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I spent the 4th of July weekend hiking in solitude on the Castner Glacier in the Alaska Range.
I walked up the south side of Castner Creek to the Glacier toe. Gaining the ice via rocky moraine yields thick vegetation. The temps were nice, a few showers, but nothing drenching. I was surprised how easy the hiking was for the most part. The debris cover is thick and cohesive with soil, for the most part, not like most moraines I’ve been on. There was some “surprise” mud – ground that looks solid but took me in up to my shins in “oh shit” fashion. Some scratchy bushwacking too, which just seems strange out on a glacier.
I wanted to push as far up-glacier as possible, despite having a late start. Luckily it stays light 24 hours a day so it’s easy to lose track of time. Social trails would appear and then disappear, but the moraine is easy to follow. I was surprised how difficult it was to find a dry, flat spot to camp.
The sky cleared overnight and the views in the morning were incredible. I ate a Mountain House Breakfast Skillet. It’s my new favorite thing to eat in the morning when camping. I used to pack all my own food and snub the use of pre-made, dehydrated backpacking meals. After trying the breakfast skillet I was hooked. I could probably even stomach the eggs, sausage, and veggies from the comfort of home.
I packed up early since I wanted to get a good distance up the glacier before heading home. The day started out with some incredible views up Broken Glacier to the south.
The views stayed nice, but the light was getting harsh. The glacier splits with M’Ladies Branch heading off to the south and the main branch going north. I wasn’t going to have enough time to explore both, so I had to make a decision. There was a lot of glare to the south, so I figured there would be a better photo opportunity if I headed north.
It was a little odd getting onto the ice. A deep, water-carved canyon on the edge of the moraine proved difficult to cross. Luckily, it didn’t take too long to find a route down where the rock was close enough to the lip of the ice that I could step over it.
Not long after starting up the ice I was treated to an excellent view of Mt. Silvertip (9400 feet). It was truly a rare day for the Deltas!
The glacier steepens quite a bit. At the point where the glacier becomes convex a lot of crevasses appear. Only a few of them were wide enough that they were tough to step over, but some were deep enough to make me hesitate. It’s kind of fun, wandering around the crack maze.
I so incredibly wanted to keep going. It was such a gorgeous day. I realized I had been hiking for nearly 6 miles already, meaning I had 10 miles to hike out. Sixteen miles feels like a lot with an extra 10 pounds of camera gear on top of camping equipment. It was also hot, really hot. I’d guess it was at least in the 70’s, even on the ice. The sun was persistent, and reflecting off every bit of snow and ice around me. I ate a Clif Bar and started the hike down. I found a nice spot to fill my water bottles.
I was so excited to bring a bottle of glacier water home. Nothing tastes quite as fresh. But did I tell you it was hot! Once I was off the ice and on the darker moraine, the temperature increased a lot. There was no wind. I was still about 3 miles from the car when I finished the last of the water. There were a few spots I probably could have pumped nasty water with my filter, but I decided to just shoot for the car.
About a mile later I thought, “this is it”. “I’m going to be the first person to die of heat exhaustion on a glacier in Alaska.” There was something surreal about the situation. Don’t worry, though, I pulled through and had a jug of (hot) water waiting for me at the car.