Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Knik Glacier

After our dogsledding adventure, we flew from Troublesome Glacier to the Knik Glacier, the largest glacier in the Knik River valley. The view was awe-inspiring, and I learned something interesting about glaciers: they’re dirty. For tens of thousands of years, they’ve been grinding mountains into powder, and the ice is full of it. As the Knik Glacier heaves and twists its way down the valley, a broad stripe of mountain-powder is forced out of the ice into a broad stripe down the center.

Knik Glacier
We flew over the glacier, marveling at the variety of landscapes it contains: blocks the size of apartment buildings, ridges, cracks, rolling plains and a huge number of frigid greenish-blue glacial lakes. Our guide told us that those lakes appear and disappear every week. A crack will open up, and the water drains out in a matter of minutes.

Knik Surface 2
Knik Surface 3
Knik Surface 6
Knik Surface
Knik Surface 7
The pilot and our guide hunted for a place to land (it changes every week), and we set down on the surface. Our guide outfitted us with crampons and a harness.

Tim on Knik
The crampons were to keep us from slipping into a crevasse. The harness was so that our guide could pull our limp, broken bodies out of a crevasse.

Most crevasses were clearly visible, but our guide poked at the surface with a ski pole as we walked, to ensure that we didn’t step onto a thin layer of ice and snow covering a deathtrap.

There were a lot of leaf holes. A leaf hole is formed when a leaf blows onto the glacier surface. The leaf is darker than the ice, so it absorbs more sunlight, heating up and melting the ice underneath.

Knik leaf
We walked for a couple of hours, enjoying the crisp air and the mild temperatures, not to mention the scenic wonders.

glacial pool
Knik Mountain

Our guide was an interesting, offensively fit guy in his mid-thirties, who claimed to have climbed most of the mountains we could see from where we were. He told us that the Chugach and Talkeetna mountain ranges meet at the Knik River Valley. One is home to mountain goats, and another is home to Dall sheep. It’s one of the few places where the two species meet.

Eventually, the helicopter came back, and we flew back over the face of the glacier into the valley. I have to say that the dogsledding and glacier hike was absolutely the high point of our trip, and it was only our first day in Alaska.

chopper returns
chopper shadow
Knik Valley 2

1 comment:

Chris said...

You got some great photos!