Adventures on Knik Glacier
Standing barefoot atop ice formed from snow that fell more than 100 years ago, he stripped to board shorts while the guide tied a safety cable across his chest. The cable was a precaution against involuntarily muscle seizure; immobilizing a person to the point they can’t swim – or even get out of the water. Hawaii native and photographer, Stan, was about to take a plunge into a deceptively inviting blue pool of ice melt atop Alaska’s Knik Glacier.
During the peak of the last glacier period (circa 21,500 years ago), Knik Glacier was a river of ice flowing from the north end of the Chugach Mountains toward the basin where the city of Anchorage now sits. Other tributaries joined it along the way: Matanuska, Portage, and many unnamed glaciers to become a massive frozen river more than 20 miles (32 km) across the face, up to 4,000 (1219 m) feet thick, and pushing past the Anchorage bowl into Cook Inlet. Seemingly modest compared to its former self, Knik Glacier has since retreated 50 miles east of Anchorage and now runs 25 (40 km) miles long and 5 miles (8 km) across its face. Despite the shrinkage, it is still one of the largest glaciers in Southcentral Alaska.
Getting to Knik is an adventure in itself. Several modes of transportation are available: all terrain vehicle, jet boat, guided pack rafting, and helicopter. Some adventuresome locals even ride fat tire bikes out there in the spring. Our choice was helicopter with a door-off option. If you don’t mind a bit of wind chill, teary eyes and having your lips blown back to your earlobes – it’s an exhilarating ride and a great way to shoot unobstructed views of the terrain.
The helicopter set down next to a pool of blue water so vibrant it bordered on surreal. Though heli glacier tours are available year-round, it is only from spring to fall that this phenomenon can be seen. Optimal months to photograph glaciers are listed in Top 30 Alaska Photography Subjects and When to Shoot Them.
The blue was too much for a water bug like Stan to resist. He declared his intention to jump in just as soon as the chopper landed. The rest of the group staged their shots while he was prepped for the jump. Then perched on a platform of ice, Stan crossed himself, sprung, did a heel grab, and splashed down into frigid water. He didn’t stay long…