Denali AKA Mt. McKinley


Runtrails' Web Journal
Previous       2015 Journal Topics       Home       Next




Continued from the previous page.


After watching the film in the visitor center and viewing the lake outside we drove back about a mile to the parking area at the Byron Glacier trailhead.

When we did this hike with Cody three years ago at the end of June there was quite a bit of snow remaining on the last part of the trail and we couldn't get very close to the foot of the glacier. Here are several photos I took that day (June 27, 2012):

Next four photos:  The snow was pretty but we weren't able without snowshoes
to get near as close to the foot of the glacier as this year.



Check out this entry for the rest of the photos I took that day.

A lot of the snow had melted by the second time we hiked back to the glacier that summer when we went down to Portage Valley on a day trip from Anchorage. Here are two photos from August 25, 2012:

We didn't even know this bench was there in July, 2012.
In August we went to the first snow bank and turned around.

By late August, 2012 we could see more glacial ice because less snow covered it.

As you'll see in the next set of photos, the whole scene was much different today.

Despite seeing the trail and glacier three weeks earlier in August than our last time here, because of the very mild winter this year there is considerably less snow on the trail, the mountains, and the glacier.

I have no idea if the glacier noticeably shrank since we were here last but it has probably retreated some in the past three years. I just can't tell from all my pictures because there was still some snow on it the last time I photographed it.

I do know that all the glaciers in the valley have significantly retreated over the last hundred years; Portage Glacier used to extend to the location of the visitor center but now you can't even see it across the lake from there. You have to take a tour boat or air flight to see it now.

Byron Glacier now:  I saw mostly blue ice today, not snow.

This morning Jim and I walked both dogs back a mile to the viewing area with a bench.

The first thing I noticed was how much more lush the trail looked compared to those previous hikes -- almost overgrown in places:


Another indication of 2012's epic snowfall more flowers are in bloom in early August this year than in late August that year.

Because this trail is close to the glacier it's chillier back here than along the Williwaw Nature Trail. Out there the tall fireweeds are mostly done blooming; back here, they haven't even peaked yet:

Fireweeds and Devil's club with berries

Cody and Casey enjoyed getting into the cold blue glacial water in Byron Creek, which the trail follows back to the foot of the glacier:

As we approached the glacier we could see more of the ground around us and the surrounding mountainsides than we could in late August three years ago:


Jim and Casey sat on the bench while Cody and I walked a little further up and out on the rocks:

Above and below:  looking back at Jim and Casey

Most of Byron Glacier was finally in the sun by 11 AM but not all of it. There's a pretty small window of time when it's fully lit by the sun, even in the summer -- too many nearby mountains!

This is as far as I got this morning; mountain on the left is still in the shade.

Without a point of reference like a person in this picture, it's difficult to guess how thick the ice is.

I decided that I wanted to return after lunch by myself to get better pictures and to hike farther back on the rocks and boulders. I didn't want Jim to have to wait that long for me in the sun. By then it was feeling quite warm and we were both over-dressed.

Scenic view of creek going back, with other glaciers in the background.

We saw about a dozen people coming out, and more than that going in when we were going back to the parking lot.   


After lunch I went back alone to hike and explore closer to the foot of the glacier.

The sun was higher and the glacial basin/surrounding mountainsides were more lit up than they were in the morning. The sun's position to the south caused some trouble with reflections on my camera lens when I was facing the glacier; I've tried to correct for that in the remaining photos.


I had plenty of company after lunch but most of the people were well spread out. I counted 38 people coming out as I went in, and a large group of students was still in the rocky moraine area in front of the glacier. They were getting ready to leave but more people kept coming in.

The people helped give some perspective to distances and size of the boulders I was negotiating to get closer to the foot of the glacier:

Bench in R. corner is where Jim and Casey sat yesterday while Cody and I climbed a little higher
to the right. Arrow in center shows boulder pile I climbed today. It's farther than it looks!

Arrows point to people ahead of me on the boulder pile.

I saw only two other people go as far as I did up on the big rocks. They are under the top arrow in the photo directly above. They disappeared before I got to my farthest and highest point.

I had to be very careful re: foot placement. These rocks are larger than they look. None of the big rocks moved but I tested most of them before putting my weight on them. Going up wasn't as difficult as coming back down. I did kind of a loop on the rocks, not out-and-back, so I had to pick my lines carefully the whole time.

I circled three people to show perspective re: the rocks.

One of the few colorful rocks in the terminal moraine left exposed when the glacier receded

I was curious about what I couldn't see below the glacier from the viewing point.

Turns out it probably wasn't worth the effort to get back there -- just a stream of very cold water from the ice-snow melt, and more rocks where the ice has receded!



I'm curious how deep these ice crevices are but without a person for perspective, I can't tell.

Here are a few more pictures I took from the boulder pile and on the hike back to the parking area, following Bryron Creek and observing other glaciers surrounding Porter Lake:

Above and below:  Porter Lake is in the distance in both pictures;
arrow marks the bench at the end of the Byron Glacier Trail.






The whole end of the valley around Porter Lake is so beautiful right now with the blue sky, green foliage/needles, and all the glaciers.

What a spectacular setting!

I'm glad we've gotten to see a range of snow conditions here. It's fun to compare how much snow  there was three years ago, and the icebergs on Portage Lake were interesting then. This time the valley is more lush.

While I was gone this afternoon Jim rode with Casey on the bike in the campground and up to Explorer Lake on the Trail of Blue Ice, where she got to swim some more. They rode/ran about five miles then, another 3 miles on the Nature Trail after supper, plus the two miles they walked at Byron Glacier.

Jim and the dogs on the Byron Glacier Trail

I walked Cody another half mile in the campground when I got back. I had at least five miles of walking today plus 8+ miles on my bike that I described in the previous entry. 

We've enjoyed our stay here. This is a terrific campground but we've done about all we want to do in this area. We're ready to continue to Seward tomorrow.

Next entriescamping at the Seward Military Resort + our activities in the area

Happy trails,

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

Previous       Next

2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil