DAY 7: Melt Creek to Walker Glacier
During the night, the weather Morlocks moved some levers and spun some valves and we awoke to cold, leaden skies – ones eager to give us a wetting. Who’s wearing shorts now little Eloi? Eh? Packing-up and eating breakfast got us warm and, shortly after leaving Melt Creek, we entered the Alsek River, for a dramatic jump in river size and power – the Alsek is over a kilometer wide at the confluence. It’s one of a small number of river systems which breach the coast range and, in 2016, when it captured the flow of the Slims River after the retreat of Kaskawulsh Glacier, became the first (but probably not the last) river to be re-organized by human-caused climate change. For all of its volume and width, the Alsek is heavily braided and surprisingly shallow in many places – it took all of our guide’s considerable skill to keep us afloat and moving (most of the time). As we floated along, the Fairweather Range was on our left and the mountainous glacier country of the Icefield Range was to our right. Below the confluence, and before we rounded The Nose (and crossed back into Alaska and entered Glacier Bay National Park), the Netland Glacier was visible on river left. The rain had the courtesy to hold off until we’d reached camp at Walker Glacier and had gotten our tarps and tents set-up. Then it started-up in earnest and kept on like that on and off all night. Sigh…
DAY 8: Walker Glacier
The idea of a lay-over day here was to give us a chance to explore the Walker Glacier. As recently as 20 years ago, camping here would have allowed us easy access to the glacier. Not anymore. Since then things have warmed a bit (Are you seeing a theme here?), causing the glacier to retreat some 2.4 km (1.5 mi) so that it is no longer reachable without considerable effort. After spits of rain all night, we awoke to what looked like might be clearing weather (or just a sucker hole). This delusion of clearing lured us out of our tents for a hike to see if we could reach the glacier. What followed was a pilgrimage through sole-sucking mud to a lake formed by the glacier’s liquid and solid remnants. Although not a picturesque glacier, these remnants proved to be aesthetically pleasing in their own way. Pluckier members of the crew tried to work their way around the lake in hopes of reaching the glacier itself, but were turned back by inhospitable terrain. Then it started to rain – we had been in a sucker hole! So back through the glop to our tarps and tents, taking with us an appreciation for what temperate rainforest really means.