Glaciers are my favorite thing about living in Alaska.
Which makes today one of my most favorite days of living here so far.
Huge chunks of ice have been calving off of Portage Glacier in recent days. A few of these icebergs have made their way across the lake to just outside the Visitor Center (thanks to the williwaw winds that also bring us that cold, sideways rain).
Portage Glacier is a lacustrine glacier, meaning that it acts like a tidewater glacier but instead of dropping into the ocean it’s dropping into a lake (the USFS might explain it better). This type of glacier is a bit rare from what I understand. It’s pretty cool that I get to live next door to one…
There’s no better way to start your day than happening upon an unexpected iceberg. If you don’t know this from personal experience, just trust me that it’s true.
Glacier cruises. If you come to Alaska and you’re near the southern coast, you should go on one. It’s one thing to see a glacier from a road or a trail – but it’s another experience entirely to be in a boat cruise right up to the edge of a tidewater glacier like this one:
Thanks to my role in the National Forest, I was able to shadow a ranger program on a glacier tour in Prince William Sound. Very typical of southcentral Alaska, the weather was overcast, cold, and drizzly. The three hour trip took us past a black-legged kittiwake rookery and two large glaciers. Bumping through the bergie bits (small icebergs and chunks of ice floating in the water that have calved off of the glacier), we edged up impossibly close. The size of the glacier was incomprehensibly large, the ice was an almost-glowing blue. Harbor seals floated around the pieces of ice and rested up on the bigger ones. Kittiwakes and other hardy sea birds coasted through the air or rested on the cliff walls. The air was suitably wet and chill. Despite the uncomfortable weather, I could’ve stayed there mesmerized all day. Icebergs are one of those things that I’ve heard about, that I recognize, but that I’ve never really seen, never really experience. The whole thing rounded out, rather surreally, with a humpback whale sighting.
This is rugged wild. This is melodramatic extreme. This is iconic Alaska.
To give a little bit of perspective…
I didn’t realize until after I arrived in Alaska that all the glaciers here are concentrated in the southern portion of the state. I know I can’t speak nearly as intelligibly as I’d like on the nature of Alaska. And some of the specific stats I’d like to share for perspective are elusive (though this very science-y article get a little more into why glaciers are where they are). I do know it’s a land of great scale and intimidating magnitude; of water and ice and tundra and brush; of surprising warmth and startling cold. And I know it’s one of those places that words fail; that you have to see to begin to understand; that deserves to be a personal experience instead of a second hand retelling.