Day Hikes – 27 Mile Glacier Icefall
Looming large above Thompson Pass and below Sapphire Peak, the 27 Mile Glacier pours out of a high basin, frozen in a desperate attempt to invade the valley below. Since the 1970’s and the advent of melting glaciers around the world due to our over-consumption of fossil fuels, Valdez stands as a witness to global warming and the dramatic retreat and melting of glaciers. For those who have not been here that long these changes may seem small. Fortunately I’ve been skiing these glaciers for nearly 35 years and as recently as 1995 began keeping better records by photographing this dynamic loss of ice in area glaciers in the fall of each year.
Beginning in 1994 and in the fall, I began hiking into Worthington Glacier, Loveland and 27 Mile Glacier and placing a three rock cairns at each glacier’s terminus. The glacier at the top of Telemark in Schoolbus is now gone. On the Worthington Glacier, these cairns can be found atop the rock buttress in the middle of the glacier. The cairns at the 27 Mile Glacier are harder to find as the area is prone to avalanches. Fortunately I found only my 1995 cairn last weekend.
This is a real nice moderate hike as you begin at mile 27.1 of the Richardson Highway and begin a steep hike up and over the TAPS scar and under the power lines. From here stay low under Loveland Ridge and traverse into the valley and head to the creeks pouring from 27 Mile Glacier and Loveland Basin. This is simple creek crossing most the time and rarely more than knee high. Pick a spot above 27 Mile Creek and cross.
From here its best to stay to the left/west of the drainage. It can be complicated as you scramble around small slot canyons, some steep slick rock and broken up earth. There is a nice canyon on the way up that opened up 1995 which is the same year I placed the first cairn. Eventually one makes their way to the toe of the glacier laced with crevasses and ice caves. This is one of the best place in Alaska that one can walk to and witness the power of glaciers as they scour and pulverize the surface of the earth.
Another observation of this particular glacier is the skiable part of the lower icefall is getting steeper as it melts and is approaching 36 degrees at its steepest compared to 30 degrees when I first explored the possibilities of skiing the icefall in the late 80’s. This will make this more and more of an avalanche issue in years to come for ski mountaineers who challenge Sapphire via this route.
Tabitha and I took about 3 hours to hike in an out on a sunny Saturday last weekend. One can extend this hike by hiking further up to Loveland Glacier and traversing over to Loveland Ridge for the descent back the trailhead. For ice climber’s, there is no record of a first descent of the new earth waterfall which could set up as one of the Valdez’s ice classics. Oh..and if you were wondering what the plastic jug on Tabitha’s pack was used for, this is it’s purpose!