Kennecott McCarthy Caving/Mining

This is actuall ancient news, but I just happened upon the pictures. I wanted to get them stashed and archived for my records. Read on for the details from Ray's field

This is taken from Ray's write up is much prettier. Return to Kennecott/McCarthy Mine in the Wrangell-St. Elias Friday June 30th-Tuesday July 5th This trip report describes areas that can be extremely dangerous. There is probably enough information here to get you killed. While I consider all my trips to be safe there is the potential to get into real trouble in this area. At a bare minimum you need common sense, good mountaineering skills, industrial strength backpacking skills, familiarity with caving protocols, and a small mountain of good gear. Background With that said this trip was completely nuclear! The tail really begins last summer when Jim, Mia, and I planned a trip through the Kennecott mines starting at the tunnel on the backside of the mountain that goes all the way through the mountain and comes out at the Erie mine. On this trip Jim became ill on the initial climb up to the Bonanza mine and turned back. Mia and I pressed on to the entrance on the back side. We spent a day traversing the interior of the mine. Along the way I discovered a gorgeous cluster of calcite crystals in one of the side passages. The specimen has a nice face of calcite cubes, ranging from 1 to 3 inches across, on a triangular rock that weighs about 150lbs. Frankly this is the best specimen I have ever found. Unfortunately, on this trip Mia and I were going straight throught the mine. There was no way I could drag the big calcite cluster with us through the mine it would have to wait til another day. A couple of weeks later I returned to he mine and spent a day moving the big calcite to the Bonanza mine platform a lot closer to the entrance of the mine. Moving the beast proved to be a backbreaking job and I realized it would take herculean effort to get the specimen back to civilazation. I didn't have time to retreive the specimen that summer but I swore I would get back to it as soon as possible. I left it on one side of the wooden platform in plain view. I figured if anybody could get it they were as deserved of this specimen as I. Landcruiser Roofrack My FJ40 Landcruiser is a great vehicle but it is a bit cramped for space on the inside so about a week ago I ordered a Wilderness Rack by Garvin Industries from Man-A-Fre. The bolt-togethor roof rack was really nice but I decided to reenforce it but welding in two more sets of cross-bars in the center. The rack came with steel clamps but I opted to use eight six inch Quick-N-Easy clamps I found at the Oregon Trail Canoe Company. These are the classic cast aluminum brackets which clamp to the rain gutter. I purchased some 5/16" AN grade bolts and nylon lock nuts from one of the aircraft suppliers at Merrill Field to attach the clamps to the rack. Next I picked up a sheet of 1/2" plywood from Eagle Hardware as well as 12 stainless steel lag bolts to attach the plywood to the rack. Original I had planned to use 3/16" diamond plate aluminum for the floor of the rack, but when it spekked out at over $300 for a 5'x8' foot peice I decided plywood would work fine. By late afternoon I had bolted up a damn fine roof rack capable of hauling several hundred pounds of gear and gas. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Nuke-Proof Wagon I can grunt, curse, and swear rocks up to about 140lbs. on my back, but at 150lbs rigormortis sets in. This was my second try at creating a solid rock hauling cart. On my first attempt I purchased four 14 inch Kenda wheel barrow tires from Home Depot that accept a 5/8" shaft. These tires have the rugged tundra tire look. For axles I used 5/8" cold rolled steel and four heavy duty pillow block bearings. I bolted these up to a 16" by 36" peice of 3/4" plywood. The plywood was reenforced by a 1-1/4" 6061-T6 square aluminum tubing frame. I painted the plywood a nice forest green and used a hole saw to put in numerous tie down points in the top of the cart. This cart looked completely bomb proof. However, testing on Bird Ridge, south of Anchorage, quickly revealed that a cart with solid axles and no steering was infeasible for hauling anything other than small objects on flat ground. The other problem was this cart felt like it weighed about 90lbs. Back to the drawing board....I searched the net and located a 1000lb. capacity Flatbed Wagon manufactured by Northern Tool. This cart looked to have a solid steering mechanism I could use. When the cart arrived I decided the 10" wheels were too small and opted to replace them with the wheelbarrow tires I had purchased originally. Fortunately the tires on the new wagon took a 5/8" shaft so I was able to reuse the wheel barrow tires off the orginal cart. The only problem now was the axles were two short, so I dropped off the steering mechanism at B&B welding to get the old axels chopped off and 6" axels welded on. I cut out the old rear axle myself and replaced it with a new 24" steel one. The original wagon was 24"x48" and I chopped it down to a more manageable 16"x36". I recycled the aluminum frame rails off the original design and bolted them to the new wagon. The only other modification I had to make was add plywood spacers under the front and rear trucks so the wheel