Thursday, September 27, 2018

Down Memory Lane 6

The next morning, after a breakfast of sourdough pancakes, we headed on down the Richardson 115 miles to Valdez, where we got married 51 years before. The rain had stopped, the sky was blue, but clouds still lingered over the high mountains to the east--the Wrangell-St. Elias Range, which boasts 9 of North America's 16 highest peaks.

12,010 ft. Mt. Drum from the Glenn Highway Courtesy
Mt. Drum, the westernmost Wrangell volcano is 12,010 feet high, yet it dominates the local landscape more than the much higher volcanoes. Mt. Wrangell (14,163 feet), Mt. Sanford (16,237), and Mt. Blackburn (16,391) are all visible from the Richardson Highway as we proceed south but are farther away. We stopped to take photos. One shot was not sufficient to take in that entire string of peaks in the Wrangell-St, Elias Range to the east.

The Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is by far the largest of our national parks—almost six times the size of Yellowstone. Four major mountain ranges converge here: the volcanic Wrangell Mountains, the Alaska Range, which boasts of Denali, at 20,310 feet, the highest peak in North America, the southern Chugach Range, and the St. Elias—the tallest coastal mountains in the world.

 The St. Elias Range merges with the Wrangells in the heart of the park. Together, they contain 9 of the 16 highest peaks in the United States, 4 of them above 16,000 feet, including Mt. St. Elias, the second highest peak in North America, which soars from the Gulf of Alaska to 18,008 feet. There are more than 150 glaciers in the park. One of them, the Malaspina, is larger than Rhode Island.

At the park's Visitors Center along the Copper River, which forms the western boundary of the park,  we saw displays about the Ahtna (an Athabaskan tribe of Native Americans of Alaska) and their subsistence way of living. Many signs along the road indicated areas of hunting and fishing reserved for the Ahtna. 
Another shot of the Wrangell-St. Elias Range
The drive from Glennallen to Valdez is one of the most scenic highways in Alaska. Here are more of the photos we took. As we climbed into Thompson Pass, Worthington Glacier can be seen just ahead. Today, it is much smaller than it was 51 years ago. Then, we could actually walk from the parking area right onto the ice. Now, it has retreated so far that it requires a difficult hike to reach the lower tip of the glacier.

Worthington Glacier

Worthington Glacier has two arms.

Thompson Passa 2,805 foot-high gap in the Chugach Mountains northeast of Valdez, is the snowiest place in Alaska with an average annual snowfall that exceeds 700 inches. The 24-hour record is 90 inches! On December 7, 2017, an incredible 10 inches of snow piled up in one hour--around 1.7 inches every 10 minutes. This is an absolutely incredible snowfall rate. The furious storm dropped another 5 inches in 30 minutes, for a remarkable 15 inches in an hour and a half. In the end, 40 inches of heavy wet snow accumulated in 12 hours. Snow patches still remained when we drove through on July 12.

Thompson Pass in December 2017 after record snowfall.

Note poles along the roadway guide snow removal

Razor-sharp peaks surround the pass.

After descending from the pass, we entered Keystone Canyon3-mile-long gorge near Valdez. At an elevation of 307 feet, its walls are almost perpendicular. It connects the upper and lower valleys of Lowe River. The old tunnel we remember from all our previous trips has been blocked off and the roadway rerouted around it. I'll close with these photographs of Bridal Veil Falls and Horsetail Falls. Next week, I'll complete this summer's trip into Valdez and back to Anchorage.

The Lowe River which flows through Keystone Canyon

Entering Keystone Canyon
Horsetail Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

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