Thousands of years inches from your nose : Castner Glacier, AK

South of Delta Junction, AK there are many glaciers. One of them lies at mile 218 and a hike up Castner Creek brings you to its end (the terminal moraine). Once you climb up onto the glacier you are standing on hundreds (or thousands) of years of snow and sediment trapped there. Castner glacier is rapidly receding and as it melts has created many stunning and several exceptional ice caves. The caves often reach far back and are sculpted in inconceivable ways. As  you stand there in the chill of the cave and stare into the crystal-clear ice, it is impossible to grasp it all!

To get at the size and beauty of these caves, I’ve compiled this video of the walk-through of just two of the ice caves. Sorry for a some instability, but the floors were very slippery, and I had to protect my camera in case I fell 🙂

Apart from the beauty of the caves the geology of them is truly remarkable. For instance, consider the images here. The ice is so clear that you can see several inches back into it revealing layers of suspended soil.It’s hard for me to say how long they have been trapped in their icy tomb!

One of the most revealing pieces of the glacier was looking into its glass-clear ice. Inside suspended particles are just waiting to be thawed. I wonder how long they have been in there!
One of the most revealing pieces of the glacier was looking into its glass-clear ice. Inside suspended particles are just waiting to be thawed. I wonder how long they have been in there!
These two rocks have almost made it out from an unknown amount of encapsulation. Far within this crystal-clear ice you can see man other particles suspended and waiting release. Truly an incredible thing to see!
These two rocks have almost made it out from an unknown amount of encapsulation. Far within this crystal-clear ice you can see man other particles suspended and waiting release. Truly an incredible thing to see!

As the glacier melts the suspended sand particles fall out. They form layered domes and peaks which can be be many feet tall. Here’s a small deposited pile in the mouth of the eastern Castner Ice cave.

Castner Glacier is a rapidly receeding glacier. As it melts the sediment being held within the glacier deposits itself in hills and mounds. You can see the man layers of depsiting in this small mount of soil.
Castner Glacier is a rapidly receeding glacier. As it melts the sediment being held within the glacier deposits itself in hills and mounds. You can see the man layers of depsiting in this small mount of soil.

There were two caves that I explored with Ross, each were double ended; you could enter through the front and exit in the back. The walls were sculpted by water and wind. Ross commented that it was though “a huge tsunami had just been frozen instantly” – a apt description! It is so hard to judge the size of these caves without scale, so you’ll often see a person just to understand how big they are!

The blue in this huge ice cavern is stunning, as is the size!
The blue in this huge ice cavern is stunning, as is the size!

 

I am not sure if this place has a true name or not. But the rapid recession of the Castner Glacier is demonstrated in this melting ampitheater of ice. I have decided to call this open ice face the "Cathedral of 1000 Swords"
I am not sure if this place has a true name or not. But the rapid recession of the Castner Glacier is demonstrated in this melting ampitheater of ice. I have decided to call this open ice face the “Cathedral of 1000 Swords”
Posing next to a frozen waterfall at the eastern Ice cave of Castner Glacier. Behind me, the cave extends far back. Look at those layers of ice and sediment! Each represents at least a winter of ice. I am literally standing underneath thousands of years of ice history!
Posing next to a frozen waterfall at the eastern Ice cave of Castner Glacier. Behind me, the cave extends far back. Look at those layers of ice and sediment! Each represents at least a winter of ice. I am literally standing underneath thousands of years of ice history!
A silhouette of Ross in the eastern ice cave. Look at those layers of ice and soil!!
A silhouette of Ross in the eastern ice cave. Look at those layers of ice and soil!!

Being on this glacier was  really special for me. I guess because I suddenly understood all the years of school where we talked about the features of glaciers and their impact on the landscape. To see the suspended sediment in them made it clear how areas like my hometown (with sandy, loose soils) could be laid down by receding glaciers. The importance of the active ends of glaciers (the terminal moraine) were apparent because the river was actively fed by the glacier. And, last, you really can’t imagine how huge they are till you stand on top of one! Or hike across it.

One last piece of the hike was a very cool look at a feeding white-tailed ptarmigan. Ptarmigan are notoriously “fearless” of humans (some describe it as stupidity), so this guy had little problem with us approaching him. He waddled around and ate snow an picked at willows. They are incredibly beautiful in the winter! But I imagine this bird will be molting to his summer brown soon 🙂

White-tailed Ptarmigan in its winter plumage. It was picking buds off this short willow.
White-tailed Ptarmigan in its winter plumage. It was picking buds off this short willow.
This white-tailed ptarmigan is grabbing a mouthful of snow- presumably for hydration.
This white-tailed ptarmigan is grabbing a mouthful of snow- presumably for hydration.
White-tailed Ptarmigan feeding on some moss or lichen along the top ridges of the Castner Glacier.
White-tailed Ptarmigan feeding on some moss or lichen along the top ridges of the Castner Glacier.

6 thoughts on “Thousands of years inches from your nose : Castner Glacier, AK”

  1. After watching the videos several times, I am convinced the head of a dragon is guarding that portion of the ice world, somewhere around the one minute mark. As you pan the camera, his/her head emerges from cheek to nose. It reminded me of the carvings of the guardians in the caves in Belize. Lovely, amazing, educational and all accompanied by the perfect music! Well done:)

  2. I think I know one of our August destinations…although I’ll forgive the guide if we don’t see a white ptarmigan. Thanks for the photographic wowser!

  3. I am truly captivated by the magnificence of these caves. Part of the one does indeed look like the head/tail of a dragon. Our earth is amazing1

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