Over the weekend Katie McCaffrey and I spent almost eight hours approaching and exploring the Herbert Glacier at mile 28 on the Juneau road system. We carried glacier travel and crevasse rescue gear just in case we got to walk on the ice. We had every intention to get an early start when the sky was clear and bright, but because of a leisurely Gonzo’s breakfast we didn’t begin on the trail until around noon. At first, the trailhead was super warm but the shade from the old-growth canopy helped cool the way. As we continued towards the more recent glaciated terrain, the trees thinned and a cool breeze could be felt from the ice and raging river.
We raced bikes for five miles. Katie won the race on the maintained trail. That was only because I had the heavier, less efficient of the two bikes. Ha! We ditched the wheels when the trail started skirting the Herbert River, because it became rocky and narrow and undercut from water impact. Continuing the next mile or two on foot, travelling up an alder-ridden hillside to one of the first viewpoints of the glacier.
The peaks of the ice look like the scorched tops of lemon meringue pie. That reminds me that I’m hungry, so we stopped for a snack near a field of moss and lichen that’s grown directly on gravel and silt deposited by the glacier as it’s moved through the landscape. Nutrients consisted of a mini loaf of bread containing full garlic cloves along with fancy bite-sized mozzarella balls. Also packed was about a 1,000 calories worth of Reese’s mini peanut butter cups. We had scoured Fred Meyer that morning for candy that didn’t include palm oil, and found most Reese’s to have some form of palm oil except for Reece’s mini cups wrapped in foil. ¿POR QUÉ HERSHEY?
Back on the trail we had to start using our hands while climbing over steeper slopes on the last stretch to the glacier. I broke my left pinky toe nail again! It’s been broken for about two years straight now. Just keeps re-growing over itself. I could really use a pedicure.
After getting to the ice’s edge and finding a short stretch of blue, unfractured ice with little rock or ice hazard, we decided to explore a system of caves from that specific entrance. There’s much more that’s involved when determining the safety of the underside or surface of a glacier. Knowledge that we’ve gained through multiple glacier travel courses and experiences. Yay, school!
We didn’t end up walking on the ice. It was very steep at the edge of the glacier and it seemed there was more to see underneath anyway. Under the ice, in the belly of the glacier, in the overwhelming blue light we noticed interesting ice formation above our heads. The bedrock seemed to have carved lines through the ice ceiling.
As soon as we were out of the trees and at the river’s border, we became aware of the active mining operation happening close to the glacier’s face. The noise of the generator and pounding machinery was enough to get our attention even before the operation came into sight. After getting back home we looked it up. With the glacier retreating and exposing new territory that’s never been mined before. Companies Grand Portage Resources and Quaterra Resources have started the Herbert Gold project to reap the exposed minerals. Get outta there, mining companies!
Other then the horrific mining operations, the Herbert Trail and Glacier were magnificent and a great time spent.
• California-born and Alaska-bred, Gabe Donohoe is an adventurer and photographer. He is a graduate of the University of Alaska Southeast Outdoors Studies Program. His photo archives can be seen on www.gabedonohoe.com. “Rainforest Photos” photo blog publishes every other Friday in the Empire’s Outdoors section.