by Diane Spicer
These glacier day hiking tips are meant to give you an accurate picture of what it's like to step onto a glacier and spend time exploring it.
The limited amount of time I spent on this particular glacier lends itself more to the term glacier walking.
And for the record, I'm no expert on this type of hiking.
These tips are a compilation of my own brief experience with one river of ice in Alaska's Wrangell St. Elias Park, and do not reflect conditions in all parts of the world.
My experience spanned four hours on a dry, calm July day.
Photo credit: All photos by Rhane Pfeiffer
Do not attempt glacier hiking
without an experienced guide.
The hazards and pitfalls of this type of hiking are outlined in these glacier hiking tips to acquaint you with this unique type of hiking.
But Hiking For Her is not responsible for any decisions you make about glacier travel after reading this trip report.
Wrangell St Elias National Park and Preserve (southeast Alaska) is blessed with a multitude of glaciers.
The glacier I explored was the Nizina Glacier, accessed via bush plane from the town of McCarthy.
My guided exploration was part of a 12 day base camping trip in the Wrangells, July 2017.
Three of us hiked a big loop around the relatively flat terminal area of the glacier, so did not need to use crampons or ice axes.
If it had rained recently, we would not have tried to access the glacier due to unstable surfaces around the access point and potentially hazardous slick, icy surfaces.
Geology has its own language, and you will need some toothy words to understand this glacier day hiking trip report.
Formations and features of a glacier are outlined below from a lay person's perspective:
Just for the record, the Nizina Glacier is a temperate glacier, with frozen and liquid water during warm summer months.
The Malaspina Glacier, which can be accessed elsewhere in the park, is a piedmont glacier: it terminates at the ocean.
Want more glacier words?
Now you're ready for the description of my glacier hiking adventure!
A big problem in glacier day hiking is how to get onto a glacier which sits higher than your access point.
We solved the problem by hiking for a quarter mile on a lateral moraine, looking for a safe spot to access the glacier itself.
A few cautionary notes about this type of approach:
The glacier had relatively few crevasses where we were exploring (good beta from our guide Rhane), all of which were easy to spot from a distance.
Due to the warm cloudless weather, there were a lot of glacial rivers, streams and rivulets to cross or avoid.
As a hiker, you've trained yourself to either avoid ice, or tread carefully when you have to traverse it.
On a glacier, you can walk confidently on ice!
But you need to be sure you've picked a relatively dry time to step onto it.
Your first few steps on the glacier will probably be tentative. Then your brain switches over to "this is amazing!!!" and you can truck along at whatever speed the terrain and your curiosity permit.
On a relatively flat glacier, crampons would just get in the way of exploration.
It really helps navigation if you've had a chance to fly over the glacier first.
Any time I can learn a few new hiking tricks, I jump at the chance.
No jumping on the glacier was involved, but I certainly came away with a whole new appreciation for the power of hydrogen, oxygen, and cool temperatures!
Will I try it again?
And you should, too!
If you're headed into the backcountry for some glacier day hiking, my Wrangell St. Elias gear checklist might be helpful :)