Ghosts of the Glacier

What grows on land that has been under a glacier for thousands of years?  The land around the Mendenhall Glacier has been frozen and buried under tons of ice and rock as recently as last century.

Marker indicating the tip of the glacier in 1920.

As the glacier receded, and the cold, barren ground was exposed, new growth started.It starts with mosses and alder, and continues with Lupine, which gives the newly exposed land vital nutrients. 

Flowering Lupine

This hike was part of a longer excursion, led by Hugh Carey of Gastineau Guiding.  Hugh is a great photographer and guide, and gave us a lot of information about the location and history of the glacier.  We started the day with a whale watching trip, and finished with this brief tour of the trails around the Glacier.  This area is part of the Tongass National Forest, the largest National Forest in the U.S., and the largest intact temperate rain forest in the world.  

The forest around the glacier is full of mystery.  Moss smothers old trees and hangs off branches,  life grows upon life, and everything seems to be stretching and reaching as though it were trying to make up for lost time. 

What do you see?

Some of the giant boulders have been carried by the glacier from places up to 8 miles away.  They lay where the glacier left them a few hundred years ago.

The trail is mostly gravel in this section.

As I hiked, I became more aware of the interesting and unusual shapes created by the decaying trees and shaggy moss.  A slight breeze lifted branches and ferns, and they bobbed like nodding heads as we walked by.  There seemed to be a deeper chill in the air, as though the glacier left its unseen mood behind. 

The vibrancy of the forest floor made it seem like a sea of green flowed around the base of the trees.  

The forest consumed itself, recapturing organic material and breaking it down to be reused.  The whole place seemed like a voracious, slow motion meal.  

At the end of our short hike, we saw the glacier, off in the distance.  It looked harmless from where we were, but was once two miles thick at the place I took this picture.

The lake in front of the glacier is icy cold and filled with the silt of crushed rocks and boulders.  Smaller chunks of the glacier that have broken off (called calving) float in the lake. (Watch this interesting YouTube video of a glacier calving.) 

There was a lot to see and experience in this short hike.  For more information about the Tongass National Forest, please see the links below.

Be safe!

Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Information

Trail Maps and Publications, and information about Tongass

Day Hiking Trails

Full Gallery

Slideshow