Aug 13, 2017

Byron Glacier Trail

For our 18th anniversary in late July we decided to have an Alaskan experience. For the first half of our weekend, we did the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop trip on the Alaska Railroad and overnighted in Girdwood. You can read about that here...

After waking up we left Girdwood and headed to the Portage Glacier Valley in the Chugach National Forest. This is one of my favorite areas and we've spent time here in the past. ( Hiking Portage Pass, the Portage Glacier cruise, gulls trying to kill us.... ) But one thing we've never done was the Byron Glacier Trail hike. The Byron Glacier Trail begins as a 1 mile gravel trail over flat terrain. It's easy walking and on the weekend we went it was well traveled. As with anywhere in Alaska, you want to be "bear aware" and use all the proper precautions.

Byron Creek looking towards Bear Valley
The trail officially ends on the creek bed of Byron Creek. But really, that's where the fun begins. You can get some great views here and if your mobility is limited or you are short on time, just walking this far is worth it. But if you can and you've got the time, keep going. The glacier is another couple of miles up the valley. If you had the skills, I bet getting up to it is amazing. We just went another mile and every step we took the view got better and better.

You could see evidence of last winter's snow coming down into the valley in an avalanche. Many people were running around on the snow. Many tourist that come to Alaska are coming from locales where snow is non-existent, so this is a treat for them. But do use caution. The creek is running under that snow and I don't think it would be impossible to break through under the right conditions.

Waterfalls coming down from the glacier
Directly in front of us was a small mound of shale pushed up by the glacier. A well worn path led to the top and I figured that would be a great place for a photo. From there I could see beyond that was a large mound of rocks and boulders that over the years had cascaded down from the mountains on both sides. It looked like it could be a tough scramble for two chubby people, but I knew I had to go further. So onwards we went. Most people were staying within a hundred yards of the end  of the trail, but there was few going further; including families with young children. So I knew that it wasn't impossible.

We made our way up and over the mound, pick our way through large chunks of rock. The creek flowed around the mass to the east and I could see one person making their way alongside it. There was no real path; you simply went whatever way you could.

We pushed onto another snow field, crossing the creek to get to it. At that point the terrain began to get increasingly steeper. We had already gone much further than originally planned and knew that it was probably time to turn around. This time we went around the mound along the creek. It certainly wasn't any easier, but being right next to the roaring water was a great experience.

As we got back to the trail, I wanted to shout to those there" hey, go up just a little further! It's worth it!". But I figured each person explores in their own way and left it at that. We got on the trail and made our way back to the car. Our incredible weekend  was coming to close. It was a great way to celebrate a milestone and I'm looking forward to many more adventures with the wonderful gift that is my wife.

A few tips for Byron Glacier: the parking area can fill up. You can find more parking at the end of the road where the Portage Glacier Lake cruise departs or at the Begich-Boggs visitor center. Or wait a little bit. It seemed like there was a lot of turnover. There was no cell service in the area. The only food in Portage Valley is at the Portage Glacier Lodge. It's soups and sandwiches. I haven't eaten there in years, but in the past they've had great food.

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