Back around the summer of either 2003 or 2004, just before I left Alask in Nov 2004 to come to Virginia we went backpacking in a ghost town in Alaska. The place was called Kennicott, Wrangell Saint Elias National Park and Preserve near McCarthy, Alaska. I will say this was a beautiful place. Now before this memory gets tainted this is not a memory of me and the ex (yes she was there) but more a memory of me and my kids. Anyway, after driving down from Fairbanks where I was stationed, or more precisely Eielson AFB, we parked, stopped in at the Ranger’s station to let them know who we were and where we planned to be and for how long, just in case something happened, they would know where to look. We had a topographical map of the area and verified if the rivers were dry or running. We were informed they were all running. Okay cool. Now this place is set near a glacier so, on one side it is burning up but when you climb down near the glacier it drops like 40 degrees. Plus the area is known for it’s abundance of black bears so we are on the look out so to speak.
Once through the town we have about a 2 mile hike to where we decide we are going to stop and camp for a couple nights. The orignial plan was to move on up around the mountain and glacier to another area for a couple more nights then make our way back. Well plans change. So we get to the first river, it’s flowing just as the ranger said. I pull out the water filter and refill our water bottles. There are 6 of us (5 humans and a border collie) plus a couple extra bottles for safety. We then move on.
Finally we get to our spot, no one else around, by the glacier, put our bear barrals away from camp, set up our tents and we are set. The girls in one tent, me, my son, and the dog in another tent. It’s already getting late so we decide to cook dinner and explore early the next morning. So during the night me and my son are reading books in the tent and the dog starts growling and we hear rustling in the bushes outside our tent. Well, aparently it was my job to get the bear spray, flashlight, keep the dog in the tent and step out and see if it is a bear or not. WHY? I have no idea but I did. I see the bush rustling, my heart is pounding. I have the bear spray ready in hand, thinking lord let me live through this. Scars I can deal with, but lost limbs, or even death, that’s unnacceptable. So if I’m attacked please let this spray work and this bear runs away from my kids not towards them cause if he attacks my kids we are going to be having bear for supper cause I’ll kill it.
More rustling in the bush. I hear some sort of animal noise I’m not familiar with. Doesn’t sound like a bear, but I’m not taking any chances. I yell at the bush in my deepest voice I can “We are sleeping here, go away”. Nothing “I said go away” more rustling. I shine the light on the brush and move closer as I get to it I see this huge black bear is really………a family of porcupines. They froze in the light of my flashlight and then scattered with a quickness. OMG they scared the crap out me. I went back and said what they were and we went to sleep. Next day we gathered some quills off the ground for the kids, had breakfast and set out to explore.
So as we we are hiking we get to the next river….dry as a bone. Guess the ranger was wrong about that one. Water is half gone now. We keep going, next river, dry again. So after close to 4 miles of hiking in smolder heat all of our water bottles empty and we still have to make it back to the tents, I have to find water. No way 3 little kids are going to make it without. So I look down the side of the mountain at the glacier. Hey I can filter it off the glacier. I start down, well the side of the mountain isn’t so sturdy, matter of fact it’s nothing but loose dirt and rock from all the mining that used to go on before the place became a ghost town. Well it made it easy to get down that’s for sure. It took like 10 mins to get down safely. I walk the glacier find a spot where the water is running and pooling and start filling water bottles. Now there isn’t a lot of water, it’s just a tiny little run-off so it takes a good 30 minutes to fill them all. Now 8 or so empty water bottles are pretty light. Fill them up and hook them back on your hips, not so much.
So I start my climb back up, not as easy as it was going down. My water bottles are full and weighing me down. The loose dirt and rocks are falling underneath my hands and feet with each step I take trying to get up. 2 steps up, 1 step back, sometimes 3 back. 10 minutes down, 45 minutes up. I’m half way up and I am utterly exhausted. I’m thinking I’m not going to make it. I’m going to die here. Every muscle in my body is jello. But I look up and I see how hot and thirsty my kids are, so I keep moving. I grab a limb here to hold on too, pull up, keep going, keep going. Slowly I make it towards the top. I grab the top and the kids all grab my arm and start pulling me. They are trying so hard to help but I’m too heavy for them. I help them and pull my self up and over and we all collapse on the ground. I hand out the water and I just lay there. After about 20 minutes we decide it’s time to go back. Guess what? The fun isn’t over yet. NOOOOOOO.
We get back and a group of swedish tourists decide they are going to set up their tents right in our camp site. Great. And one tent is right next to mine. It’s too late and we are too tired to leave so we stick it out for the night. So I’m in the tent with my son and the dog. The girls are already asleep, we are reading and suddenly I hear it. Ugh ugh ugh, oh oh, yes yes, oh oh, then silence, then giggling. I’m thinking that’s got to hurt the ego she’s laughing at him. Then it starts again, ugh ugh ugh oh oh oh yes yes oh oh, then silence, then giggling again. I’m thinking “what the hell?” If you haven’t guessed it, their having sex in the tent right next to us and I’m praying to God my son doesn’t ask what is going on, even though I think he already knew. This goes on for 20 minutes then finally stops. We go to sleep, wake up find trash, empty canned goods in the fire and I’m thinking we are so lucky there were no bears. So we pack up and decide to leave. And instead of moving forward we just left because we weren’t going to run out of water and go through all that again.
Was it the experience we were looking for? Not quite but, it was still memorable and we did have some fun. I hope the kids, young though they were, never forget that trip to Kennicott.