barrow tires would clear the body the wagon. This wagon rocks! It weighs 50-60lbs, looks like it can haul well over 1000lbs, has great clearance, steering, and easily removeable wheels. The only things I'd like to do at a later date is replace all the bolts with AN grade, swap in 6061-T6 aluminum rear axle, and replace the stock handle with a longer aluminum one. These mods would improve the strength to weight ratio even further. -- Ray Friday, June 30th This brings us to July 4th weekend, 2000. I had Friday, June 30th through Tuesday, July 4th off work for the holiday weeked. I figured I would have enough time off from work to retreive the big calcite crystal cluster. I would have liked to have left Thursday night or Friday morning but there was still a lot of preparation to do. On Friday morning I started assembling the gear for the expedition. Two peices of equipment I had been waiting on were a roofrackfor my rig and industrial strength rock hauling wagon (see sidebar). Around noon I got a call from B&B Welding that my new roof rack for the cruiser was complete as well as the steering assembly for the nuke-proof wagon I was building. I set to work in earnest on installing the roofrack and assembling the wagon. On the Road at Last I had the wagon finished by about 10:00pm Friday night and started to finalize the gear packing. Thankfully, Shena had done the brunt of the packing already and we were ready to get underway around midnight. We swung by my old apartment to pick up Jim Weller and finally got under way. Mia and Olivia had opted to take their own vehicle and had left earlier in the day. The new Weber carb had problems on the Glen highway between Sheep Mountain and Glennallen. I had to stop and adjust it a few times. The mosquitos around Glenallen were the worst I have ever seen and I managed to burn a decent size hole the diameter of a cigarette in the top of my left hand (ouch!) while adjusting the carb. We camped at one of the small lakes outside Chitna around 7:00am for a few hours sleep. Saterday, July 1st We got up around 10:00am and continued our journey down the McCarthy road. Shena and Jim slept while I ambled down the McCarthy road a leisurely 30mph. I've lost enough tires on this road that I've learned to drive slow. We made it to McCarthy in the midafternoon and took our time organizing the gear for the trip including the rock wagon, orange plastic sled, and assorted verticle gear for winching the wagon. We parked the rig next to the outhouse in the National Park campground. This campground/parking is free as opposed to the lot next to the river and foot bridge. I figure the 1/2 mile hike is worth not spending $5/day to park the car. We found Mia and Olivia camped next to the McCarthy river at our tradional spot. While Mia organized his gear I hiked up to Wrangell Mountain Air and purchased round-trip shuttle tickets ($10/apeice) up to Kennecott. About this time Shena had hiked up from the camp. We decided pizza and beer was in order. We ordered an extra large Blackburn pizza at the local eatery. I knocked back a Black Butte Porter and Shena opted for the Fosters oil can. The shuttle was scheduled for 5:00pm and the pizza came out of the over about 4:50pm so opted to get it to go. As we gathered in front of Wrangell Mountain Air Jim, Mia, and Olivia arrived. Olivia planned to stay in McCarthy for the July 4th celebration while the rest of us went up the mountain. We polished off most of the pizza while waiting for the shuttle van to depart. The van was pretty empty so were able to load up the cart and our inordinate amount of gear without difficulty. The driver said hello and recognized me from last summer. I think I'm getting a reputation as a rock nut. I always find the 5 mile ride from McCarthy to Kennecott very relaxing. Perhaps because I know this will be the last chance I'll get to relax. Kennecott We got a few strange looks while unloading the wagon and sled at Kennecott. At one point a female park ranger came by and circled the wagon casually. I explained that it was our gear hauling wagon. She nodded and I breathed a sigh of relief. While its perfectly legal to take rocks from the park I didn't want to have to go into the details of this particular expedition. The picture to the left shows the four of us in Kennecott just before departure, from left to right is Jim, myself (Ray), Mia, Shena and down front the nuclear rock haul'in wagon. We started our ascent up towards the Bonanza mine. Jim and Mia, with there lighter packs, quickly got ahead of us. We agreed to meet up at the waterfall on Bonanza Creek beneath the Bonanza mine. The trail up to the Bonanza mine is a good one but dragging the wagon behind me was a grueling effort. At the halfway house we ran into Curvin Metzler and Fred Ward who were up collecting specimens for the weekend. We explained what we were up to, had a quick chat, then got under way. There were a number of tents already around the waterfall so Jim and Mia had established camp a few hundred feet further up on a nice spot they found. The picture to the right shows the waterfall on Bonanza creek, on the left hand ridge is the Bonanza mine, center is Bonanza Peek, and in the clouds is the pass to the other side of the mountain we'll be taking. It was around midnight and we were all dead tired and sore. We stayed up long enough to