Castner Glacier for the 4th of July

I spent the 4th of July weekend hiking in solitude on the Castner Glacier in the Alaska Range.

Looking up Castner Creek into the Deltas. Black Cap is on the left, White Princess is hiding behind a cloud. Kind of a gloomy afternoon.
Looking up Castner Creek in the Delta Range

I walked up the south side of Castner Creek to the Glacier toe. Gaining the ice via rocky moraine yields thick vegetation. The temps were nice, a few showers, but nothing drenching. I was surprised how easy the hiking was for the most part. The debris cover is thick and cohesive with soil, for the most part, not like most moraines I’ve been on. There was some “surprise” mud – ground that looks solid but took me in up to my shins in “oh shit” fashion. Some scratchy bushwacking too, which just seems strange out on a glacier.

Once an ice cave is now only a small arch. It has since collapsed.
Once an ice cave is now only a small arch. It has since collapsed.

I wanted to push as far up-glacier as possible, despite having a late start. Luckily it stays light 24 hours a day so it’s easy to lose track of time. Social trails would appear and then disappear, but the moraine is easy to follow. I was surprised how difficult it was to find a dry, flat spot to camp.

The MSR Hubba Hubba on the Castner Glacier moraine
The MSR Hubba Hubba on the Castner Glacier moraine

Day 2

The sky cleared overnight and the views in the morning were incredible. I ate a Mountain House Breakfast Skillet. It’s my new favorite thing to eat in the morning when camping. I used to pack all my own food and snub the use of pre-made, dehydrated backpacking meals. After trying the breakfast skillet I was hooked. I could probably even stomach the eggs, sausage, and veggies from the comfort of home.

Looking down the moraine on the Castner Glacier
Looking down the moraine on the Castner Glacier

I packed up early since I wanted to get a good distance up the glacier before heading home. The day started out with some incredible views up Broken Glacier to the south.

Mountains and small glacier near Triangle Peak
Mountains and small glacier near Triangle Peak

The views stayed nice, but the light was getting harsh. The glacier splits with M’Ladies Branch heading off to the south and the main branch going north. I wasn’t going to have enough time to explore both, so I had to make a decision. There was a lot of glare to the south, so I figured there would be a better photo opportunity if I headed north.

Looking up the southern M'Ladies branch on the Castner Glacier
Looking up the southern M’Ladies branch
Looking up the northern branch of the Castner Glacier
Looking up the northern branch of the Castner Glacier

It was a little odd getting onto the ice. A deep, water-carved canyon on the edge of the moraine proved difficult to cross. Luckily, it didn’t take too long to find a route down where the rock was close enough to the lip of the ice that I could step over it.

Deep canyon where the moraine met bare ice.
The deep canyon where the moraine met bare ice

Not long after starting up the ice I was treated to an excellent view of Mt. Silvertip (9400 feet). It was truly a rare day for the Deltas!

Looking up Mt. Silvertip from the Castner Glacier
Looking up at Mt. Silvertip | Buy Print

The glacier steepens quite a bit. At the point where the glacier becomes convex a lot of crevasses appear. Only a few of them were wide enough that they were tough to step over, but some were deep enough to make me hesitate. It’s kind of fun, wandering around the crack maze.

Crevasse on the Castner Glacier
Lateral crevasse looking down the Glacier
Lateral crevasses on the Castner Glacier
More lateral crevasses – looking up-glacier | Buy Print
Rocks on ice pedestals on the Castner Glacier. The rocks insulate the ice beneath them, so the surrounding ice melts faster.
Rocks on ice pedestals on the Castner Glacier. The rocks insulate the ice beneath them, so the surrounding ice melts faster | Buy Print

I so incredibly wanted to keep going. It was such a gorgeous day. I realized I had been hiking for nearly 6 miles already, meaning I had 10 miles to hike out. Sixteen miles feels like a lot with an extra 10 pounds of camera gear on top of camping equipment. It was also hot, really hot. I’d guess it was at least in the 70’s, even on the ice. The sun was persistent, and reflecting off every bit of snow and ice around me. I ate a Clif Bar and started the hike down. I found a nice spot to fill my water bottles.

Stream by boulders on the Castner Glacier
Water-filling station | Buy Print

I was so excited to bring a bottle of glacier water home. Nothing tastes quite as fresh. But did I tell you it was hot! Once I was off the ice and on the darker moraine, the temperature increased a lot. There was no wind. I was still about 3 miles from the car when I finished the last of the water. There were a few spots I probably could have pumped nasty water with my filter, but I decided to just shoot for the car.

About a mile later I thought, “this is it”. “I’m going to be the first person to die of heat exhaustion on a glacier in Alaska.” There was something surreal about the situation. Don’t worry, though, I pulled through and had a jug of (hot) water waiting for me at the car.

The Full gallery from this hike on the Castner Glacier:

Day 1: July 4
Day 2: July 5
Blog Comments

Saw your aurora photos on facebook and decided to head over here and read your blog, glad I did, thanks, very uplifting. Had to smile at your irony “I’m going to be the first person to die of heat exhaustion on a glacier in Alaska.”
Keep on trekkin’

Thanks so much for your kind words. I promise to keep exploring!

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