Elsewhere Wednesday: Matanuska Glacier, Alaska (29 August 2009)

Matanuska Glacier;
Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska (29 August 2009).

Located about a hundred miles east/northeast of Anchorage, Alaska, in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Matanuska Glacier is a remarkably beautiful and other-worldly area to explore, especially from the perspective of a Floridian swamprat such as myself. Approximately 27 miles long and, in parts, four miles wide, Matanuska truly is an impressive and dynamic glacial system. These photographs were taken atop the glacial system near its terminus in the Matanuska Valley, just on the edge of Matanuska River.

Glaciers such as Matanuska are not stable, static things. They are consistently heaving and buckling beneath the force of gravity — moving, shifting, fracturing, squeezing, and crushing. In fact, one of my favorite sounds in the world is the deep, directionless sound of glacial ice cracking; it’s a sound you feel more than you hear, and there’s nothing else like it in the world.

Most of these photographs were taken atop Matanuska Glacier. In the lead image and a few images below, you can see what looks like a pond and a creek system slinking through the glacial ice. These bodies of water are actually situated on top of the glacial system. That’s how deep the glacial ice goes. Matanuska has its own water system, so to speak, on top of it. I find it difficult to describe the scale and magnitude of such a glacial system.

Hiking atop something like Matanuska Glacier is not an easy affair or anything to be taken lightly. The ice can be slippery, yes, but the real risk are crevasses — deep slits, holes, and crevices within the ice. Glacial systems aren’t composed of single blocks of compacted ice. The glacial ice is consistently fragmented and shattered, squeezed and rubbed. These units of glacial ice rub against one another, and, at times, spread apart to create such crevasses. You would not want to slip and fall into such a crevasse. That would be, as George Orwell might say, double-plus ungood. For the most part, I stayed well away from the larger crevasses, but I did photograph a few of the smaller, less dangerous ones, a few of them filled with crystal-blue liquid water.

Though I spent the vast majority of my four years in Alaska around the Anchorage, Chugach, and Kenai regions, Matanuska Glacier and Hatcher Pass (not too far from each other) were definite bonuses. When I eventually return to Alaska (and I will return to Alaska — for a visit), the Mat-Su Valley will undoubtedly be on my itinerary. I miss the deep, penetrating sound of glacial ice fragmenting and cracking.

2 Comments on “Elsewhere Wednesday: Matanuska Glacier, Alaska (29 August 2009)

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