Please hang in there – you won’t be disappointed!

Our first day in Anchorage truly began in earnest after the ambling visit to Bird Point – following this introduction we hit the ground running – or should I say hiking –  up to our first glacier. About 50 miles south from Anchorage is Portage Valley, a 14 mile length of land that connects the Kenai Peninsula to the rest of Alaska. Within this valley are five glaciers and four of their names proved this was the perfect place for me:   Byron, Shakespeare, Burns, Explorer and Middle (how sad it must be for this glacier to have such a drab name).  The trail we embarked on was an “easy” one – just about 3 miles roundtrip with approximately 100 ft elevation.  As with most of our glacier hikes we started in a lush forest – this one filled with alder, cottonwoods, aspen trees and lots of interesting local flowers and plants – I will devote a separate post to these flora.


Before we started our hike however, there was some serious business. J (to be called to differentiate him from our other John guide) gave us instruction on how to tackle the trail – with particular mind to potential close encounters with bear and moose.  These are not cute little animals – male bears can be almost 7 ft in length and almost 700 lbs and are particularly aggressive when surprised.  Alaskan Moose are gargantuan and are the largest subspecies in North America – males can weigh over 1,000 lbs and are very tall – some over 7 feet with an antler spread of over 6 feet – definitely not like Bullwinkle of cartoon fame.

To safely get to through our hikes J encouraged us to be very noisy – a complete reversal from almost every other situation I have had traveling.  Booming voices, stomping feet crashing through the brush would help to ensure we didn’t stumble upon an unsuspecting animal.  If a bear comes into view, slowly back away.  Just to be doubly safe, J carries a can of “bear spray,” and obliged my silly request for a series of pics showing him confronting” a bear (J has done some film work previously – it soo evident here):





Safety lecture concluded, we were on our way – here are aerial views of the trail:



Close-up is much more exciting , with Byron Glacier getting bigger and bigger as we advance:





You’ll notice a definite blue hue to the glacial ice and unlike yellow ice – this is not a bad thing.  Glacial ice is blue because it is very dense – the high-pressured compactness of the ice absorbs all colors of the spectrum except blue. And, the ice is not alone – as the glacier moves it pick ups rock and soil and (wait for it fellow Classic Journey hikers) and they all go through the tremendous “GRINDIFICATION” mentioned in this post’s title.

I must pause now to give J credit for introducing us to a whole new lexicon of the English language – which I will dub JSPEAK.  This is a brilliant method of explanation as I can attest – no one on this tour will ever forget the gems of JSPEAK. Listen to this brief example as you watch the icy glacial runoff flows into Byron Creek – just click both video and audio to get the full effect:

Over the course of our trip J engaged in many in-depth conversations like this with fellow traveler Joe who happens to be a physicist, about “squeezing molecules,” “molecule memory” and general “glaciation grindification.”

I have done my usual research on some of the things J told us.  For example, “liquefaction” does actually refer to a phenomenon whereby soil/land loses strength and stiffness in response to an applied stress, like earthquake shaking (and I suppose glacial grindification) resulting in the soil assuming liquid like properties:

The sliding of an ice mass over its bed represents one of the main mechanisms for the forward motion of glaciers and ice sheets, facilitated by the periodic introduction of meltwater along the ice-bed interface or regelation of the overriding ice.  The stratification… comprises alternating layers of massive to weakly foliated diamicton and variably deformed (folded, faulted) laminated silt and clay. Elevated meltwater contents/pressures encountered immediately prior to, and during basal sliding promoted localised liquefaction within the bed. Decoupling of the ice mass from its bed enabled the injection of the liquefied diamicton along the ice-bed interface and/or into the laminated sediments immediately adjacent to this boundary…Injection of till into the locally water saturated silts and clays resulted in partial liquefaction and incomplete mixing of these fine-grained sediments with the diamicton. Density contrasts between the two liquefied sediments led to the development of a complex ‘vinaigrette-like’ texture comprising rounded to irregular till pebbles within a matrix of variably homogenised silty clay. 

This sounds exactly like one of J’s explanations, but it is in fact an abstract from “Micromorphological evidence of liquefaction, injection and sediment deposition during basal sliding of glaciers” from the Quaternary Science Review.  I haven’t yet found examples of “grindification”  but I am going to keep looking…I believe, J!

Back to Byron. Once out of the forest our ears were engaged by the beautiful rush of the Byron Glacier Stream rushing past us – some brave souls actually tested the temperature – freezing!



But there was still an expanse we needed to cross in order to get nearer to the foot of the glacier – rock, rocks and more rocks:



We couldn’t physically step near or on the glacier as the area was treacherous, but the reward of seeing this incredible aquamarine ice so close – just WOW:


We worked our way back down the trail and continued on to the town of Girdwood to the “quaint little” Alyeska Hotel set at the base of the Mt. Alyeska and the Chugach Mountains which was to be our base camp for the next few days:


This is just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) of our trip – and concludes only Day One!  There are more exciting adventures still ahead – with more than a little adrenaline pumping thrills – stay tuned!



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