow RVer’s also made it through in their camper, with a storage trailer in tow. We decided to park our trailer parallel to the mountain range that lay before us, which included 6,696 foot Donoho Peak and the Kennicott Glacier. This isn’t just your ordinary mountain campsite. It is epicness to the full extent. Surrounding our campsite were numerous makeshift fire rings of which we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of with the recent statewide ban on campfires. Looks like their free firewood pile will have to sit, drying out another year.
After high fiving that we’d actually made it, we were greeted with a few items around our campsite……a clump of bear hair (we’ll definitely not be letting Sadie out of our sight), and a very large steel stake
that would have caused either a very expensive tow, or spare tire switch-a-rooney. Our front truck tire missed it by inches. Everything on the outside of the trailer looked in good shape. The only casualty was a missing cap on one of the trailer rims. We’ll just add it to the list. The inside of the trailer was in quite the opposite condition. Dust everywhere, AGAIN! (it creeps in through the vents); a few loose screws and washers which we can’t tell what they go to (we’re thinking these are residual items that were left behind during the construction of the trailer); the fireplace surround detached from the glass face, falling to the center of the floor which could have done some serious cosmetic damage; our metal/wood wall sconce in the hallway fell off and bent a little, and 2 out of the 3 burners on the stove came loose. I think that’s about all folks. Thank goodness the trailer doesn’t take roads like this too often, or we’d find ourselves homeless or tent bound in no time. The truck and trailer both deserve a much needed rest for sure!
Conservation will be the name of the game with this stay. We hope to have enough water that will allow us to stay through Sunday morning. But to do so, we’ve decided on 2 things:
1. Wash dishes only once a day and 2. Shower every other day. We’re certain that it will all be worth it in the end. We came with about 40 gallons of water, so it will definitely be a test. It’s incredible to think we’re already in the most remote place we’ll be on the trip, yet surrounded by quite a few fellow campers. I’d much rather have that than be the only food source for a hungry bear. What a way to cap off an evening. While Jeff and I were outside enjoying the scenery around 9:00 p.m. with full sunshine, we could hear crackling sounds coming from the glacier, as it continued its summer melt.