Monday, March 4, 2013


If you stay in the lodge at Kennicott, your room is so close to the glacier you can hear the deep rumble of it's movement as it grinds the mountain into a U-shaped canyon like a thousand others formed over geologic time in this part of the world. A man can't see the glacier move except across time. Photographs of Valdez Glacier taken a century ago showed a twenty story tongue of ice protruding from the valley mouth for several hundred yards. Today, the glacier has retreated and thinned, and you have to venture into the glacier valley to find solid ice. But the evidence of the power of the frozen river is carved into the terrain everywhere you look. Moraines (mounds of broken stone) mark the boundaries, advances, and retreats. Shelves on the canyon walls track the various heights of ice, and the sharp stones that make up the gravel you walk on are striated, gouged by the movement of other rocks dragged under the pressure of a thousand feet of ice.

The stories these glaciers could tell. The ages when there was just one huge ice field. The animals, some now extinct, that died trying to cross them and became preserved for a time in their icy crevasses. The early men who managed to scrape an existence from the difficult terrain and climate. The grubstakers and settlers who tried to use the glaciers as highways, losing many in the process. The miners and drillers who bustled for a time, then left ghost towns that melt into the landscape a little each year.

Today tourists flock to the tidewater glaciers to watch the ice calve, and kayak the waters milky with rock flour that tumble out of the icy canyons. For two months of the year they see the spectacular "remnants" of the glacier, but few travel onto or very near the glacier, able to "feel" the power of the glacier; to listen to it.

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