2012  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Web Journal
 
Previous       2012 Journal Topics       Home       Next
 

   TURNAGAIN ARM, PART 3: BYRON GLACIER
& THE VISITOR CENTER AT PORTAGE LAKE

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 27

 
"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source 
of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer
 pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. His eyes are closed."
 
~ Albert Einstein
 
 
I am definitely in awe of every glacier I've seen so far in the Yukon and Alaska.

Today was no exception as we enjoyed the floating blue icebergs in Porter Lake that have broken off from Portage Glacier, out of sight from our vantage point, and the beautiful blue ice and sparkling white snow on Byron Glacier, which we saw close up.


Some of the icebergs floating in Portage Lake today

This page is a continuation of our day trip on the Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage. 

In the last entry I mentioned that we turned off the Seward Highway at MM 79 onto Portage Valley Road and drove east about five miles to the Begich, Boggs Chugach National Forest Visitor Center. It is located in a gorgeous setting on the shore of Portage Lake.

After a quick visit inside we drove to the trailhead for the Byron Glacier Trail and hiked out and back to the foot of the glacier.

BEGICH, BOGGS VISITOR CENTER

I've got to say, Alaska has some of the most outstanding visitor centers we've seen anywhere in the USA.

This is one of them -- and we haven't even seen most of it yet because we were in too much of a hurry and didn't realize until later that we could have blitzed through for free with our NPS Senior Pass. We've added it to our list of Things to Do and See when we come back to this valley again, probably after we've visited the Kenai Peninsula.


The Begich, Boggs Visitor Center sits between Portage Valley Rd. and Portage Lake.


Bright lobby of the visitor center

The visitor center features the huge Chugach National Forest, which covers 17Ĺ million acres of land in South Central Alaska. Various exhibit rooms focus on nature, geology, and culture in the area. There is a 200-seat theater that shows a movie about glaciers (we've heard it is outstanding) and a 100-seat learning center.

Today we browsed in the lobby and walked down an arched, L-shaped, skylit tunnel to see the views of Portage Lake from inside:

Anyone can do that and visit the gift shop without paying a fee.

The views were even better outside, despite the clouds in the sky. We walked along part of the lake shore, admiring the interesting shapes of the ice as it has melted:

Above and below: ice from Portage Glacier

If we come back here again in a few weeks it'll be interesting to see what the 'bergs look like then.

Until the 1970s visitors could see Portage Glacier, the source of this ice, from the visitor center. It has receded so far behind Byron Peak that the only way to see it now is to take a boat cruise from the other end of the lake. I don't know if we'll do that next time or not.

The next picture shows Byron Peak on the right. Portage Glacier lurks behind it:

There are several smaller glaciers visible from Portage Lake, including Byron Glacier:

Seeing those two RVs parked near the lake reminds me -- there is plenty of room in two parking areas near the lake and visitor center for campers to park unless the place is packed with passenger vehicles and other RVs. There were only about 20 vehicles in the parking lots during our visit.

BYRON GLACIER TRAIL

Although we couldn't see Portage Glacier today we were able to get close to the base of nearby Byron Glacier. It was well worth our time.

We drove about a mile back a narrow paved access road to the trailhead parking area. That lot does not have room for RVs unless they are very small. If you're in a large camper, leave it at the visitor center and walk or drive your tow or towed vehicle back the access road.

 

The Byron Glacier Trail is relatively flat, smooth gravel. It follows rocky, cascading Byron Creek gradually upstream to its source at the base of the glacier. The trail winds through a thick alder-cottonwood forest for most of the way.

We had good views of the glacier within the first half mile. It is a beautiful sight.

Near the beginning of the trail we could see a lot of rainforest ferns and wildflowers but the farther we traveled upstream to the glacier the more intermittent snow we encountered on the trail:

 

It was slick, soft, and a little deep in places. We had to watch where we walked. Cody was in puppy paradise! (Yes, dogs are permitted on this trail. I think bikes are, too.)

Keep in mind as you look at these photos that it is June 27, well into summer in the Lower 48 states, and we are almost at sea level! As I've mentioned previously, Alaska really got dumped on with snow last winter.

These two photos are looking back the way we came:

 

Jimís knee hurt as he slid around in the snow so he stopped about ľ mile from the base and waited while Cody and I went to the end of the trail -- or more accurately, as far as I was comfortable going. I couldn't tell where the trail went near the base because it was covered in deep snow.

In addition, there are signs warning about getting too close to the ice so I was even more careful there:

I went perhaps 200 feet beyond this sign and to the right, hoping to avoid falling through the snow into the creek.

Even when there is less snow later this summer I don't think I can get much closer to the glacier than I did today. There is no mention of trails going up the mountainsides on either side of the glacier, just challenging bouldering through the rocks and terminal moraine.

I loved getting that close to the base of the glacier and getting some good photos of it up close. There was a small group of people behind the sign (above) when I arrived but they were soon gone and I had the place to myself for several minutes.

And yeah, I stood in awe at the wonder of it all. I am totally fascinated by glaciers.

I searched for details, like these chunks of packed snow that have broken off into the creek from the snowfield that looks like it may last most of this summer: 

 

Check out that blue glow from glacial silt. Isn't that cool? If the water wasn't so doggone cold I would have walked over closer to it. The stream was shallow there.

The rippled blue ice in the glacier itself is also beyond "cool:"

 

I spent about ten minutes just looking, inching as close as I dared to the glacier. I reluctantly turned around so I didn't keep Jim waiting too long.

Although he was able to see the glacier farther back the trail I wish he could have kept going closer to the base. Maybe I can talk him into hiking or riding his bike farther back in another few weeks when we plan to return.

It was beautiful with all the snow today but I'm very curious to see what it looks like when more of it has melted, too.


A view of some surrounding mountains on the way back to the trailhead

This is a special place. It's one of the easiest glaciers in Alaska to access by car, then foot or bike. There is no fee for the pleasure.

If you're in the area we highly recommend at minimum that you spend one or two hours doing this hike and/or visiting the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center. There are many other things to do along the Portage Valley Road and in the town of Whittier, too. Stay tuned for our future report.

Next entry:  more activities in and near Anchorage

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

Previous       Next

© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

-