Glaciers are most frequently described as a living force. They may appear static and unmoving, but only a brief look can be deceiving. In reality, glaciers are constantly on the move. They are always changing and making a steady trail down or up the slopes of mountains or valley floors. Matanuska Glacier is on its way down and is no exception to the hard and fast rule of gravity and the nature of ice rivers.
Approximately 28 miles long, Matanuska Glacier is located in Glacier View, Alaska, and can be accessed through privately owned Glacier Park. Glacier Park occupies land homesteaded by the owner’s family in the early sixties. The owner, Mr. Kimball, has built bridges over Matanuska River and constructed roads leading to the glacier, making easy access to the terminus.
Bill Stevenson, the park’s manager, answered my many questions regarding the glacier. I was curious whether there was another viable way to access the glacier. Bill informed me that “Matanuska Glacier, along with most glaciers, has many, many miles of public lands alongside it. Mr. Kimball built roads and bridges for his access point … For those who don’t wish to conquer nature, this is the only realistic access.” A realistic and most fortunate access. Crossing the Matanuska River (without a bridge), fighting through thick alder brush and struggling through many other obstacles leading to the glacier is not something I would revel in, especially with the knowledge that others were driving comfortably to the same destination. So ease and comfort were what a group of us opted for when we made our way to Matanuska Glacier.
Upon our arrival at Glacier Park we drove down a gated road that led us through the park, past camping sites, an airstrip, and directly to the glacier. It was early spring and the previous week they had experienced days of 45 degree weather, which consequently softened the frozen ground. Visiting the glacier during the transition period of spring can make travel on snowy, unpaved roads rather interesting. The mushy mixture of snow and mud aptly tested the traction of our vehicle.
When we reached the end of the road, the forest opened up to a broad view of Matanuska Glacier, with its glowing blue ice and jagged seracs (huge jutting blocks of ice caused by intersecting crevasses). Seracs were the dominating feature of the glacier’s terminus. We met a couple of park guides, who led us to a pair of snow machines equipped with large, deep sleds latched behind them. The sleds were rigged with seating built of plywood and two by fours. They directed each of us to have a seat in the industrious looking transporters. This was where the real fun began. Our driver made sure we were holding on before taking off across the frozen lake leading us to within touching distance of the glacier. The snow machines followed previously driven tracks through the snow, ice, and a few patches of slush. We meandered along the trail with the glacier’s terminus towering above us. Our guide pointed out ice caves and short trails where we could explore on foot. After a tame rollercoaster-of-a ride we looped back to where we had started and were dropped off so we could hike around at a slower pace. Even though we weren’t really “on” the glacier, just roaming through the sleek blue ice caves, and tromping over frozen pools of ice at the glacier’s end was close enough to satisfy our group.
On more than one occasion while visiting a glacier I’ve been directed either by a placard or guide to listen closely to hear what the glacier is telling me. Pretending a glacier has a voice of its own is a bit melodramatic, but nature does have the power to stir-up emotions. Instead of waiting for a message from the inorganic matter, I suggest using your silence as an opportunity to appreciate how nature can construct incredible towering sculptures without the help of human hands. How through a symphony of scientific processes working in harmony, nature builds such an impressive wonder.
Glaciers not only form a beautiful masterpiece, but a dangerous one. Many mountaineering expeditions attempting to summit great heights have ended in tragedy—not because of the freezing temperatures or high elevation, but by the elusive crevasses of glaciers leading to the summit. Crevasses, especially in the winter, form an ever-present hazard that change position from year to year, month to month, and in some instances even day to day. Bill made sure to emphasize that people planning to travel on Matanuska Glacier during the winter should not go without an experienced guide leading them. Snow in the winter months can form a thin covering over crevasse openings that are sometimes completely invisible from the surface. Probing the snow is the tried and true method of ensuring a safe route, but without glacial experience, unguided travel is not recommended.
Although we had unlimited time to explore the glacier, as with most excursions in Alaska, the weather became the dictator of how long our explorations would last. The day was sunny and bright, but with a sharp wind blowing down the glacier, our frosty cheeks and numb fingers were coaxing our bodies toward shelter.
Back at the main headquarters Bill informed us that Matanuska Glacier is considered a healthy glacier. That is to say, at this time it doesn’t show signs of receding. He also reminded us how seeing the glacier during different seasons gives a variety of perspectives. In the summer and fall months the glacier from a distance appears whiter and is complemented by the greens and yellows of surrounding foliage. Without the snow cover of winter hiding crevasses, summer is also a good time to hike on top of the glacier. After spending an afternoon enthralled by a few hundred yards of the glacier’s terminus, someday hiking along the glacier’s 28 mile icy surface would be an experience not to miss.
Check out this amazing video by Indie Alaska for a more in-depth look of Matanuska Glacier.
Call ahead for hours.
Directions to Matanuska Glacier From Anchorage
Drive north from Anchorage on the Glenn Highway.
At mile 102, turn right on Glacier Park Road.
Go down to Glacier Park until you reach the large building on right. Go in, pay and enjoy the day!