Yep, that’s its name: Exit.
Right just a few miles from Seward, the Exit Glacier is another opportunity to see the amazing ice up close. Somewhere I’d read you can actually touch this glacier, and I was looking forward to that.
The road up was a beautiful drive, in and of itself, lush and green on this overcast day:
The gravel path to the Exit from the parking area made for an easy hike, and our first glimpse made the glacier look like your average river, frozen.
Sometimes I’m actually glad when a few other people are around… they give some perspective when it comes to distance and mass. Yes, you can see Stranger No. 1 walking toward the Exit Glacier… can you also see the specks of people up along the edge?
Okay… how about here (below)? See the little dots of people to the right, on the rock? Yep. Massive glacier next to them.
So… when we got near the glacier, we found ropes everywhere, keeping us from a steep crevice, and of course, from touching the glacier:
Signs warned “unstable icefall conditions” that could cause injury or death. And a few days before a woman had to be rescued from farther up the glacier, so we knew to abide by the signs:
Did we touch the glacier? No. (That’s okay. We know what ice and snow feel like.) Could you at one time? Yes.
Hard to see in this image, but this placard says, “Exit Glacier was here.” Amazing how far it has retreated, isn’t it? (Yep, those are people way back there in the distance, near the edge of the trail to the left.)
As recently as 1998 the glacier was where this sign is now. The book I read that said you could touch it was probably published right about then.
And so it’s a sad thing to see a glacier these days, but everyone we spoke to said the same thing we felt: “I’m glad I’m seeing one today… it might not be here in another twenty years.”
What’s on the other end of the glacier? Up the mountain we could see the mass of ice, and down the mountain, we saw where the glacial melt flows, under clearing skies:
Seeing so many glaciers was amazing, and if no one was measuring how much (and how fast) they’re receding, we probably wouldn’t worry much about them. There are a lot of them and they seem huge. But the evidence is clear: they’re melting.
I got up the courage and asked a man in front of a “Land on a Glacier” air tour office how he feels about landing planes on something that’s actually an endangered — if not species, then an endangered piece of terra firma. His response? Well, not all of the glaciers are receding, some are actually growing.
That might be true, but we weren’t about to take on the guilt that might have haunted us by landing a plane — with all its accompanying gasses — on something that might look strong but is actually a delicate natural formation.
Thinking about booking a flight to land on a glacier? Or hike one? Think hard. Your footprints, your landing gear, might not be much. But multiply your actions by the thousands of tourists who do that each year — and you’ll be amazed at how much traffic those far-away glaciers get.
And harming the Alaska tourism industry? Hardly. People who start those businesses took the same chance anybody else starting a business takes: it will either succeed or fail.
We chose not to contribute — even in a tiny way — to the degradation of these amazing glaciers. Make your own choice.