Hike to Root Glacier and Explore the Ice Caves

Words and photos by Coalatree Ambassador John Rosano

In search of adventure, we started the drive from Anchorage, Alaska to McCarthy & Kennecott. I was informed by a friend in Anchorage that the last 60 miles is a white-knuckling dirt road, and advised to bring two spare tires. However, this is just a recommendation and my Sprinter van held up well on the road. When pulling into town there is a footbridge that you can’t cross with your car. There are two campgrounds before the footbridge; one is for tent camping and the other is for car camping. We stayed at the car camping one as we were staying in the van.

We took the shuttle into town.The shuttle cost $5 but only takes cash so be sure to have some on you. We took the shuttle into Kennecott and were on the trail within 30 minutes. The ice caves are changing all the time but when we were there, in June of 2018, we'd heard there was an ice cave located in the glacier moraine, just before the toe of the glacier. After about 15 minutes of searching, we found it!

We left most of our gear outside the cave--they can be pretty hazardous in the summer months so we planned to be quick inside. We explored the ice cave and were in absolute awe of the formation, texture, and colors of the ice. We spent about two hours inside the cave--way longer than planned--but we were having too much fun taking pictures and exploring something that we have never seen before. 

After climbing out of the cave we got our packs back on and headed for the toe of the glacier. At the toe of the glacier is where we put our crampons on and were off with unlimited daylight to explore the unknown. Shortly after, we came across what we called “ice slot canyons” and “blue pools” which we very cool (no pun intended) to discover.

After about seven miles out on the glacier we turned around and headed to the Donoho lakes campsite. Once you get off the glacier it’s about a half mile uphill climb to the campsite and there are cairns to help you along the way. We set up camp for the night and cooked up a warm, delicious meal. As the sun was setting (at about 11:45 pm, crazy we know) a bear came strolling through our campsite. He wasn’t bothered by us much and didn’t cause much of a threat as he kept walking on his way into the sunset.

The next day we packed up our gear and headed back out for the glacier.

We eventually made it back to the van and a hot shower never felt better (yes, we have a hot outdoor shower on the van). On our way back to Anchorage we caught an incredible sunset with a mountain in the background. I'm not sure the name of it so be sure to be on the lookout but on a clear day it’s impossible to miss! We found another ice cave to explore near the Donoho waterfall but this one was much more difficult to access.

Packing list
  • Bear canister (although the campsite we stayed at had bear vaults)
  • Camera (I shoot with a Sony A7ii and love it!)
  • Warm clothes and rain gear as the weather changes quickly
  • Headlamp (not as necessary as it stays light out pretty much 24/7 in June/July in Alaska)
  • Water & filter
  • Food and snacks (lots of snacks)
  • Hiking boots
  • Crampons
  • Trekking poles
  • Bear spray
  • Camping gear (tent, sleeping bag/pad, cooking stove, and your main camping essentials)

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