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Eagle Glacier

Eagle Glacier-2/2003 ERNC to Eagle Glacier

For the past week or so it hadnít snowed at all, and it had been windy and very cold, so there was little in the way of deep or powdery snow anywhere. Me and Dick felt the all-too-familiar itch and decided to scratch it by hiking out to Eagle Glacier from the Eagle River Nature Center. On a chilly January morning, we set out hoping to reach the glacierís terminus and return by nightfall.

The conditions were perfect for fast winter hiking. Walking the trail to Echo Bend was like walking on a sidewalk because of all the petrified ski tracks. When we reached the bend, we left the trail and began to head up the river, which had long since frozen solid, and had been reduced by the cold to a shallow trickle compared to its normal depth. What snow was still on the ground had been blown into hardened drifts, so exposed gravel bars and dried stream beds made the going very quick and easy for most of the way up the valley. Between the otherworldly conditions in the valley and the Pink Floyd album I was listening to on my headphones for most of the hike, I found it very easy to become lost in the rhythm of the music and my own footsteps. Before I knew it, we were at the shores of Glacier Lake.

We stopped to eat an MRE apiece; not the lightest choice for a meal, but they include that just-add-water heater which is quite a weight-saver when it saves you from having to haul out a stove and fuel. After a bit of R&R at the western shore of the lake, we set back about our quest. The sun was starting to set, and in unpacking my meal I discovered that I had forgotten my headlamp. Oops. That proved to be a rather obnoxious mistake.

The lake seemed well-frozen, and there was only a half-inch thin layer of hardened snow covering the ice. We spotted two sets of reasonably fresh moose tracks crossing the middle of the lake. One was large and one small, obviously a calf and its mother. A few hundred feet out onto the ice the tracks were joined by a massive set of bear tracks, which we found a tad unusual given the freshness of the tracks, the time of year, and how bitterly cold it had been for the past couple of weeks. That bear must have been pretty hungry or something. Anyhow, somewhere near the middle of the lake the tracks deviated south in the direction of Saghala Point, so we lost them as we stayed our course towards the glacier.

The terminus of Eagle Glacier itself is guarded by a pretty forbidding canyon to the south and a series of hilly moraines to the north. Instead of wandering into the canyon, which for all we knew could have been a very treacherous spot, we opted to climb over the moraines. This was very tiring and time consuming, and inevitably hampered our actually reaching the glacier proper. We spent a rushed hour or so pushing ourselves hard to reach the glacier, but for every hill we crested, we discovered another hill behind it. This continued until finally one of us called for an end to the effort. It was nearly dark, and we still had a pretty long hike back to the ERNC, so we took a few pictures from the crest of one of the moraines and headed reluctantly back towards the lake. This is where a bit of trouble began brewing for both of us.

If I could sum up the predominant physical weakness in myself, and in my usual hiking buddy Dick, I would say that I have bad hips and he has a bad stomach. We had just crossed the lake and were headed towards Twin Falls when I saw Dick a few hundred feet behind me, standing in tripod position with his hands on his knees and his head between his legs. His gut-worm wasnít handling that MRE very well, and I think the exertion of hiking up and down all those hills on the moraine field finally caught up with him. For the next ten miles or so, his routine was to walk a few hundred yards, stop to upchuck, take a swig of water, walk a few hundred more yards, and repeat the process. Poor guy.

In the meantime, one of my hips started to act up. I am not sure what the problem with them is, but every now and again one or both of my hips will and become very painful and stiff on long hikes, especially if its really cold out. It was very cold out, and this was the mother of all hip-aches. It while it didnít seem to be slowing my progress much, but it was causing me quite a bit of pain. I had to adjust my stride so that I would prevent as much motion as I could in the affected joint, but this quickly took its toll on the compensatory muscles I found myself using. Before long, every step was an experience in suffering. To make matters much worse for myself, I had no headlamp to light the trail, and it was quite dark by the time we passed Twin Falls. Every root, rock, hole, or bump in the trail sent pain shooting through my hip. By the time we reached the ERNC, tears were streaming down my face and I had chewed a good cut into my lip. Dick had long since run out of stomach contents to expel, so he simply hiked and retched concurrently until we reached the car. We drove back to Anchorage, feeling collectively sick and miserable, but very happy to have gone on such an awesome hike! It was definitely a trip worth repeating, next time with a headlamp and some advil.

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