This week we had the opportunity to do something I haven’t done in years, and Jenna hadn’t ever done. We went to the Knik glacier.
Our plan was to hike up to the glacier with our dog Bear, spend the night, and then packraft down to the Knik River bridge and get a ride back to where our car was parked. As is usually the case though, things didn’t go exactly to plan.
The first day of our trip, we got off to a late start. We didn’t start hiking until almost 3PM. The weather was good though, and we were making good time. Since we had started the hike on the south side of the river, we had to inflate the rafts to cross over to the north side at one point. I tried to convince Bear to get into the boat with me, but he wasn’t interested. Once he felt the current about halfway across the river though, he changed his mind and decided he wanted into Jenna’s boat. Of course Jenna had her spray deck on, so he wasn’t able to get in, and had to swim the rest of the way.
Once across, we took a short break and then continued our hike. Our next crossing was at metal creek. The water was knee deep and moving very fast over bowling ball size rocks. The crossing was about fifty feet across. We decided it would be easier to just ford the creek than to inflate the rafts again, and walked across.
By the time we reached the glacier, the sun was setting and we needed to make camp in a hurry. We headed back to the top of a steep embankment overlooking metal creek, and tied our tarp to a small spruce tree. We had a small camp fire, and using our new favorite camp stove, cooked up our dinner. Though we hadn’t heard any stories of bears being out of hibernation in that area yet, and we didn’t see any bear sign, we still put all of our food into our Bear Vault BV500 ‘bear proof food container.’ This was our first trip with the Bear Vault, and it was more about testing it out in the pack, than it was about actual protection from bears. It was noted that it does in fact work great as a stool, and the lid also doubles as a dog food dish.
We brought our 20 degree bags for this trip, as we had seen the low for the Butte was predicted to be 36 degrees. We failed to take into account that our distance from the Butte, and our proximity to a 25 mile long, 5 mile wide chunk of ice, might adversely affect the low temperature for the night. We’re not sure how much colder it was, but we know that the puddles outside our tarp were frozen solid in the morning before the sun came up. As we tried to sleep we quickly realized how uncomfortable we were, and tried a couple of things to increase the warmth in our bags. We put the rest of the clothing we brought along on, cinched down our hoods, and when that wasn’t enough we emptied our backpacks and stuffed the feet of our sleeping bags into them. It was then that I noticed I had actually thrown a space blanket into my pack for just such an occasion. I gave it to Jenna, since keeping the pregnant wife warm is priority. She was instantly much warmer. With Bear snuggled in between our bags like a little furnace, we finally found a way to stay warm enough to get some sleep.
In the morning we woke to the sound of a plane buzzing along between the mountains. When we got out of our shelter, we saw the plane fly over us, and then turn around in an incredibly small circle, and fly over us again. On the second pass we waved, and the plane waved back with a tip of it’s wingtips before flying away towards Lake George.
We made our way down to the glacier so Jenna could fulfill a dream of hers; to actually touch a glacier. Once many years ago, her family had visited the Matanuska glacier, but they had only driven up to where they could see it from the highway, stopped to look at it, and then turned around and driven home. Then, a couple years ago, We visited Exit Glacier. We hiked up to the tongue of the glacier, only to be met with a rope barricade monitored by a park ranger, and a sign that read ‘no touching’ or something like that. Here, there was no rope barricade, just a small fast-flowing glacial stream.
We were across the stream in no time, and then Jenna got to touch her first glacier. That wasn’t enough for me though, so we decided that if we were REALLY careful, it would be okay to hop up on the closest big chunk of ice for a few pictures. There was a series of steps formed by cascading blocks of ice, that let us get on top of the main ice sheet. As we walked to a spot where we could look out over more of the glacier to the south, we stepped over a small gap. In the crack we could see a tunnel with water flowing through it, and then into a corresponding hole on the other side of the gap.
We took some photos, and then decided to get off the glacier. As I went to descend the small ice staircase, something happened. It wasn’t the same way I’d come up, but another block of ice that just looked similar. As I stepped onto it though, it gave way and fell down into the world’s smallest crevasse, only about six feet down to gravel. I, of course, fell with it, and slammed my head into another block of ice. I got a few small abrasions and cuts on my left temple, but being a head injury, they immediately started to gush blood. Jenna started to cry and Bear started to try and lick the wound. I put Jenna’s bandana on it though, and it stopped bleeding before long. I felt a little dizzy for a few minutes, but after walking a ways I felt fine again.
Having had enough of the glacier for one day, we decided to try and packraft down the Knik River and go home. There ended up being two problems with that idea. The first problem was that the river was still frozen completely across every few hundred yards, where it sits in the shadow of the mountains.
The other problem was that our dog Bear is a terrible packrafter. First he refused to get into the boat. Knowing that he would be doing a lot of swimming, we turned his dog backpack into a dog flotation device, by stuffing empty water bottles into the side pouches. Eventually I got him into our boat, and we floated for a short ways with him laying on my legs and being a good boy. This did not last however. Soon he wanted to look at Jenna, and at where we were going and the things we were passing. He tried a variety of positions, including standing on both tubes, standing on my backpack, standing on my shoulders, and everywhere in between. With each position change, he would rock the boat wildly, and I would cuss at him. Eventually he was shoved out and forced to run along the banks.
Soon, we ourselves had to get out of the river too though, because the river went completely under the ice. The ice was very thin though, so we couldn’t just get out and walk on it. We ended up having to lay across the rafts and scoot them along with our paddles and feet. The process was slow and draining.
In one spot, to avoid having to cross thin ice again, we ended up climbing up the side of the mountain, around some cliffs, through the brush for a ways. Eventually though, we had a spot of river, less than a mile long, where we really got to use the rafts. The current was swift and progress was fast. The only problem was, Bear couldn’t decide which side of the river he wanted to be on, so he kept swimming back and forth across it. Though he could cruise pretty well with his doggy water wing, he was getting very cold.
We took the rafts out of the water, and walked the last few miles back to our car so Bear could stay warm and dry. Though our trip didn’t really go to plan, it was a lot of fun. We traveled about 22 miles in total, and saw a lot of neat country. It’s been our first real overnight backpacking trip since our return to Alaska and we needed it badly. We also found a nice moose antler that I packed back all the way from the glacier moraine, so we have a souvenir as well.