Outdoors & Recreation

Embracing Alaska's Winter Blues

Written by
Ted Bryant

With the onset of winter, Alaska’s character changes dramatically. Autumns’ kaleidoscope of vibrant reds, greens, and golds have finally given up their perch and fallen to the ground, leaving behind nothing but skeletal remains. Alaska shifts from the pastel colors of Monet’s palette to the monochrome black-and-white of Ansel Adams. Termination dust creeps its way down the mountain sides in a relentless effort to cover the state in a blanket of white powder. And the lush green mountains that once looked like they could line the shores of Maui now bristle with the rugged definition of brilliant snow and jagged rock.

But all is not lost. There is another color in the spectrum that is always there, but seldom seen. That color is blue. It is often hidden within the cracks and crevices of the glaciers or buried under snow. When this florescent blue does reveal itself, it often seems at odds with its wintry environment. It teases of tropical themes within this frozen landscape.  Sometimes, when exploring Alaska’s arctic expanse, you may get lucky and stumble upon a veritable “Blue Oasis.”  Recently, I was privileged enough to visit just such a place when I landed on the frozen expanse of Lake George.

As the crow flies, Lake George is only 45 miles east of Anchorage. This body of water lies hidden in a valley just to the south of the base of the 25 mile long Knik Glacier. The lake was formed when both the Colony Glacier and the George Glacier receded. As they receded, they each left behind a levee forming a basin to collect all the glacial runoff.  This created a crater-like lake that is about three and half miles in diameter. 

The Colony Glacier still actively calves into the lake, while the George Glacier has now receded away from the shore. Throughout the summer months, massive chunks of ice fall from the face of the Colony Glacier and crash into the lake.  These fresh icebergs drift slowly across the lake until they bottom out in the shallows of the north shore.  Exposed to the summer sun, they slowly melt away and are eventually replaced by new ones as the cycle continues. 

As fall turns to winter and the temperatures continue to drop, Alaska’s lakes are transformed from liquid to solid. Lake George is no different. However, the icebergs that were drifting freely across the lake become frozen in place by winter’s icy grip. The “tips” of these icebergs remain exposed and are scattered haphazardly across the frozen surface of the lake. Some just barely break the surface, while others are bigger than an apartment building and weigh thousands of tons. Sometimes, the sun will slowly melt away the thin layer of surface snow and reveal the blue ice that has been hidden beneath it for thousands of years. Often, the melting water will refreeze on the surface of the iceberg and create a clear varnish-like glaze.

Flying low over the lake, I was able to pick and choose which icebergs I would like to explore. Each iceberg has its own unique qualities and characteristics. From above, I could determine which ones I thought looked the most interesting. The wheel-penetration skis on my plane allow me to land on either ice or snow. I then taxi up near the iceberg, shut down, and begin my adventure on foot.

Stepping out of the plane, I was immediately taken aback by the sheer size of the icebergs. Suddenly, I felt very small and insignificant. From the ground, they were much more intimidating and imposing than they were from the air. As I walked around each iceberg, it would reveal a constantly changing perspective of itself. These monolithic chunks of ice take on a character all their own. I stood next to a giant prehistoric pachyderm and admired the Trojan Horse of Troy. My kids pretended to surf under a frozen tidal wave that had just begun to curl. I saw the sunlight shine through blue crystal slabs that illuminated like stained glass in my own private wintery cathedral. From the abstract to the surreal, the shapes and colors mother nature presented were all magnificent in their own way.   

 

Each iceberg was a new adventure just waiting to be explored. I found ice caves in some and tunnels in others. Some were polished smooth and round, while others had jagged spires and deep crags. I didn’t have ice-climbing gear, but that was probably for the best, as I didn’t need to press my luck with thousand-year-old ice. Besides, I was privileged enough to just walk among these natural ice sculptures.

Each time I come back, they all look a little different, having been altered over time by the sun, wind, and weather.

