The hike to Baird Glacier in southeast Alaska
A page from my Travel Journal.
I hopped off the boat and landed on a bed of finely-polished stones. In the distance, I could just about make out the distinct appearance of a glacier, with its white-blue craggy surface. A cold wind blew down from the mountains, following the valley that was carved out by the glacier eons ago. My ears started to tingle so I put on my cap and rolled out my hood for extra warmth. I looked out to Thomas Bay and spotted several seals in the water. Imposing mountains surrounded the bay, with their forested slopes making way for lofty snow-covered granite peaks. It was a magnificent sight. Above me, seagulls seemed to dance in the air. I pinched myself. “Yes, I’m in Alaska!”.
The group assembled on the shores of a river. Its greyish water was a sign that it was a glacial river. We skipped over the round rocks and boulders and landed on a soft bed of moss. I looked ahead and realised that this was not simply a small bed of moss. This was a field of moss that extended for as far as I could see. The thick moss looked like large green pillows, interspersed with clumps of brightly-coloured flowers and little boulders. We tried to avoid stepping on the moss by skipping from boulder to boulder, stopping every so often to enjoy the beautiful wildflowers; mainly willowherb and lupines.
The wondrous walk across the mud flats
The trail led us across the fields of moss to a broad plain with large tracts of mud and shallow streams. At the far end of the plain, a moon-like rocky landscape awaited us. Our guide stopped as we reached the fringes of the plain. “See this mud. Take quick steps and don’t step on the footprints of the others in front of you”, he instructed. We nodded silently in unison.
I took my first few steps across the mud flats and I immediately knew the reason behind his instructions. As I stepped onto the mud, its taut surface bounced my foot back up, almost like a trampoline. If I stopped for a second and put my full weight onto one foot, my shoe would sink into the mud in an instant. It felt like walking on a mass of jello! We walked in this fashion for several hundred yards, yelping in delight every step of the way. I stopped at sections which were able to carry my weight to admire the fascinating designs in the mud. The streams and texture of the mud colluded to create many beautiful designs; some of them resembled images of mountain ranges or river deltas taken from outer space!
Standing on Baird Glacier
We reached the far end of the mud flats and started climbing the rocky surface. We reached the top of a massive boulder and the guide stopped again. There wasn’t much to see except solid brownish-grey rock around us. I wondered when we would finally reach the glacier. The guide turned around and announced,”You’re now standing on top of Baird Glacier!”. “Err… what?”, was the only reaction I could muster. “Look closer at the rock”, the guide said. I bent down for a closer look and I was stunned. What at first glance looked like solid rock was in fact solid ice! Mixed with sand and other glacial sediment, the ice looked indeed like rock.
As we continued on our hike, we noticed more signs that we were in fact walking on a glacier. We stayed clear of the deep crevasses and instead stopped to inspect the smaller cracks in the ice. A peek into the crack revealed the true geology of the glacier – the upper layers were composed of a mix of sand and stone, whilst the lower parts were white and blue ice. Holes in the ice created by boulders told the same story.
I stood atop a vantage point and took in the mind-blowing views of the glacier. In the distance, I could see the mud-flats we’d crossed earlier. Through the mist, I could just about trace the path of the glacier from the Stikine Icefield down to Thomas Bay. A wondrous sight! As I stood there in total silence, I heard it through the howling wind. I heard the glacier. It was a thin, cracking sound. I focused my hearing on that single sound and it gradually became louder. The entire glacier below me was a giant symphony of crackling notes. I listened in complete bewilderment and I felt a rush of excitement. This is Alaska!
View my 1-minute video taken atop the Baird Glacier. Listen to the crackling sounds.