Thompson Pass and Blueberry Lake


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North America » United States » Alaska » Valdez
August 13th 2015
Published: May 7th 2016
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Continuing south on Route 2, the gorgeous Richardson Highway ultimately ends in Valdez, the terminal port of the trans-Alaska pipeline, forever associated with the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

We were hoping to hike the Gulkana Glacier but were unsuccessful in finding a good access point after bouncing along miles of extremely rough dirt and rock so we decided to turn around and drive towards Valdez and set up camp early in the afternoon.

Blueberry Lake Recreation Area

This turned out to be one of the luckiest unplanned changes on our trip because the stunning Blueberry Lake Recreation Area, 24 miles outside of Valdez below the Thompson Pass, was the next campground in our outdated milepost and is one of the most scenic in all of Alaska. We unwittingly got there at the perfect time because of its 25 official campsites, only 10 are truly private with spectacular panoramas of the surrounding snowy sawtooth peaks and fill up quickly.

The picnic table poised on the far end of our campsite #13 offered views of several glaciers and “hills are alive” inspiration. In our mornings there, after mopping up morning dew from the bench, we loved sitting at our table with a cup of camp coffee and soaking in the peaceful majesty.

Worthington Glacier

Once initially set up, we drove down towards Valdez and took a side trip to Worthington Glacier. We hadn’t read anything in advance so we were surprised to find this offered the best opportunity to enter and photograph a glacial ice cave after a very short walk from the parking lot. Although it was intensely blue and beautiful, the occasional cracking sound in the interior was unsettling. We had just a heard a horror story about a tourist at another ice cave. Apparently, a husband insisted that his wife keep backing up further for a good shot when the glacier calved and killed her.

To the left of the direct interpretive path to the Worthington glacier is the start of the Ridge Trail. Despite the ominous warning signs, we optimistically ascended it quickly until it became a thin gravel edge, sharply sloped on both sides. At first there was vegetation on either side so I reassured myself with the thought I could grab a scrubby bush if I slipped. Once it became it became a bald graphite interted V, I had trouble staying focused on just the path and ignoring the precipitous open drop-offs. I could see the pitch become much more severe ahead and even more exposed.

Terry wanted to keep going so I begged off, and just sat down on the scree and encouraged him to go on as far as he liked. I was perfectly content to wait right there! Terry had no problem with that next peak and met a guy returning from the full, raving about it. Unfortunately Terry didn’t feel he could complete the full 3 hour round trip hike and leave me for such a long time. I feel bad that we missed out on the payoff at the end because from all reports, it really is unforgettable.

Thompson Pass

At the top of Thompson Pass, mile 25.9 (the snowiest place in Alaska averaging more than 550 inches!), is a highway turnout that offers thrilling vistas from various walkable ridges and the beginning of the magnificent Trail of ‘98. The open hillsides were blanketed with wild blueberries which slowed our eventual explorations of these ridges and this trail considerably!

Valdez

Valdez is a city wholly rebuilt after a tsunami resulting from the 1964 Earthquake wiped out “Old Valdez”. Because it was 24 miles from our camp and our focus was on the gorgeous Thompson Pass hiking, we mainly ran into town to use the library and take a coin-operated shower at the harbor. We drove down to the site of the original city, with tragic markers of the buildings that were wiped out. Another interesting site was the Valdez Marine Terminal. When saw this huge end point processing complex, we realized in just over a week we had traveled nearly the entire length of the Alaska Pipeline!


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9th May 2016

Great story! Hope to visit Alaska soon. Where are you these days, anyways?

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