Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Crawling through the Castner Glacier

Last weekend, August 11/12 Duane, Dick and I drove down South for the 2nd weekend in a row for some weekend fun. The previous weekend we went to Valdez, a 6 hour drive, because Dick was after some Salmon to stock his freezer for winter. Not much luck they had on that trip as all there was were a few million pinks, which apparently are not worthy of eating according to Alaskans: bottom of the range.

So this time Dick took us on a ice caving excursion inside the Castner Glacier, off the Richardson Highway. Well this was just an amazing experience for Duane and I. Having never done such a thing before, we were very lucky to be in the company of a seriously knowledgeable ice-caver. Dick has been exploring this glacier and many others for a very long time. He used to do these trips with his son Tyson (now 23), when he was a little boy and still does them many times a year. He's even mentioned in the book The Reader's Companion to Alaska, a gathering of some of the best travel writing ever about America's last great frontier, edited by Alan Ryan. (This particular story is written by Kris Capps and is called: Ice-caving Beneath the Castner Glacier, Alaska Range. I bought the book straight away after reading that story and recommend reading it if at all interested in Alaska!)

We walked a short distance off the highway until we reached the large entrance cave to the glacier. After having a quick look inside we continued our way, exploring the glacier and climbing all over it. Now don't think of this glacier as being a crystal clear moving mass of ice with blue ice tunnels. No this glacier you can actually walk over the top without realizing you are on a glacier. Loads of gravel and rock has made its way up and now covers the glacier with blueberry bushes growing amongst the rubble.
So finding a cave entrance is quite and exciting activity. We found a little entrance and had an explore without much success so we walked on searching for more. And we found more!
A large heart-shaped entrance was waiting for us to explore its dark depths....
The cave went from light-filtered and large to a crawling space where one needs a proper army-crawl to get through. By now the light is fading fast and headlights are switched on. In the middle of the cave we took a moment to enjoy the darkness by turning off our lights and staring into the absolute pitch black of the inside of a glacier. How amazing to be inside a GLACIER!
After some more crawling and walking we found ourselves once more in a large cave where light streamed in and we could walk out to the other side. We had a quick look outside and stood in the sunshine before making our way back through the darkness and cold of this fascinating cave. What a good time!
That night we stayed at Dick's cabin, where we drank wine and ate cheese-fondue (with soy for me of course) while watching the sun set on the snow-capped mountains to the west.

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