Tag Archives: Suspension Bridge

Gulkana Glacier. In a word: “Amazing”

There is just so much about this place to share. This is the place where we really felt like we had accomplished some of our goals for this trip. If we could choose just one place to spend an entire summer in Alaska, this would probably be it.

To begin with, while we were at our boondock site near Paxson and the Denali Highway, we explored north on the Richardson Hwy to Summit Lake to try to find a certain long suspension bridge over College Creek which provides access to Gulkana Glacier. Dan (remember Dan? The Audubon guy from our last post?) had told us about this legendary bridge. It sounded like just our kind of adventure.
We turned onto a gravel road and onto the outwash plain for the Gulkana River. The area is used for primitive camping and we scouted for a good site . It didn’t take us long to decide that, while our site in Paxson was good, this site would be spectacular!

Gulkana Camp

Gulkana Glacier Camp

We then drove out a long ways on this gravel road, until it deteriorated and looked more like a stream than a road. We found a good place to park the truck and hoofed it the rest of the way. We found the bridge without too much trouble (one minor detour – our mistake).
The bridge was “as advertised” … and awesome.

Crossing the Suspension Bridge

Crossing the Suspension Bridge

Looking Down Over the Creek

Looking Down Over the Creek

Ric at the End of the Bridge

Ric at the End of the Bridge

Crossing the bridge provides access to a path that leads to Gulkana Glacier. Gulkana is monitored very closely by the USGS. (It is currently receding about 0.4 meters each year.)  It’s rugged terrain has also served as a winter military training ground for decades, as well as a training ground for geology students, and a proving ground for Mars Rovers.

Gulkana Glacier

Gulkana Glacier

From a visual standpoint it is a lovely sight, with sweeping curves defined by its medial moraine stripes. It has a dramatic cliff on its left side, with deeply crevassed, overhanging ice. It was love at first sight.
This first day we determined that we would cross the bridge, and then just see how far we could go without any serious equipment. The trail was distinct after crossing the bridge, and took us over an overgrown, stabilized moraine to the creek flowing out of the glacier -a typical braided glacial creek with milky bluish white water, laden with rock flour. Here’s a short video of the walk up to the foot of the glacier:

As we approached the foot of the glacier, we could see that the creek would be formidable to cross, so we kept hiking along the right shoreline to the mouth of the creek, where it gushed from from a small cave beneath the glacier.
We spent a bit of time searching for an easy access to the ice, but got the impression (as we watched small avalanches of small rocks and pebbles sliding off the moraine) that it was probably not the safest place to hang around for very long. Many of those large boulders surrounding us had begun their journey higher up! We sat on a boulder and had a quick (very quick) lunch as we listened to the music of these little rock slides.
At the end of the day (really – at the end of the day), we were determined to find a reasonably safe way onto the glacier, however. But decided to give it some thought and try again another day, armed with a little more planning and our microspikes.

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Filed under Alaska Journal, Geology on the Rocks, Hike, Uncategorized