Monday, August 26, 2013

Glacial Grandeur

To say I've seen a few awe-inspiring/jaw-dropping landscapes in my life would be an understatement. You know that feeling you get when you gaze out across the land and your moved to your very core? That moment where the only reaction you have is to just stop and stare. And as you look out into the distance you realize how truly grateful you are to be living in such an amazing world filled with sights such as the one you are looking out at. 

This summer I got to witness perhaps one of the most magical sights thus far. In Homer, Alaska across the bay in Kackemak Bay State Park there lies a real beauty... known as Grewingk Glacier (pronounced Grew-INK). There's a few trails you can take to get there, and they all have their perks, but the most memorable approach for me was on my buddy Kristo's 30th Birthday. 

A few of our close friends, that we were privileged to spend the summer with, got the day off to hike to Grewingk Glacier. The seven of us set out from Humpy Creek Trail Head. We had just finished putting in a bridge over at Humpy Creek and as a reward we got the day off. The previous way of crossing the creek was by an insanely sketchy mess of downed trees. My balance issues served as a real test as I tried to maneuver over the slick surface of the logs while carrying enough weight to make a thru-hiker appalled. The new bridge was a welcomed approach and I was thrilled to be taking the high route rather than risk falling into the freezing Alaskan water. There's actually an article that my good friend, Joe Miller, published in the newspaper: Humpy Creek Bridge
The Bridge We Built
As we set out across the dry, fiberglass bridge my feet thanked me. We strolled through a flat, rocky trail surround by purple wildflowers and Alders for about 3 miles. The trail slowly weaves in and out of beautiful views of the bay and the surrounding rivers and streams. We eventually came to the intersection by the hand tram. This wonderful, yet slightly nerve-racking contraption is one of the ways you can get onto the trail which leads to Grewingk. Fortunately, this time, we didn't have to exert ourselves and heave the heavy metal box over the raging river. 

The Metal Box aka Tram 

The next 3 miles involved going up and over Foehn Ridge (pronounced Fen). Our trail crew was used to hiking the entire summer and we didn't bat an eyelash at this somewhat steep ridge climb. After Foehn it was an easy, flat hike through the valley floor onwards to the glacier. I had already hiked to the glacier before, but today was different. We hadn't been working all day. We were fresh. We didn't have a million pounds of gear on our back. And it was sunny. I love the sun!

Kristo and Adam: Brothers at heart 

As we got closer we came to another intersection which leads up to Emerald Lake. This is another beautiful hike leading up to a truly breathtaking view of... well.. you guessed it, emerald colored water reflecting the golden rays of the sun. We proceeded past the intersection for the final leg. 

The closer we got to the glacier the more the trail began to rise. We began a pleasant climb towards a beautiful little lake. If the weather was hotter I would have permitted myself a refreshing swim, but seeing as how I was about to be standing on a thousand year old hunk of ice, I decided against it. 

A beautiful lake before the first view of Grewingk

The final stretch the trail turns to scree. We climbed for a short, perhaps 100 yards, possibly further, before we plateaued on-top of, quite literally, a pile of rocks.  I had to stop to go pee and so the boys carried on ahead of me. When I reached the top I peered out at one of the most magical sights I've ever seen. The glacier was glistening and reflecting every shimmer of light as if it had diamond built directly into its surface. The deep blue of the ice was enchanting as I stood there admiring this almost heavenly sight. 

Me with my pack overlooking pure magic

This was so different from the last time I had been here. Kristo and I were the only ones that had been here before. The energy that our little family was emitting was tangible... not to mention the sheer magnitude of the sight we were taking in. 

The descent to get onto Grewingk is a little sketchy. It's more of a "slide" instead of a "hike," if you catch my drift. With every step (also known as falling) I took, I was filled with an excitement that made my heart feel as if it would burst. The cold wind was roaring across the ice making my hair dance along side my head. I was overjoyed. I stopped just short of jumping onto the ice to put on my microspikes (which were donated to me by Rod and Laurie for the PCT). Thank you again guys!! 

My descent to get onto the glacier

The only way of getting onto the glacier is by taking a running leap and hoping you don't go sliding into a crevasse once you make it. I knew that spikes on my feet would provide great traction and I had nothing to worry about. I took a few steps back and jumped with all my heart. As I sailed across the deep trench which was the only thing standing between myself and the glacier I felt a surge of energy spark through my body. This was really living! 

My feet hit the cold, frozen ice with a thud that reverberated through what seemed like the entire glacier. I stood in awe as my friends were exploring the beauty this glacier held. I took a deep breath and let the freezing wind twirl around me. My skin immediately got goosebumps, but the cold didn't penetrate through. My adrenaline was pulsating through my body and the heat being generated was more than enough to keep me warm. I took a few more breaths, absorbing the stunning grandeur of this magical spot and then waltzed on. 

I quickly caught up with the boys; who were having a noticeably difficult time walking on the slick surface. I was immensely thankful to have traction on my feet. I could walk anywhere I pleased without worry about a thing, although I was fully aware of every step I took.

Left to Right: Kristo, Joe, Adam, and myself..... absolutely stunning!!

It felt as if I was floating on that glacier. My heart leaped with joy with every step I took. Even though it was freezing on the glacier I never experienced the bone-numbing chill I should have gotten. I was on cloud nine. I was thrilled to be sharing this experience with my boys and Paige. Everyone has a huge smile on their face, our electricity was alive and thriving. It felt amazing... and the sun was shining upon all of us. I love the sun!

I went onto the steep slants of the ice with a confidence that was tangible. I felt like I was floating effortlessly over the entire glacier. It was an almost surreal feeling. As I climbed up to explore the many waterfalls and deep crevasses that called the glacier home... I felt at home. There is something incredibly moving about standing on living history.

I glided out over to Adam, who was intent on not accepting help. He made me nervous. He had zero traction and the area we were standing on wasn't level to say the least. We were surround left and right by steep drops which could end in falling into the abyss if you weren't able to stop. I positioned myself near him so if he fell he would run into me. I knew my footing would hold. Adam, never did fall though. It was incredible to be sharing this experience with him... and everyone else. 

Me and Adam Exploring the Glacier

We all regrouped and filled up our water bottles with fresh glacial water. High quality h2o! We even drank directly from the glacial rivers. Some took extra water bottles to send to friends and family. I just wanted to enjoy the moment for what it was worth. I didn't want to think of the future or my impending departure of Homer. This was too magical of a moment to be anywhere other than fully present.

Our Little Family: Me, Paige, Edler, Joe, Adam, and Kristo
Eventually the time came for us to head back. We had about a 8 mile hike back to camp. With bright spirits we all gathered and departed Grewingk. I am so thankful for the opportunity to have been surrounded by great friends in one of the most miraculous places I've even been. 
I will always remember and cherish the beauty and magic that I experienced that day... it was truly glacial grandeur!

Pure Magic 

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