Radovan Gulch, Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska

Wrangell Mountains

Radovan Gulch, on the south side of Glacier Creek

In 1908, a young Croatian immigrant named Martin Radovan (changed from Radovanovich at Ellis Island), arrived in Cordova, Alaska with thousands of other workers to help construct the Copper River & Northwestern Railway line. Backed by J.P. Morgan and the Guggenheim brothers, the railway was built to support the huge copper boom at the Kennecott mine near the town of present day McCarthy.

Winding for 196 treacherous miles, the line ran up the mighty Copper river, curved around massive glaciers, spanned treacherous canyons, tunneled through walls of solid rock, cut beneath avalanche prone mountainsides and meandered over great expanses of rolling tundra.

After completion in 1911, Martin stayed in Alaska and worked a number of mining related jobs in the area before prospecting for copper in some of the creeks in the Nizina river mining district east of McCarthy. In 1929, he laid a number of claims in a side canyon on the south side of Glacier Creek, a tributary of the Chitistone River.

Convinced that a massive copper deposit lay in the contact zone between the limestone and greenstone layers high on the walls of the cirque, Martin spent the next 40 years carefully and meticulously scrutinizing every inch of the contact zone. For most of this time, he worked the walls completely by himself.

With little technology and no formal mountain training, he spent nearly his entire adult life (into his 80s) skirting along precipitous, sandy ledges that cut along the vertical cliff faces, moving up and down wire and rope ladders that he built to access unclimbable walls and digging tunnels in the rock at elevations of up to 7,000 feet. (The area where Martin spent most of this time lies just above the dark band of rock in the upper right wall of the top photo.)

Martin never did find his dream deposit, but he did built a rich, full life that perfectly illustrates the concept of a rugged Alaska frontiersman. His legacy in the area is so rich that the National Park Service has worked to preserve the record of his life. It’s a fascinating story; I read an entire book about Martin Radovan while staying at the Glacier Creek cabin during my recent Wrangell Mountain flying trip, not even a mile away from where he lived in his own cabin across the river.

Camera Info

I shot this image of Radovan Gulch during a day hike up Glacier Creek with a Fujifilm XE-1 and the XF 18-55mm lens. Although I love how the JPEG files on the Fuji X cameras look, I was faced with some pretty strong and contrasting light here, so I took the photo in RAW. This allowed me to control the extreme highlights that result from the sun spilling over the top of the cliffs against the shadowed, north facing rock walls. Below is the original file without correction to show you the level of contrast that I was dealing with.


Comments

Radovan Gulch, Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska — 3 Comments

  1. Hey Dan

    Just found this googling some stuff on the park. I lived over in the area for 2 years, in a cabin owned by a guy named Jim Edwards, who worked with Martin for years up there mining. He’s a great old guy with tons of cool stories about the area. Very cool.

    Cheers

    Carl

  2. How cool! I actually read about Jim Edwards in the NPS book about Martin. Sounds like Jim got to know him quite well and become very familiar with his mining projects since he worked with him up close on the walls. The whole story is fascinating.

  3. Just ran across this also . My wife and I worked at peavine the summer of 1976 for Soil Test Inc . She was the camp cook and I was a laborer . We worked at two sites . One was directly above the cook cabin , bunkhouses and airstrip . We would fly up on the mtns by helicopter every afternoon and wash scree off the bench with water runoff from water falls . The other job was blasting a trail across the face of the mtns to get coat samples . At that job we also built long access ladder out of logs to climb up the steep slides . We buit these ladders at the airstrip and the helicopter swung them into Radivan gulch and set them in place . Unforgettable experience and still have many pictures of it !

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