Sunday, August 15, 2010

Blue Ice :: Portage Glacier

A mutual decision was made to leave Denali National Park a day early, partially because the time that Sue and Fred had in Alaska was limited and, without advance reservations, we had pretty much done what we could in the park. We drove south on Wednesday (August 11th) through Anchorage and part way around Turnagain Arm to Chugach National Forest and the small town of Portage.

We found a campsite at Williwaw Campground in the National Forest then immediately drove to Portage Glacier Lake and caught the last tour boat of the day for our first close-up look of an Alaska Glacier!

In the late 1800s there were four glaciers in this area that came together. Miners and other hearty souls used the glaciers as portage routes. Portage Lake was formed about a hundred years ago when the glaciers began receding. All four glaciers still exist but three of them are called “hanging glaciers” since they have receded so far and no longer come down into the valley.

Our vessel was the 80-foot Ptarmigan, shown here coming in to shore prior to our tour.

From the visitor center, Portage Glacier is hidden behind the mountain outcropping on the right.

Portage Glacier is on the right. It is called a valley glacier since it goes all the way into the valley. It is 450 feet deep but since there is nothing to give it perspective there was no way to really judge how high it was.

Photographs certainly do not do it justice! The rocks facing us in the center are 175 feet high!

A portion of the face of the glacier.

The closest we got was 300 yards away because of the possibility of calving – where ice breaks away and drops into the water. We didn't see any calving but felt the wake of a shooter – where a piece of ice breaks off beneath the surface and pops up out of the water.

There was a Forest Ranger on board who provided some scientific information about glaciers but, honestly, I wasn't paying attention! The blue color of the ice was intense and amazing. If you want to know more about why the ice is blue, check out this Causes of Color website.

In some places the ice hangs over the surface of the water, thus the “dark line” where the ice meets the water.

To put it into perspective, the Captain showed us a photograph taken a few years ago. He let me take a picture of that photograph and it is being used with his verbal permission. The Ptarmigan (the tour boat we were on) is floating in the middle of the bay amongst smaller icebergs in the same location as we were in – 300 yards away from the face of the glacier – and the boat (the largest of the floating objects) is merely a speck in the water.

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