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|Popular For||Day hiking, backpacking, mountaineering access, backcountry skiing, rock climbing|
|Season||Summer hiking, winter skiing|
|Navigation||Easy to moderate|
|Difficulty||Easy to very difficult and technical|
|Length||2-6 miles (much longer hikes possible)|
|Elevation Gain||500-2500 ft (150-760 m) – more possible|
|Estimated Time||2.5-5 hours for hikes here (more time for exploring!)|
Map including 3 GPS tracks for approaches to the Worthington Glacier. Please read warnings below! This glacier is receding quickly and terrain changes often – hikes described here can change or become impossible. Map Disclaimer
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Overview – Worthington Glacier Hiking
I wanted to highlight a few of the possible Worthington Glacier hikes. All are off-trail and require good route-finding ability. It is also possible to hike up to the toe of the glacier seen from the overlook, but first a word of caution:
Warning: Do not approach the ice at the toe of the glacier unless you are familiar and experienced in backcountry and glacier travel!
While there is some great hiking around the Worthington Glacier it should be noted that there are no officially maintained trails and the terrain can be deadly. Experienced hikers and climbers should also take note that inexperienced hikers will often try to go where they see others going, including you, and often have not idea what kind of situations they are getting into. This is especially true of hiking up to or on the south branch of the glacier, the part visible from the overlook. All too often I see people standing under overhanging ice with rocks ready to slide off the top.
Conditions on the ice are highly variable and at least carrying crampons and ice axe/tools is highly recommended. DO NOT travel on the glacier if snow-covered unless you are familiar with glacier travel, crevasse rescue, and avalanche safety! Even in summer, snow patches on the ice are often covering crevasses and moulins!
Rockfall is an all-to-common cause of injury or death in terrain like this, and people have died here. Many of the surrounding hills and cliffs are unstable and frequently shed rocks, and occasionally there are full landslides. It’s fine to gently encourage people to stay away from the ice, especially when walking under overhangs. Most people that I’ve warned were appreciative because they had no clue.
All that said, hiking up the valley to get a closer look at the glacier can be done safely. I encourage exploration, I just want people to be safe and thoughtful. It’s a straight shot from the overlook with many social trails that lead you there. Be aware that the footing can be tricky in spots depending on your route, and the rock is very slippery when it’s wet. This glacier is receding fast, and if you are going out on the ice, gaining the toe is never the same year-to-year. In 2011 I could safely walk up the gentle grade, in 2018/2019 the ice was very steep and slick at the toe and I appreciated having crampons.
The two main hikes I’m sharing here go to different branches of the glacier. One follows a popular ridge hike, another accesses the northern branch of the glacier via a route that is only recently accessible due to glacier recession. I’ve posted my GPS tracks from 2018 and 2019 instead of routes because this terrain changes frequently. Be aware, you will need to use your own navigational skills and terrain assessment, these are not maintained trails, this is only a guideline.
This was quite a fun little adventure! It was only about 2.5 miles round-trip, but had over 1000 feet of elevation gain through a narrow rocky canyon. There are some bolted sport climbs lower in the valley. About mid-way, there was evidence of a very recent, and LARGE rockfall in 2019. Clearly the rock is a bit unstable here. Be cautious scrambling over some of the big boulders. I’m always uneasy when car-sized boulders move under my weight. It was definitely a wild ride in July with a bit of scrambling and a few . . . interesting stream crossings!
This is the green-colored route on my map above. Starting from the parking area, walk out to the glacier overlook. Walk out past the overlook and try to find a good place to cross the braided streams on the west side of the large kettle pond. You should see a social trail leading into the trees.
There is a larger, narrow stream that you don’t want to cross. This stream comes from the northern arm of the Worthington. Instead of crossing the stream, follow the social trail through the brush that parallels the stream and climbs quickly up the hill. Climbers have cut through the trees and brush.
There are some gorgeous waterfalls and cliff faces in this tight valley. Your route-finding ability is important here, as there are more than a few rock scrambles, and you will need to cross the stream a few times. Your route will definitely depend on the present conditions and the stream level!
In 2019, we managed to cross the stream over the muddy talus on the glacier toe, bringing us to the ridge that runs along the north side of this canyon. The other side of this ridge had a few spots that could get us out on to the ice with only moderate difficulty. There is an absolutely incredible waterfall on the other side of the valley, and some gorgeous views!
If you do hike out on the ice here, note that it is very steep in spots, and can be very slick. Wear crampons, not just Microspikes.
These tracks and description are from a brief stop in 2019 on the way to Valdez from Fairbanks. We hiked it in the evening, and took us about 3 hours of exploring and taking photos. You can find just the gallery from this hike here. The photos in the end are from our stop at the Solomon Gulch Hatchery.
Worthington Glacier Ridge Trail to Glacier
The Worthington Glacier Ridge Trail is probably the most popular hike in the area. I always see a lot of tourists set off on this hike, and most turn back pretty soon once they see how steep it is. The trail starts on the west end of the parking loop. Although it’s not officially maintained, it is typically pretty well cut back through the brush.
After about 0.8-miles and 720 feet of elevation gain, the trail comes out to a glacier overlook in an alpine meadow. This is the turn-around point for a lot of people. If you aren’t an experienced hiker, I recommend turning around here. It makes for a 1.6-mile hike round-trip and gets you some great views of the glacier (much better than the overlook where you can barely see the edge of the glacier now). The spot is obvious as the trail takes off on a very steep ridge from here.
If continuing up, the drop-off is pretty steep on the north (glacier) side of the trail and there are some dangerous cliffs. However, you are never quite on a knife ridge, so it would be difficult to slip up. I only mention it because a slip would be very costly, so it’s wise to pay attention to your footing.
You can continue up the ridge to the summit if snow conditions allow. Be aware that there can be deep snow and overhanging cornices well into July, so know your skill level, plan accordingly, and be ready to change plans if you need to.
The hike I’ve shown on the map steps off the ridge after the initial steep climb. You’ll come to an area after 1.15 miles where the drop-off to the glacier becomes much more gentle. There are a series of ledges and large shelves that make it possible to descend to the glacier while hiking almost due west. The series of shelves bring you to a large flat spot on the glacier between two steeper and heavily crevassed regions. Note that this glacier is thinning as well as receding, so access to the ice will change over time and may become impossible. You must rely on your navigation skills here.
If climbing is your goal, this is a great spot to cross the glacier to head into the mountains north of the glacier. If just hiking and exploring, this is a relatively safe place to explore some smaller crevasses and moulins out on the ice. Hiking out to the ice makes for about a 4-mile hike round-trip with just under 1500 feet in elevation gain.
As I previously mentioned, don’t walk on the glacier if it’s snow-covered unless you know crevasses rescue and are proficient in roped glacier travel. If heading out on the ice, avoid walking on any snow-covered spots. It’s highly unlikely anyone would survive an unroped fall in a moulin.
Like the other hikes in this guide, return the same way you came.
Thanks for reading, feel free to leave trail conditions in the comments if you have recently hiked in the area. Be sure to leave the date of your hike.
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