pitch the tents and have a good feed. Sunday, July 2nd We all slept in and got up around noon to have breakfast and coffee. I was the first to get underway and I noticed a nice snow shoot leading up towards the Bonanza mine. Pulling the wagon on the rocky trail was getting difficult so I opted to lash the wagon to the sled and pull it up the snow shoot. The picture to the left shows me beginning my morning drag up the shoot. It took more than an hour to get to get up to the pass. Once again Jim and Mia had beaten me. Shena decided to stay on this side of the mountain and check out the Bonanza mine. As it turned out she had a few adventures of her own that we learned about later. Towards the top of the pass we had to winch the wagon up as it was impossible to pull it up the steep snow and scree. I used 500 feet of 7mm Perlon, 2 ascenders, Wall Hauler (recommended), small pulley, big yellow sling, and a couple beaners. It took me a little while to remember how to setup a slick 2:1 pulley system but we soon were dragging the wagon up the pass at a pretty good rate. The picture to the right shows the wagon at the top of the pass. The descent down the other side of the pass is a couple thousand feet of steep snow and scree. For the first 500 feet Mia belayed me and wagon down. Then I continued to buttslide down with the wagon in front of me. The terrain levels out into a wide rocky scree slope. At the base of the slope, on the north side, there is a single small tent site that has been cut into the brush. We pitched the tent here and settled in for lunch. Due to the lingering snow there was some water flowing in the small creek. Jim caught a good shot of Mia gearing up to wash the back side. The Mine Rested we sorted out the gear we wanted to take into the mine. Getting to the mine entrance involves dropping down a couple more hundred feet of scree then climbing up several hundred feet of rocky ledges to the entrance. I decided it was best to break down the wagon and carry it on my pack as I didn't relish winching it up mine entrance, sledding over the ice, shaft ice crystals, pulling down the shaft, scary breakdown area, and dragging the sled over a chasm. the ledges. Jim hauled the orange sled. The climb up with the wagon was again grueling but very doable. I was ungodly thankful to get to the mine entrance and get suited up. The entrance is only big enough to squeeze one person through at a time. The first few hundred feet of the shaft is filled with ice and snow which make for a slow crawl. Eventually the ice disipates and you can stand up. The above series of pictures shows us working the wagon towards the Bonanza platform. With effort we eventually got the cart to the Bonanza mine platform. At this point there is a large platform and a wooden staircase that runs at a 45 degree angle and and down throught the levels of the mine. Going up leads to Bonanza mine but the staircase shaft is collapsed before it actually reaches the mine buildings. Going down it looks bottomless. I have never explored down into the mine because I've been warned that the bottom of the mine has poor ventilation and accumulates mine gases. The calcite crystal specimen was exactly where I left it on the platform. It hadn't moved an inch in nearly a year. For some reason the brute felt I bit heavier than the last time I was here. Perhaps it had grow a bit. There was an old sleeping bag on the platform that I used to carefully wrap up the specimen and load it onto the wagon. The picture on the left shows me loading the big calcite onto the wagon to be wrapped in the blanket. I'm standing on the platform with the 45 degree staircase being the black void behind me. I wrapped up the calcite cluster as best I could in the old sleeping bag and lashed it to the wagon for the trip out. Hauling the wagon out was not inordinately difficult we had to lift it over small obsticals like rocks and planks. The most difficult hurdles were the chasms where we flipped the wagon upside down on the aluminum rails, placed the rock on top and dragged it across. The wagon took on some pretty gnarly scrapes from this operation. The other major obstical was the scary breakdown area where we had to take the rock of the wagon and grunt it though this narrow area by hand. Eventually we got back to the ice crawl. I loaded the rock onto the platic sled and pushed it in front of me the rest of the way out. By the time we got back to the mine exit it was well past midnight. We were all dead tired so climbed back down the cliffs to our campsite. The going was slow and tenuous and I damn near past out when I got back to the tent. It had definately been a long day. Monday, July 3rd The next morning I got up around 9:00am. The sun was driving me out of the tent. Jim and Mia were sleeping like babes and it felt right to let them sleep in. I cooked myself some coffee while nursing my wounds from the previous day. I had left the wagon at the end of the ice crawl the previous night and decided to get going before Jim and Mia to retrieve it. I let them know what was going on and headed out. On the way of the ledges I took note of several good belay points from which to bring the cart down. Upon getting up to the mine entrance I found I had forgotten my headlamp back at camp, argh....back down the ledges. I got back to camp and Jim asked rhetorically