Earlier on this trip we took a mechanized tour of a glacier in Jasper National Park. That was fun, but to have the chance to hike on a glacier on a bright sunny day was amazing. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park has the largest collection of glaciers in North America. The size of it all is impossible to convey with words or with photographs. Let's just say the word "wow" is used with every breath you take.
Six of us took a guided hike to the glacier which started with a two mile hike along side the bottom of the glacier, which looks like a massive collection of tailings left over from the mining operations. But it really is massive ice waves covered with some of the rocks and debris the ice has scraped from the mountains as it has made its way from the ice field on top to the valley below and revealed as it begins to melt. When the sun is out and the breeze is warm, we had no sensation that we were so close to ice. The hiking was rigorous for geezers from the flatland. When the glacier carves the land it does not use a knife. We were constantly climbing up and down on loose rock, sometimes on the edge of a steep hill side.
Once we got to the part of the glacier that was more ice than rock, we put on crampons, metal claws which enabled us to maintain a solid foothold on the ice no matter how uphill or downhill it got. The sound of running water surrounded us. Creeks and rivulets of melting ice flowed around us and trickled deep below. In some parts they had carved deep crevasses and the water eddied and swirled, revealing the bright blue ice below. In spots where a small collection of gravel or a leaf had landed on the ice, it melted much faster than its surroundings. We unrolled foam mats and sat on a ride to eat lunch, watching a more intrepid tour group prepare to climb up the steep sides of a hill.
Overall our trip to Alaska has suffered from excessive rain, but these two special days in McCarthy and Kennecott, could not have been better. We retraced our steps - return the crampons and get a shuttle to the hotel in McCarthy to pick up the luggage, get another shuttle to the foot bridge, walk back to the car and lurch those 60 pothole filled dusty, dirty miles back to our home away from home.