Alyeska and Portage Glacier

Today we drove south to Girdwood, the home of the Alyeska Resort. Alyeska is Alaska’s only formal ski resort. It’s primary feature is a tram. Theirs lifts travelers just over 2000 vertical feet, which is short for most trams. But it shoots up a near-vertical face that contains no ski trails. Skiers go over the top and ski down the other side. A couple other skiing notes… Alyeska draws skiers from Anchorage and the surrounding valleys, but ski clubs from Texas and the East also come up regularly. Most ski areas in The States close at sunset, Alyeska has to artificially light their slopes due to the short sunlight hours. Their high temperature in midWinter averages 20 degrees, F. And finally, a perk of coming here for skiing is a very good opportunity to see the Northern Lights.

i don’t have any photos to show you from the Tram. Either the background lighting or the glass panes messed up the pics with reflections. I will tell you that the restaurant at the top was called Seven Glaciers. It was the poshest, best food, and most expensive restaurant on the whole trip. A general food impression: When here about eight years ago, Alaskan food seemed to be kind of like the Talkeetna Roadhouse of a few blogs ago: Simple, hearty, fresh, and lots of it. This trip seems to have included a group of eateries that focused on gourmet, allergy awareness, and wine combinations. Much more gentrified, or as my wife says, “Fru fu.”

By the way, I counted five visible glaciers from the restaurant.


I included a photo of one of the local hiking trails and a family pic from the gardens. The hiking trails were amazing. I loved the colors of the Alaska Autumn. And Mrs Bear hiked up to the tram after sending the rest of her dead-weight family on the adventures to be described. The switchbacks, from the tram, reminded me of the Snake Path at Masada. She walked the back face down and made it an 11 mile ascent and descent. At least she needed Advil that night…But not bad for 70 !!


To avoid showing my wife up on her hike, I went off with the Bear cubs and grand cubs to an animal rescue center, and then on to a glacier viewing. The center was a natural zoo, except all the animals had been rescued. It was kind of a downer after seeing animals in the wild, but the porcupine (above) stole the show. He never stopped circling his enclosure and climbed up branches and fencing within a couple feet of us. I’d never seen one of these up close and personal, so it was a treat. The other cool thing about the Center was their exhibits of Wood Bison and Elk. The Bison were prevalent in Alaska but almost hunted into extinction. And the Elk are native to only one small island near Sitka. Both species are being studied with the plan on introducing them to greater areas of natural environment.


We then discovered that we were only a few miles from Portage Glacier. There are 100,000 glaciers in Alaska. As one can guess, they are endangered. One of our naturalists told us that a normal recession for glaciers is about five feet per year. Portage Glacier has receded 50 feet this year !! The weather this year in Alaska has been very weird, even in global warming. The whole state is in its most severe drought in a century. The wildfires that we have dodged so far reminded me of a California summer. The temps reached 90 in Anchorage and Seward last month.


The pics above show the lake that is cruised to get to Portage Glacier. At one time, the glacier enveloped this whole valley in addition to the mountains above. The snowmelt formed the lake as the glacier receded. Most of the lake is 600 feet deep.


A short boat ride, while listening to its history, brought to the glacier. We learned that snow that fell 50 years ago forms into ice and gradually slides down the mountain to the lake. It takes 50 years for this journey, sometimes a lot more in larger glaciers. It was also amazing to see the scratch marks on the canyon walls above the lake, left by the ice as it receded. The iceberg above calved off the glacier. Our naturalist said that, although it didn’t look very impressive, it probably descended 100 feet under the water surface.


All in all,  this was a great precursor to the cruise we are doing tomorrow of the Kenai Fjords National Park, which also includes sightings of various sea mammals and bird rookeries. Now it’s back to hear Mrs Bear talk about the ice cream she just had to eat to maintain an appropriate caloric intake for her next hike!!!

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