why I had forgotten my headlamp. I grabbed the lamp and headed back up the ledges. Mia had nearly arrived at the entrance by the time I was suited up to go in and retreive the wagon. The crawl in and out for the wagon was uneventful and we then began work on getting the rock down the ledges. Taking the wagon down the ledges first required us to belay the wagon and rock 70 feet down to the gully beneathe mine. My rope skills were a little rusty so it took me a while to setup a proper belay for Mia to lower the wagon. As Mia slowly lowered the wagon Jim and I kept it from tipping over. Next we had to winch the the rock up and over to the fall-line of the next belay point. This is when I really wish I had bought static-line instead of regular Perlon. The rope stretch made the operation a lot more difficult. After this we did two 500 foot belays down to the scree slope. On the first belay the wagon was moving a little fast an Jim and I rolled it on one of the small cliffs. The hardest part of this operation was trying to manage the wagon and make sure you didn't fall yourself. On the 2nd belay we advised Mia to lower the wagon "a cunts hair at a time". The terrain was very rough but the slow descent went smoothly. A quick peice of gear that I found indepensible for this expedition was a Petzl Wall Hauler. This device incorporates a pulley and cam device in one nice package. It is designed for big wall climbed. But I found it was great for one-man wagon hauling. At 240gms, $65, Recommended. -- Ray It was 5 o'clock by the time we had all the gear down the ledges. We were all very tired and opted to leave the wagon and rock at the base of the scree slope. We hiked back up to camp and fired up the MSR's for dinner. Jim and Mia were eager to get back to civilazation. I know this trip was by no means as fun as they had anticipated. I said I was more than thankful for the work they had done already and wished them well on the way back. It them a few minutes to pack their gear. Then I watched them slowly ascend the steep scree slope. It takes 15-20 minutes to get down but a good 2-3 hours to get back up. During dinner I pondered what to do about the rock. I certainly didn't want to leave it exposed down at the bottom of the scree slope, but then again I didn't think I would have time to get it back to civilization. I decided the best course of action was to winch the wagon up to campsite. Later this summer I would make one final trip to retrieve it. After dinner I set to work on moving the wagon up to the campsite. I developed a 2:1 pulley system where the top of the rope was anchoraged and the actually pulley where on the low end of the rope. This allowed me to pull the wagon uphill and keep it from falling over simultaneously. I pulled the rock up 500 feet of scree and decided to break for the night. Tuesday, July 4th The next morning I go up around 9:30am and set to work on the rock again. By anchoring to a large boulder up the scree slope I was able to winch the wagon another 400ft or so up the scree slope. At this point the wagon was nearly horizontal with the campsite. I had a good lunch then did the final pull over the campsite. I carefully unwrapped the calcite cluster for a close inspection in the light. I only noticed one new small ding on the front from the journey through the mine. I wrapped the brute back up and relashed it to the wagon. Time was passing quickly so I struck camp then proceeded up the scree slope. I had an extra 30lbs of climbing gear so the trek up the scree slope was an arduous one. I reached the top around 6:30pm took in the view then started down to Kennecott. The hike down is hard on the knees but certainly lot easier then coming up. I've noticed that heavier loads usually motivate me to move faster since I want to get the weight off my back. With a bit of cursing and swearing I made it down to Kennecott by 9:00am. Just as I was starting to organize the gear in front of the Kennecott lodge I noticed Shena coming out. We hopped a Wrangell Air van that was conveinently heading down to McCarthy. I later learned that Jim and Mia had hiked the 5 miles down to McCarthy the previous night for lack of shuttle. During the ride down I leaned from Shena that she had gotten a short tour of the Bonanza Mine from Curvin Metzler the previous day. Apparently there is a very small mine entrance about 10 feet above the white wooden platform where the trail meets Bonanza Creek up towards the Bonanza mine. The tunnel terminates after a few hundred but apparently is quite interesting. I've camped at the platform numerous times and have never noticed the entrance. Definately worth taking a look. Shena collected a couple Chalcocite and Azurite specimens that looked nice. Back at McCarthy we were both sore and tired. I decided that to drive back to Anchorage that night would be suicide. We opted to call in sick the next day and camp by the McCarthy River where Shean had pitched the Clip Flashlight. Wednsday July 5th Slept in then started then drive back to Anchorage. Stopped for deliciously lunch at the roadhouse in Glennallen. The drive was long but thankfully uneventful. Got back to town around 10:00pm and crashed hard. It took a few days to recover from this one and I've decided to head back out to McCarthy the weeked of July 15th-16th to finish the job. I'll keep you posted!