Trip Report for July 2, 2023 – Gulkana Glacier

The Gabriel Icefall on the Canwell Glacier – Taken on July 2, 2023

It’s the simple things. I’ve wanted to start a Trip Reports page for some time now, but for whatever reason, I have put it off. Well, now it’s here, and I apologize for already starting a week behind! These posts give a quick report on current trail or route conditions, wildlife sightings, and the general status of the places I visit. Also, just to journal and recount my journeys and explorations. You know, blog. Oh yeah, that’s basically what this website started as. So, I guess I’m just going back to my roots.

Sunday, July 2, 2023, my wife and I set out for the Gabriel Icefall on the Gulkana Glacier in the Eastern Alaska Range. We took her small Toyota Yaris to the dirt road past the airstrip south of the Wilds Preston Richardson Monument on the Richardson Highway (the road that leads to the Gulkana Glacier trail). Shortly past the airstrip, there was a lot of water from the stream running through the road, and I wasn’t comfortable driving the low-clearance vehicle very far past the airstrip.

We parked where the road narrows and walked the 1.3 miles to the start of the trail and the footbridge crossing College Creek. Being the 4th of July weekend, I shouldn’t have been surprised that there was a lot of ORV traffic riding up and down the road, but I was surprised at just how much there was. For the first half mile, it was a constant stream of vehicles. It was a bit noisy and obnoxious.

About half a mile from the normal parking area for the trail, the traffic slowed considerably, and we were only passed by a handful of ATVs. It was apparent here that the water levels in Gulkana and College Creeks were very high, and I figured we might have some trouble crossing the channel to get on the glacier.

The suspension bridge was in good shape but had quite a few rungs with flagging tape, marking broken and cracked foot rungs or ones that had broken off at the bolts. The trail was in great shape and continues to get easier to follow every year as more people hike out here. I have started to wonder if it’s a popular enough area to warrant establishing an official trail and maybe mark with cairns to keep erosion down and make for easier travel over the rocky terrain. Then again, it’s probably not much of an issue in this outwash plain.

Crossing the suspension bridge on July 2, 2023

As we approached the best crossing spot for the channel, a spot of exposed bedrock where the stream deepens and narrows, we noticed a few snow bridges persisting over the stream. A fairly large group was crossing one back off the glacier before we arrived. When we got closer to the snow bridge, I noticed it had thinned to almost nothing in the middle. There was simply no way I was going to step foot on that.

When we arrived at the normal crossing, the water was much too fast and deep to jump across. Looking upstream, I noticed another snow bridge that was much thicker than the one downstream. This one was nearly four feet thick and fairly uniform across. It was a warm enough day that it was still a bit risky, but clearly a much better option than the alternatives. We crossed it quickly, and the snow was still surprisingly firm, with no post-holing at all.

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View of the icefall from the terminal moraine

There was a short slog through some shin-deep wet silt, but once on the ice and moraine, the walking was easy again. There was some spotty snow that was easily avoidable down low. It was fairly obvious that we weren’t going to be able to get to the top of the cliffs at the icefall without going through quite a bit of snow. The snowline was approximately 4900 feet, just below the icefall on the main trunk of the glacier in a crevassed area, but we didn’t bring a rope, so it wouldn’t be safe to cross the initial snowfield. I’d expect that now, a week later, that snow is gone.

We spent a little over an hour taking our time, photographing some streams, moulins, and the Gabriel Icefall as we meandered up to the snowline. Found a nice rock to sit on and have lunch before heading back down. Noticed there were a lot of people camping near the glacier terminus, and it would have been a great night for it. But we needed to get home to feed the dog, and it was already nearly 6 pm when we stepped off the glacier.

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Moulin on the Gulkana Glacier – July 2, 2023
View of the icefall from the snowline
More views of the icefall
More views of the icefall

All-in-all, it was a great day trip. We covered 9.76 miles with 1,276 feet of elevation gain in just under 5 hours (including plenty of breaks and photo stops) for a pretty casual hike. I plan on making another trip out here with some of my climbing team kids in a week, so I’ll give an update on snow conditions. Here is the link to my photo gallery for the day. For more info on the trail and route, check my hiking guide: Gulkana Glacier Hike.

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