There are 616 named glaciers in Alaska. Though there is estimated to be around 100,000 glaciers within the state. I have seen more glaciers than I can count since moving to here. We have hiked to both Byron Glacier and Exit Glacier. However, until last Saturday I had never actually touched a glacier!
Over the weekend some friends of mine and I went on a mom’s only hike to Matanuska Glacier! It was amazing! I had never visited this glacier before. About half of the ladies that joined me had visited it before, but only in the summer. I gathered from what they said that they preferred their winter visit, despite enduring subzero temperatures on our hike. They talked about how muddy it was during the summer and how a lot of the ice looked dirty. However, when we visited the ice was beautiful and pristine looking!
During the winter your only option when exploring the glacier is to go on a guided tour. Amazingly enough, when booking through Matanuska Glacier Tour we were able to get an awesome discount with a valid Alaskan ID, making the tour much more affordable! Though we are all Alaska residents, residents can sponsor two non-residents, enabling the non-residents to also receive a discounted price.
Their website states that they can accommodate for all ages and abilities. About halfway through our hike a couple decided that they were too cold to continue. (Please note that the website provides a detailed list on what you should wear so as not to get too cold while on your tour). The tour company radioed out and they sent a snow machine to come pick the couple up, allowing the rest of us to continue with our tour!
Glaciers take approximately 600 years to form. They form in areas where more snow falls than melts. Then the snow becomes compacted into ice due to the weight of the upper layers. Matanuska Glacier is a valley glacier, located outside of Sutton, AK. It is an active glacier that, during the summer flows about one foot a day. Stretching 27 miles long and up to 4 miles wide, the glacier tour covers less than a mile of the actual glacier. Though there are helicopter tours that explore a further distance.
We explored ice caves and peered down into deep crevasses. We observed great sheets of ice that had collided with each other, breaching into the air like ocean waves. Deep within sheets of ice you can see bubbles containing air that has been encased for at least 600 years. This glacier tour is now one of my favorite experiences since moving to Alaska. The size alone is breathtaking and we explored so little of the glacier! If you have a chance to visit Matanauska Glacier during the winter months, I highly recommend it. I will be returning during the summer to observe all the differences. I have acquired a certain amount of appreciation for mud. So I may enjoy the glacier just as much during the summer!