I am in my tent, wet and bedraggled, working on thawing my fingers, drying my clothes, and writing yet another journal entry. It is raining again....still.
40 minutes ago the fog was so thick I could barely see the cook tent 15 meters away. Now the fog is gone, there is no wind, and I am trying not to get sleepy from listening to the rain patter on my tent. I am DRY!
Heidi and Caleb are out on the beach putting together a new piece of equipment that we will probably deploy tomorrow. They are WET! Megan and Darrell are in the cook tent working on programming for the new equipment we hope to deploy. They are DRY! Yesterday was bright and sunny and WE WERE ALL DRY!!
We left Anchorage at 8:10 AM and drove up the Glen Highway, through Eagle River, Palmer, Chikaloon, and Glen Allen to Valdez. On the way we went through some beautiful country. Between Anchorage and the junction with the Parks Highway we crossed the Knik River and the wide tidal marshes at the end of the Matanuska Valley. Once we turned north toward Palmer we had to slow down to 5 mph while a moose decided whether or not to step out into the road in front of us. Moose on the roadways are something you have to watch for all the time in Alaska. They are big and they are not very careful and they can really damage a car!
Somewhere past Chikaloon we got our first good look at the Matanuska Glacier.
It ends with a ragged gravel moraine that leads up and onto the glacier extending far into the mountains beyond...the Chugach Range. (A moraine is the glacially formed accumulation of soil and rock that is seen below the retreating glacier.)After a rest stop at a viewpoint we headed on up to the visitor center in the Wrangell St Elias National Park for a lunch break. The Wrangell St Elias National Park, along with Glacier Bay National Park (also in Alaska), Kluane Lake National Park in Yukon and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park in British Colombia combine to form the 24.3 million acres of the 1st bi-national World Heritage Site, the largest international park/preserve in the world. That land includes mountains, glaciers, lakes, rivers, coastline fjords, forests and alpine tundra. (Alpine tundra refers to the windswept, treeless area between tree line and the highest peaks. Although sometimes it is barren rock, in many places tundra is covered by deep soils and a variety of plant communities.)
From Glen Allen to Valdez we got periodic views of the Alaska Oil Pipeline which runs over 700 miles from Alaska's North Slope to Valdez. The pipeline crosses rugged terrain that required special engineering to minimize its impacts on the environment and to be sure it is not easily damaged. For instance: the pipeline is elevated animals can move freely back and forth beneath it; it is set in cradles that will allow it to move without damage in response to the frequent earthquakes in Alaska; the posts on which the cradles rest are refrigerated where they extend into the soil so that they won't conduct heat from the oil in the pipeline that might thaw permafrost and cause damage to the fragile ecosystem. (Permafrost is soil that is at or below the freezing temperature of water for 2 years or more.)
We made one other viewpoint stop at the Worthington Glacier. It is enormous and extends dramatically from high peaks to very near the highway in a beautiful tongue of flowing ice. Trails make it possible to walk easily to the end of the glacier as many people were doing. It was tempting to take off for a scramble up onto the ice, but we needed to keep moving.
I wish I could find words to share the scope and beauty of the mountain landscapes we saw. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, it always did! To crown it all we are camped above 1300 feet in a small ***cirque*** left by the retreat of the glacier feeding Allison Lake. (Cirque means a bowl-like valley, or valley-head, formed at the head of a glacier by erosion.) The lake is deep blue-green from the ***flour*** washed in by the melting glacier at the head of the valley. (Glacial flour consists of clay-sized particles of rock formed by glacial erosion. A river carrying glacial flour may appear very cloudy and flour suspended in a lake may make it appear turquoise as a result of the pulverized minerals that support large populations of algae.) The mountainsides are very steep, sometimes 45 to 75 degrees jutting right up from the surface of the lake. We are camped on small dry spots between branches of the stream where it enters the lake...really the only dry level spots around.
The vegetation is very thick and very green; nowhere more than 3 or 4 feet tall. There are many wildflowers blooming. Don't you wish you were here with us...oh, and remember, bring your raingear!
SPENCER asked: Where are you studying? I have been to four sites with the team so far. On July 28th we flew from Dillingham, AK (on the west coast) to Cascade Lake. After a couple of days and nights we moved up to Upper Togiak Lake for two more nights, then made a stop for coring at High Lake before returning to Dillingham and then back to Anchorage. We took 2 days there to repair equipment, buy groceries, repack our supplies and get all 5 team members together before we drove to Valdez. From there we flew to Allison Lake where we will be working until the weekend when we will fly back to Valdez, pick up our vehicles, and head back to Anchorage. I have tried to include GPS coordinates for all our study sites so you can use Google Earth or Terra Server to find the exact place where we do our research.