One of the cool things about glaciers is whenever you leave one and then come back to see it later, it'll have changed quite a bit. For me, this change is especially powerful when you leave a glacier for the winter and don't see it until spring. So in a place like Glacier Bay National Park (GBNP), which contains dozens of glaciers, this effect is magnified. Even having never been to Glacier Bay, I had studied the glaciers and the charts and photographs and had a good idea of the topography. Or I thought I did. Then I got into the park for the first few times and realized that there had been massive changes in just the few years between now and the time the pictures were taken. One of the biggest changes a glacier can make is that from a tidal to landlocked glacier.
This had happened all over Glacier Bay, making many previously inaccessible glacier landscapes now easily accessible. This access extended even to our guests upon the boat, not simply mountaineers and extreme excursions. While later in the season we would discover this was the case for quite a few areas in the Johns Hopkins inlet, we initially noticed the accessibility of the Grand Pacific Glacier.
The first two weeks, as we visited Margerie, we noticed that the two glaciers surrounding her had retreated at a much quicker rate. One had become an alpine glacier, and the other, mostly rock and gravel, with a massive scree field and raging river outcropping. It would seem as if the glacier sat beyond two hills, but I immediately knew that below a few inches of rock on those mounds was pure ice. It's a weird effect, but after 6 inches of rock and gravel accumulate, instead of absorbing heat, they actually insulate the glacier and make isolated areas melt much slower. So it was a no-go getting to the glacier that way.
But there seemed to be multiple ways to get through or around the scree field. However, you couldn't see the exact topography from afar, and if we wanted to know more, we'd have to do some trial and error.
Well our venture into the unknown started on Week 3 when we took a long and wet route which led us to a dead end (without waders that is). But at least now I knew the land. I knew that you'd have to hug the Eastern most side of the water then beach your kayaks below the river area and traverse some somewhat questionable but not impassable areas.
And on Week 4 we were granted the perfect opportunity to do so. A college graduation trip for two of three brothers brought a family of athletic and right-attituded guests to the Misty Fjord. We started off the week strong and kept the shenanigans going as we truly tested the limits of what could be done on the week-long trip. But to me, the capstone was our trek into Canada.
So the initial reason we became interested in getting to the Grand Pacific was simply because we were .7 to 1 mile away from Canada when we sailed to Margerie Glacier, according to our charts. The glacier had definitely retreated since the chart was made and our GPS would show us in the middle of the glacier even when it was a mile away. I carry my own, and the boat carries multiple satellite phones and locators, so writing the exact coordinates of the border and hiking to and beyond that location is pretty feasible.
With the American flag on my back and bear spray on my belt, we took to the kayaks and began for the nearest shore. We eventually landed the kayaks as close as we could, fighting the oncoming current of glacier melt, pulled them up to high ground, and began trekking through the woods and shoreline. Immediately we hit a sketchy spot that left two behind.
We had to jump across a four foot or so gap, about 12-15 ft above the ground. Neither landing nor takeoff were particularly stable, so it was just about getting your footing and going for it. It wasn't a big jump, but did have some consequences. We then continued onto a completely undisturbed beach full of bear tracks and through the scree, twisting and turning to keep going north but not get wet.
Eventually, we did get to a pretty dicey water crossing. You basically had to either get a little wet, or be extremely light and nimble on your feet to hop through the water. This left everyone but the three graduates and I, continuing forward into Canada.
After a few more minutes, my GPS beeped, telling me we had crossed the border into Canada. The Grand Pacific was still almost a mile off, but we had made it to the target, and got to put our packs down and celebrate. I took off the flag and let them all pose, agreeing to take pictures and videos to show all those who didn't make it. It was a glorious moment of arbitrary accomplishment.
Well, the adventure didn't stop there. We hiked back to our kayaks and immediately found out that the tide had changed and with it, the flow of the river we would have to kayak down to get out of the area and back to the open bay where our boat sat. The once calm stream was now a raging river, with multiple large rapid systems between us and our destination. To add to the excitement, all this water was glacier melt so...not exactly warm. Well thank God our guests were up for the challenge, because it was really a scary predicament.
Everyone ended up getting though the rapids just fine, and we headed back to the boat after a quick glacier kayak. We knew this wouldn't be the last great occasion this trip, but it sure did cap off a day that included cliff jumping, trekking into Canada, and back-flipped polar plunges.