- Cryosphere refers to any portion of the Earth's surface where water is in solid form, including glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets, sea ice, snow cover, frozen rivers, lakes, and permafrost. The Cryosphere is closely linked to the Hydrosphere and plays a crucial role in the ecosystem and our everyday lives.
- I've chosen the name because Cryosphere encompasses a wide range of ice around the world. This blog is meant to chronicle not all glaciers, but those that I experience and photograph in my travels. My vision is to visit and write about as many glaciers and other ice forms as possible while I pursue knowledge and share experiences of a beautiful world of ice. I hope you enjoy the photographs and follow along as I go!

15 December 2016

06. Worthington Glacier - 7 August, 2016

Back in May, I had returned to MICA from my solo trip to the Valdez Glacier (which you can read here) with stories of paddling between icebergs and photos of the icy giants all around me in the deep blue lake. Lizzie was itching to see the icebergs and glacier, and I had since heard rumors of an ice cave that could be accessed only by boat. We began planning for another trip almost as soon as I had returned. As a second year guide, Lizzie would work six days per week all summer, but would get one two day weekend in August, and we knew that would be a great time to get to Valdez. On the way, we planned to stop over at the Worthington Glacier, which was still too snowy for me to get to during my first visit. I was excited to see another new glacier, but probably even more eager to find that ice cave in Valdez.

As the days got and closer, though, the weather forecast looked less than ideal; Heavy rain was projected for both days across much of Alaska. Many alternative hikes were considered, but the weather looked worse everywhere else across the state. We decided if we were going hiking in the rain, it may as well be on glaciers - so we loaded up the canoe and started the drive first thing the morning of the 7th. Sure enough, the rain came in early that morning, and only intensified as we drove toward the Worthington.

Worthington Glacier from the road - taken later in the day when the weather calmed down enough to see the glacier
By the time we reached the parking area, the rain was so intense we considered coming back later, or not at all. We decided to stick around and see if anything changed, and by the time we had eaten lunch and packed our gear, the rain had calmed to a steady drizzle.  So off we went, into the rain. The beginning of the trail was easy, leading to a heavily visited viewpoint in front of the glacier about a half mile from the parking area. Once we left that trail, though, paths quickly became wet, slick, and much harder to follow through the rocks.

Lizzie considers the best option to access the glacier.
We scrambled up the lower moraine-covered ice over loose shale of all different sizes. When we finally reached the clean, white ice, things became much more smooth, but also super steep. The view was fantastic, even from the toe of the glacier. Waterfalls flowed from both sides of the steep valley and cut into the edges of the ice. The glacier contained many small, beautiful blue holes from old moulins and resealed crevasses, but very few large features down low.

Waterfall over the broken bedrock, carved out by the glacier. Also shows just how steep the lower glacier is.
With such a steep hike in the cold and rain - not to mention constantly stopping to take photos - the next half mile took us quite some time. We made it to where the pitch leveled out to almost flat, but the glacier there was severely broken up into thousands of crevasses. As glacial ice accelerates toward a drop like that at the toe of the Worthington, it begins to break apart into a field of crevasses. Imagine sitting in a raft as you go from a calm river to approaching a waterfall. Closer and closer to the drop, the water becomes much faster and more turbid. The same thing happens with glacier ice, except that it flows more slowly than a river and, instead of rapids, you get pressure fractures forming crevasses.

Looking up to the firn line and icefall of the upper glacier
As we wound our way around and between massive cracks up to 60 feet deep, snow began to appear - first in holes and shaded areas - then covering much of the ice above us. We realized we had reached the firn line - the level where snow covers the glacier all year - and it would be dangerous to go much higher. The plan was to circle our way around from the left lobe of the glacier, above the rocky outcrop of the former nunatak, which separates the two lobes of the lower glacier, and hike down the right side, bushwhacking our way back to the parking lot.

The glacier had other plans, though, and sent us back the way we came after we struggled to find a way through the broken crevasses in near-hypothermia-inducing weather. Before we turned back, the clouds lifted just high enough that we could see the flanks of surrounding peaks, nearly all of them containing glaciers that spilled down to join the Worthington. I desperately wanted to explore every channel and peak, but the ice caves of the Valdez Glacier were waiting. The upper Worthington would have to wait for another time. On the way down, we passed close to the edge of the ice, broken against the rock and full of cool features and waterfalls. 

A cold, wet Lizzie hiking down
In the crevassed and broken ice, we also found an old cable. We later learned that there is a research station higher up on the glacier, likely the origin of such artifacts. The cable we found was partially melted out, nearly 200 feet worth of it, with each end still frozen into the ice for unknown lengths.

Left: the cable disappears into the ice in the top left corner; Right: close up of said cable
Further on down, we met up with the trail, and decided to walk around to the viewpoint. A fantastic display of a waterfall and river filled ice cave awaited us: a perfect photo op to end the day!

Toe of the Worthington Glacier

Thanks for reading, if you liked this feel free to spread the word and comment below.
Be sure to follow me on Instagram @dcranephoto to see more photos of glaciers and other cool places!

The next post with those beautiful ice caves will be coming up shortly! Enter your email in the box on the right, and you will always get the new Cryosphere Chronicles as soon as they come out!

Worthington Glacier Stats:

My First Time on the Glacier: 07 August 2016
Type: Valley Glacier
Location: Thompson Pass near Valdez, Alaska
Source: Chugach Mountains
Length: 3.8 mi (6.1 km)
Width: about 1 mi (1.6 km) near the top.
Flow: up to 30 m/yr (research from 1960's)
Status: Retreating
Access: Pangaea Guides offers tours, don't miss the view from the Worthington Glacier State Recreation Site in Thompson Pass

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