Lituya Glacier at Lituya Bay

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August 1st 2008
Published: September 23rd 2008
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The earthquake wasn't huge, but asleep in the dark tent with my ear pressed to the gravelly ground, it was an awakening of a different sort. I groggily phased toward consciousness feeling the whooshing of a big gust of wind about to hit and then the tent started shaking and rocks started to tumble down the cliff behind us.

We were camped in the center of the out-wash plain that in 1958 was ground zero for the massive landslide that created the worlds largest tsunami. In 1958 the point beneath our tent was deep, deep water. The gravel we camped on had accumulated over time, starting with the 40 million cubic yards of material that plunged 3000 feet off the cliff above us.

As I half rolled up-ward and looked down the length of the tent I could see my tenting companion bolt up to a sitting position. 'Big wind' I mumbled and rolled back to slumber. But as the rocks kept falling I half realized that the wind was just not that strong. I always sleep with earplugs - the wilderness is a lot nosier than you'd think - and after a bit I pulled one out and, hummm... calm, no wind at all, but there's a lot of falling rocks.... I drowsed off then awoke about a half hour later when another quake hit. I was enough awake the second time to better feel the p-waves first, then the s-wave. After that it was harder to sleep. I wasn't worried so much about another giant landslide but rather about the effects of the quake on the plumbing of the river that poured out of the Lituya Glacier just behind us. What if the ice over the internal water passages collapsed... or the stream was diverted by the rock falls??? Could we be flooded out??? That's the problem with near sleep musings... they are very perceptive, insightful and real but they rarely survive the scrutiny of full on consciousness.

The river that pours out of the Lituya Glacier on the east side seems to carry the bulk of the water that comes out of the glacier valley - much to fast to even think about wading. The morning after the quake we walked up the river to near the point were it exists from within the glacier, yea... from within. Sometimes you see written 'from beneath' and that's just

The landslide slope is behind me
does not do reality justice. The water in a glacier is in a pipeline, a network of pipes. All carved in ice, of ice. The more I walk on glaciers the more I realize how much of my understanding was imagination and replace it with other, more real imaginations, I think...

Up on the ice maybe 50 feet above the river we found the 'water tube'. (Eh, brah, like a lava tube yeh?) A tube through the ice falling off to the river on the down side and opening to a little ice valley behind. The tube maybe 35 feet long. All ice beneath and above. With rocks scattered on the suffice above the tube and perched along the edge above the two openings. Inside... the walls glistening and smooth yet in big facets flowing together... the words and photos can't quite capture it... You're standing in a cave yet when you touch the walls you're touching wet, cold smooth ice. An old part of the pipeline, abandoned sometime in the past but remaining...

Higher on the glacier we walked above the functioning pipenet that carries the big river through the ice. Once in a while a broad sink hole would taper to a downward cone funneling surface water into the pipeline and letting out the roar of the white water within.

It was an easy walk. Low slope. Enough grit and rock to keep the boots from skidding. No crampons, we'd not brought them. Even some almost sun.

Lituya Bay Outburst Flood

Additional photos below
Photos: 10, Displayed: 10


Yoga girl on Crillon Glacier, Lituya behindYoga girl on Crillon Glacier, Lituya behind
Yoga girl on Crillon Glacier, Lituya behind

Lituya glacier outwash across the end of Lituya bay. Slope behind and on left was the high point of the 1958 tsunami
At the southern edge of the Lituya GlacierAt the southern edge of the Lituya Glacier
At the southern edge of the Lituya Glacier

Looking back toward Lituya Bay

14th October 2008

Looking through the water tube
What a great shot of a rather special glacial feature! Just stumbled across your blog and will have a look at your other Glacier Bay entries now - they do look promising.

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