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Published: October 2nd 2008
From the ice, the snow dome looked like a great campsite - the top of the dome was level and level was in very short supply on the Lituya Glacier. But up close the snow dome was pockmarked with rocks fallen from the steep cliff above. So we climbed back up onto the glacier and camped on the ice. Took us a half hour of scrambling over seracs, crevasses and rock to find a semi-flat area almost big enough for the tent. We leveled out the site using our hands and feet to scrape wet grit and gravel and pack it in behind cobble-sized rocks that we used to define the extent of the tent platform. After half an hour of work we end up with a reasonably flat tent site. We slept OK - exhaustion pacifies an ice-hardened bed.
Next morning we headed north along the combat zone between The Glacier and The Cliff. The two opponents are both armed with plentiful, large rocks. Ice on the right, cliff and loose rock on the left, us, in the middle. This was the hardest hiking I'd ever done - lots of big loose rocks looked to big to move yet
would shift under your weight. Without the trekking poles I'm sure I'd have fallen a couple of times.
The lake at the north terminus of the Lituya Glacier is a rectangle four mile long with steep cliffs along the two long sides and glacial ice at the ends. The ice face at the Lituya glacier end forms a wall of calving ice, much like a tidewater glacier. Our objective was to get to this lake and paddle across it. But we knew the hard part would be the ice-cliff-water interface. Aerial photos showed the ice vertical, the cliffs steep and the water sometimes choked with ice. From the high point on the glacier we could see a lot of floating ice bergs in the lake.
As we worked our way towards the lake the seracs on the glacier above us became taller, more jagged and bluer. After crossing a steep scree slope we climbed up a snow dome. Melt water from the glacier flowed across its surface and down between the cliff/ground and the ice. Where the melt water cascaded off the top of the glacier and under it, our route ended. Nate looked at the descending narrow
gorge between the cliff, ice and cascade and said, “Well, if our lives depended on it we could try it.” We looked for an alternative route on the ice but the steep crevasses wouldn't let us get far. Another day and slightly different ice conditions or perhaps with ropes and climbing gear we might have made it. Even so, we were still a ½ a kilometer from the lake. And the lake in the narrow slough between the glacier and cliff was choked with ice. So we hung out on the snow dome awhile then headed back the way we had come. Maybe next year. Maybe the northeast corner where the glacier, cliff and water meet would be doable...maybe not.
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