Aug 13, 2017

Spencer Glacier via the Alaska Railroad

In late July the wife & I celebrated our 18th anniversary. Months earlier I had started saving money for an Alaskan adventure that I had wanted to do for a long time.

The Alaska Railroad's Chugach Explorer Train
You see, it's not just the tourist that enjoy Alaska. Us locals like to get out and explore our home too. The Alaska Railroad offers Glacier Discovery Train takes you to the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop. Departing from Anchorage in the morning, it makes a stop at Portage and then onto Whittier and then back to Portage. From there it heads into the Chugach National Forest and stops at the Spencer Glacier Trailhead. From there it continues onto the Grandview area and then heads back, stopping again at Spencer Glacier and then along side the Placer River to pick up those who have traveled downstream by raft. Then back to Portage, Whittier, Girdwood and finally Anchorage.

Because of the multiple stops, people use this train for multiple reasons. Cruises headed to Whittier can use this train to get to their ship. Or you can do a Prince William Sound glacier cruise. We caught the train at Portage when it stopped there the first time and road along as it went to Whittier and back. We could've caught the train when it stopped in Portage the 2nd time, but it was nice to just relax as the train rolled along. And while we were stopped in Whittier, we had enough time to bag a geocache.

Yesterday's rafts being pick up for today's rafters.
At our 2nd stop at Portage, we picked up the bulk of the passengers. Most were part of a tour group. From Portage to Spencer Glacier is a quick trip of about 30 minutes. This includes a few moments alongside the Placer River to pick up the rafts that had been left there yesterday to be used today. These rafts are surrounded with an electric fence to keep curious bears from damaging them.
Then it was onto the the Spencer Glacier stop where most of us got off. A few people stayed on for the trip to the Grandview area. This trip is suppose to be beautiful and someday I hope to do that too. In additional to the Spencer Glacier stop, the US Forest Service and the Alaska Railroad plan to develop several more stops in the future.

The level, easy 1 mile trail at the Spencer Glacier
At the Spencer Glacier stop you disembark at the head of a one mile gravel path. There's a couple of covered pavilions with interpretive panels and outhouses here. Those going rafting were met by their guides and loaded on a bus. They made a short trip up to the lake formed and fed by the Spencer Glacier that serves as the headwaters to the Placer River. After rafting among the ice bergs born of the glacier, they float down the Placer River to be picked up by the train on the way back. This looks like a fun trip too.

Always good advice...

This bridge over the Placer River connects to what will be additional trails
Most of those not rafting rallied around the Forest Service ranger for a ranger guided walk to the lake. I'm sure this was informative, but we had a different agenda. We have been geocaching for 12 years and were just a few caches away from having found 1,200 caches. There was a string of caches along the trail that would get us over the mark, so after the crowd (and by crowd there was maybe a dozen people...) moved on, we started our hunt along the trail. The walk was Alaska at its finest with mountain views, lush greenery, and the river humming by. And bugs. Not mosquitoes, but these little black flies. They didn't seem to bite, but having a cloud of these things around your head would almost drive a person nuts.

Spencer Lake and Spencer Glacier
After a mile on the gravel path and 5 caches, we came to the lake. The view across to the glacier was majestic. Ice bergs serenely floated on the lake. Our fellow travelers spoke among themselves quietly, almost as if they were in a cathedral and respecting the sacredness of the surroundings. At the lake edge we found geocaching number 1,200 and soaked in the views.

A few people brought mountain bikes to explore on. The trail continues past the lake to a public use cabin. Nearby is a camping area for those who wish to spend a few days here. But alas, our time was short, almost too short. We walked back do the trail and waited just a few moments for the train to arrive. We loaded up and found our seats. The train continued on, pick up the rafters and then arrived at the Portage stop. We got off here where our car was parked. There was a motor coach waiting to take other travelers to Girdwood and Anchorage while the train would continue on to Whittier again to pick up those who had done a day cruise or were coming off a cruise ship. You can stay on the train if you don't mind a late return to Anchorage.

We hopped into the car and headed to Girdwood to overnight in the Alyeska East 210 condo offered by Alyeska Accommodations. It was a nice place with a great view of the mountains and very affordable for Alaska in the summer. We enjoyed dinner at Silver Tip Grill and walked around the Alyeska Resort area at the base of the ski hill. Then it was off to bed.We had more adventure planned for the next day, which you can read about here...

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