Sunday, September 18, 2016

Alaska 2016 - Day 9 (8/28/2016) - Worthington Glacier

After having booked the excursion to hike the Worthington Glacier the evening before, I was both excited and apprehensive.  My primary worry was whether my ankle/Achilles injury had healed sufficiently.  It had greatly improved the last few days, and for the most part I could forget that I ever had an issue with it on the trip.  However, there were still a couple of extended positions where I could feel some discomfort, especially early in the day.  During the course of the night I also realized that I did not have proper shoes to attach crampons – the only shoes I brought on the trip were a dressy pair and a pair of casual Merrells that were comfortable for walking around but didn’t have laces.  I didn’t anticipate deciding to hike up a glacier during the trip.  I was also worried that I didn’t have gloves, and wasn’t sure if that was a required item for the ice activities.  Only one of my worries turned out to be realized on the day of the excursion.

After a quick bagel from the breakfast bar, I met up with the rest of the group of four a little before the scheduled 10:15 departure – I was actually the last one, as they were already in the van.  The Aussie couple (Ben and Suzie) were on the excursion – this wasn’t a surprise, as they were the only others under 50 on the tour.  We were joined by Rachel, a Taiwanese student who was working for Princess in Alaska over the summer.  Our driver Jared (who had also met us in Valdez prior to boarding the coaches) then drove us the hour or so back to the Worthington Glacier, where we met our guide Tyler.  After introductions and a suggested trip to the restroom, we gathered up the gear and began the walk to the glacier.

It was a beautiful day with mostly clear skies and temperatures perhaps approaching 70 degrees Fahrenheit at the base.  I began in an undershirt and a long sleeve t-shirt.  It did get cooler during the ascent, and I did put on my jacket, but I possibly could have been OK without it.  We hiked probably around 20 minutes to get to the glacier, and then another 5 or 10 before needing to put on our crampons as we approached the icy portions (a lot of the lower portion was covered with rocks).  When Tyler noticed that my low-top shoes did not have laces, he instructed me to strap the back straps of the crampons around my ankles as tightly as I could.  This worked out OK, but it became progressively uncomfortable, and even painful, as we hiked up.  Tyler was initially concerned that Rachel’s feet/shoes were too small for the smallest crampon size/setting – to the point that he told her that he would watch her closely for the first few minutes and might need to send her back if the crampons seemed insecure.  However, it turned out that she would be the superstar of the group, and was nearly as surefooted on the glacier as Tyler.

We hiked about 2/3 of the way up the bottom slope of the glacier, stopping to perform the customary “glacial facial” along the way.  At this point my crampon straps (especially my left one) were rubbing fairly painfully on my ankle while ascending.  I was relieved when we stopped for a snack (trail mix) and some hot chocolate.  I also took the time to readjust the straps a bit, which was a little helpful.  I let Tyler know that I was OK with going up a little farther, which was all that he planned on going up anyway.  After a few minutes more ascending, we turned around and began the descent.  Going down wasn’t nearly as bad on the ankle straps, especially after adjusting where the buckle/snap landed.  We took a little detour to explore a recently formed moulin that Tyler hadn’t yet been able to check out.  We eventually made it back to the rocks, where we could take off our crampons, and then further below take off our helmets.  Ben reported that we had been hiking for a little over 3 hours when we made it back to the parking lot (15+ minutes late) to meet Jared.  From there we returned our equipment (including the ice ax that I had been carrying along), said our goodbyes to Tyler, and then made the return drive back to the lodge.

We were back at the lodge sometime around 4:30.  After a shower I headed over to the bar to grab dinner, this time sitting with a retired couple, Sue and Roger, from Minnesota/Phoenix.  After dinner I ran into Lindsey, the park ranger, who was there to attend the 7:30 talk on the park geology that was given by her colleague Matthew.  After the talk I ran into Tammy and Jeff, and we discussed potential arrangements for a flightseeing tour while at Denali.

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My favorite photos from the trip can be found here:
https://goo.gl/photos/4ikrCSuPvRpRkXTKA

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