Private Glacier Flights - July 19, 2000
In the Air

(Posted August 18, 2000, Herbert E. Lindberg)

It wasn't long after takeoff before we were flying over glaciers and between mountain peaks. The view below is of the edge of a glacier as it flows into the valley below it. The circular object in the window is my air vent. Mary and I were in the third pair of seats, behind Phil and Barbara Moss. Up front with Scott, our pilot, was Keith Gray. Keith is a retired British Airways pilot, so he enjoyed chatting with Scott about the airplane and flight, and we enjoyed listening to their conversation. In back of us, in a single seat near the tail of the plane where she had unobstructed views out both sides of the airplane, was Margaret Gray.

Bottom of glacier flowing into valley
As we flew up the valley of this glacier, we could see it more vividly. The black streak down its center is evidence that it was formed by two glaciers that collide as they push this huge ridge of finely-ground rocks down the valley. Our pilot descended briefly so we could see clearly this dark black ridge of rock rubble.
Twin glacier with a ridge of rock rubble weaving down its center

As we continued flying up this valley we could see the individual glaciers that pushed together to form the twin glacier. Four glaciers are clearly visible in the picture below. The one coming in from the upper left and another from the lower right are the two that form the twin glacier seen in the picture above. Two more glaciers are clearly visible in the mid and upper right portion of the picture below.

Profusion of glaciers higher up the mountains
I took other pictures with my film camera that have even more detail. There were so many exciting things to view that I couldn't fumble back and forth between my digital and film cameras fast enough to record it all. I tried instead to take at least one picture of each unique feature of the mountains and glaciers. Below is a close-up picture (closer, at least, than in the above pictures) of the cliff at the edge of one of the glaciers as it enters Prince William Sound. Never having seen a glacier, I was stunned by its extremely jagged nature, and the jaggedness of the tops of the glaciers. I estimate that the pyramid-shaped spikes jutting up all over the surface of the glaciers are about twenty feet tall, but it was impossible to estimate an absolute scale in this enormous landscape (or should I say icescape?).
The jagged nature of a glacier surface and edge

You can see near the bottom of this picture that the glaciers are blue where they haven't been covered with glaciation dust. Other colors of the spectrum enter the ice but are absorbed, leaving a concentration of blue light as the ice color. Any pools of water on the glaciers are an amazingly deep blue, bluer even than Lake Tahoe. I took a picture of one with my film camera. Some day it may appear here in scanned form.

Another unique feature was glacier-fed waterfalls, which were everywhere in this part of Alaska. The fall in the picture below was one of the prettiest we saw from the air.

Glacier-fed waterfall
And so it went for over an hour, which seemed like a few minutes. For a change of scenery and potty break (for the men, at least) Scott landed our plane on the sound. The view as we came down from the mountains was green and lush and the water inviting (but actually in the 30's):
Prince William Sound as we descended for a mid-flight break
The people in the picture below are others in the tour group; all the planes had landed and were lined up on the shore. But the plane is ours. The guys in boots are pilots. The boots kept their feet dry when they jumped out into shallow water to swing the planes around for dry landings by the passengers.
Brief stop on a shore of Prince William Sound

After our 15-minute stop, our planes took off one after another as we resumed our fantastic voyage. On this leg Scott invited me up into the front seat with him, while Keith dropped back to my spot and Margaret switched with Mary. That was an offer I couldn't refuse, because the sights are even more thrilling when you can see straight ahead, particularly when Scott flew directly toward mountain faces. But photography was more difficult, and I'd already photographed most of the main features of the mountains, so I didn't take many more photographs with the digital camera. I have lots of photos as we approached Anchorage taken with the film camera. I'll add a few scanned versions to this page when available.

As the flight ended, we flew along Turnagain Arm and then on to the Anchorage airport. When the group gathered at the float plane hangers we all agreed that the flights were the high point of our Alaska tour. Everyone was animated and smiling at one another as we watched other float planes land and take off over Rust's hangars.

Another plane at the Rust hangar
To conclude this glorious day, our motor coach (Jeff's preferred word, over bus) drove us back up Turnagain Arm, which we had flown over in the opposite direction. Near its eastern tip at Girdwood we drove northeast up into the mountains to the Alyeska Prince Resort, a luxury hotel in sharp contrast to the "rustic" McKinley Chalet Resort where we had just stayed for two cramped days in Denali National Park. After a brief rest our tour group had a private barbeque at the Sitzmark restaurant, about a half-mile into this ski resort community. Many of us walked back to the hotel, and on the way saw our first close-up of an Alaska bear -- dumpster diving. At the hotel we crashed into our five-star bed, to dream about an unforgettable day.

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