Monday, January 12, 2015

Ice Skating Grewingk Glacier Lake

I've heard of ice skating on Grewingk Glacier but have not had the opportunity to get over there. When some friends mentioned they were planning to head over Sunday, I put out the word that I'd love to go. With such warm weather (still in the 40's!) we weren't sure it would happen, but figured it would be colder over there. As we discovered, it wasn't, but we still managed to skate! Here's the story of our day.

It all began with meeting at the boat in the Homer harbor at 9:30 a.m. The bay was not quite glassy smooth, but pretty close, so the ride over was smooth and easy. We quickly offloaded at the beach, meeting up with some other friends who'd taken their own boat over. Once the boats were moored and everyone was on shore and ready to go, we headed up the trail. It felt decidedly warm: high 30's or lower 40's even on the beach. We'd all dressed for cold since we were spending a day outside, so soon we were shedding layers as we headed up the switchbacks on the Saddle Trail.

The view from the switchbacks on the Saddle Trail looked pretty much the same as it does in the summer

Ice trail from top of switchbacks to turnoff to glacier
The trail from the top of the switchbacks to the turnoff to the glacier was icy. Most of us had brought our ice cleats, but I didn't put mine on, instead opting to sashay from one side to the other on the moss or grass. Each step was placed carefully though as it was icy, icy, icy. Once we got to the glacier outwash area, the trail wasn't covered with ice like this, but there must have been some freezing rain because all the rocks were covered with a glaze of ice. So we continued on stepping carefully.

When the lake came into view, two things struck me. First of all, it looked like the whole lake was just a big mass of slush--it didn't look frozen at all. Secondly, the glacier was blue, indicating that it was not covered with snow and was probably busily melting. The snowline was high up the mountains as well, both things unusual for January 11th!

Getting through the water to the frozen ice
The folks wearing their extra-tuffs (waterproof muck boots) ventured out on the lake, which involved wading through four inches of water in a moat all the way around the edge. Walking down the lake, we found a spot where the ice had buckled and we could get across to the ice without walking through water. I was nervous at first, but once on the ice, it was obvious it was plenty thick enough--our guess was six inches. There were so many water bubbles frozen into the ice and we could see how deeply they were frozen in.

Pulling on the ice skates
Soon we were all busily getting snacks and pulling on ice skates. Early ventures onto the ice were tentative and along the shore, but as we tested it further, we discovered it wasn't as bad as it looked. And frankly, it looked bad. Looking out over the ice, it appeared to be slush that had frozen together with cracks in the ice. But when we got on it it was slush that had frozen over and was mostly smooth, and the cracks had filled over with water and were frozen as well. 

Admittedly, there were spots that the ice cracked with reports that echoed across the lake and there was some standing water on top of the thicker base of ice. The closer we got to the glacier the rougher it was and we couldn't get near the islands as the ice was melted around them. There was a giant iceberg and the kids were able to get up on it and skate around on the iceberg (yep, a glacier iceberg!) and that was cool.  There were some neat designs in the ice, trails of bubbles, ice bubbles of different sizes that had frozen at different rates creating cool patterns.

Air bubble patterns in the ice

This is as close to Grewingk Glacier as we got. The ice was broken up after this
A couple years ago our friends had been over here skating and the entire lake was smooth as glass and they were able to skate right up to the glacier. I was hoping for that but knew from reports that it wasn't to be. As it was, we were just happy to skate. We had to keep an eye on where we were going and it wasn't completely relaxing, but it was still fun and the lake is fairly large so there was plenty of space to skate.

After a few hours of skating, it was time to reverse our tracks. Skates off, refuel with more food and hot cocoa, and back down the trail. As we were leaving another group from Homer was coming. And a small plane had flown over while we were on the lake, choosing not to land though we have heard that planes have been landing on the lake the past few days.

Muddy trails on the return trip
The ice-glazed rocks were now thawed so walking was a little easier on the first section of trail back, but the ice trail was still icy. The switchbacks were now mud and I cringed as I hiked down them. I've helped build these trails during TRAILS days each June and I hated to think that I was helping ruin them by slipping and sliding down them, adding to the effects of erosion. I avoided the muddy trail when I could.

Back on the beach, we loaded back on the boats and took off. The water was still calm--about as close to glassy as one can get, especially in the winter. Throughout we were all shaking our heads and saying, "We're doing this in January?!" and "There's no snow!" It was a little disorienting because skating is usually a November activity.

As we neared Homer the sunset was making the water glow and a sailboat was silhouetted against the colors. It was a beautiful end to a neat day adventure from Homer!

Sailboat 'n sunset

No comments: