Monday, August 13, 2007

College Glacier Traverse

Andy ascends a knife-like ridge high above the College Glacier

My friend Andy has been spending quite a bit of time down in the Alaska Range south of Fairbanks this summer. He invited me to come along on a traverse through the College Glacier drainage for the weekend. We brought crampons, ropes, and ice axes because he wasn't sure what sort of conditions we would encounter en route.

We drove down Fri evening and camped out so we could get an early start Sat morning. Here we are getting all of our gear together.
There is a suspension bridge over College Creek. There is a well established route to the Gulkana Glacier across this bridge. We crossed the bridge and then headed upriver to the less explored College Glacier.

Walking across the bridge is a little sketchy as it swings back-and-forth and you peer down at the cold and fast glacial water churning below.

Dry and firm tundra make the hiking up the College Glacier valley quite nice.

There were oodles of crowberrries. Unfortunately I didn't bring anything to store them in. These berries kind of remind me of pomegranates--watery with a small seed in the middle. They are not as flavorful though but make a good syrup or jelly.
I also saw a bunch of soapberries. These taste even worse than their name implies--but the bears apparently love them. The natives also like to whip them up with sugar...must be an acquired taste.
We get our first glimpses of the College Glacier terminus about 4 miles into our hike.

Our plan was to drop down to the glacier and then climb up to the divide on the opposite side.

The ice was littered with rock debris and we had great traction even where there was a bit of a slope.
There was plenty of fresh water on the surface of the glacier. Most of these small streams disappeared into moulins, or a holes where surface water enters the glacier. It would definitely be a crappy way to go if you slipped and fell into one of these.

Since the weather was so pleasant we decided to climb up high and set up camp.

Looking down the College Glacier valley back in the direction we had hiked in from.

Dwarf fireweed clings to a rocky precipice high above the glacier.

A herd of caribou were chilling out on an unnamed glacier just east of the College Glacier. This seemed like an unusual place to see caribou.

Andy keeps climbing up. I love the splashes of color in the rock and scree on the hillside.

There were a few spots where we had to climb up/down rocks clinging to the side of the ridge.

The ridge we were planning to follow eventually ended in sheer cliff. So instead of turning around we descended a very steep, rocky, and muddy slope several thousand feet to the valley below.

Walking was challenging. There were a lot of places where there would be a thin veneer of mud on glare ice. So you would step down thinking you were on solid ground and instead were instantly thrown on your ass as the mud slid off and exposed ice. You can see the black ice protruding from the mud. Most spots were not this obvious.

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