Some icebergs glistened like neon blue beacons and stood in stark contrast to the white snow surrounding them. Others had millions of ice crystals that would reflect the sun’s rays in a dazzling display of refracted light. Meanwhile, the 200-foot face of the Colony Glacier stood majestically in the background. Occasionally, I would hear a thunderous roar as a piece of the distant glacier came crashing down onto the frozen lake. The whole experience nearly overwhelmed my senses. 

 

I have returned to this “blue oasis” every year since I first discovered it. Part of the magic of this place is that it has a different look every year. The winter days are short and as the sun slides low across the horizon I always regret having to leave sooner than I want.  To appease myself, I’ll take off and circle the lake, looking for the next blue-berg to explore. Each time I come back, they all look a little different, having been altered over time by the sun, wind, and weather.

 Flying out to a frozen lake is not without risk, nor is climbing around an iceberg. The conditions need to be right. You want little or no wind, a surface that is frozen solid, and preferably clear sunny skies. However, if you have the ability and are willing to accept some risk, the reward is one you will never forget. It’s become one of my favorite ways to combat my cabin fever. So the next time you get those “Winter Blues,” I hope it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

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Embracing Alaska's Winter Blues

Outdoors & Recreation

Author

Ted Bryant

I live in Wasilla with my wife Shelly and our two kids. I am a traveler, explorer, and adventurer at heart. I am doing my best to clearly express, accurately portray, and then share my impressions of this amazing land we call Alaska. Get out and see it!

With the onset of winter, Alaska’s character changes dramatically. Autumns’ kaleidoscope of vibrant reds, greens, and golds have finally given up their perch and fallen to the ground, leaving behind nothing but skeletal remains. Alaska shifts from the pastel colors of Monet’s palette to the monochrome black-and-white of Ansel Adams. Termination dust creeps its way down the mountain sides in a relentless effort to cover the state in a blanket of white powder. And the lush green mountains that once looked like they could line the shores of Maui now bristle with the rugged definition of brilliant snow and jagged rock.

But all is not lost. There is another color in the spectrum that is always there, but seldom seen. That color is blue. It is often hidden within the cracks and crevices of the glaciers or buried under snow. When this florescent blue does reveal itself, it often seems at odds with its wintry environment. It teases of tropical themes within this frozen landscape.  Sometimes, when exploring Alaska’s arctic expanse, you may get lucky and stumble upon a veritable “Blue Oasis.”  Recently, I was privileged enough to visit just such a place when I landed on the frozen expanse of Lake George.

As the crow flies, Lake George is only 45 miles east of Anchorage. This body of water lies hidden in a valley just to the south of the base of the 25 mile long Knik Glacier. The lake was formed when both the Colony Glacier and the George Glacier receded. As they receded, they each left behind a levee forming a basin to collect all the glacial runoff.  This created a crater-like lake that is about three and half miles in diameter. 

The Colony Glacier still actively calves into the lake, while the George Glacier has now receded away from the shore. Throughout the summer months, massive chunks of ice fall from the face of the Colony Glacier and crash into the lake.  These fresh icebergs drift slowly across the lake until they bottom out in the shallows of the north shore.  Exposed to the summer sun, they slowly melt away and are eventually replaced by new ones as the cycle continues. 

As fall turns to winter and the temperatures continue to drop, Alaska’s lakes are transformed from liquid to solid. Lake George is no different. However, the icebergs that were drifting freely across the lake become frozen in place by winter’s icy grip. The “tips” of these icebergs remain exposed and are scattered haphazardly across the frozen surface of the lake. Some just barely break the surface, while others are bigger than an apartment building and weigh thousands of tons. Sometimes, the sun will slowly melt away the thin layer of surface snow and reveal the blue ice that has been hidden beneath it for thousands of years. Often, the melting water will refreeze on the surface of the iceberg and create a clear varnish-like glaze.

Flying low over the lake, I was able to pick and choose which icebergs I would like to explore. Each iceberg has its own unique qualities and characteristics. From above, I could determine which ones I thought looked the most interesting. The wheel-penetration skis on my plane allow me to land on either ice or snow. I then taxi up near the iceberg, shut down, and begin my adventure on foot.

Stepping out of the plane, I was immediately taken aback by the sheer size of the icebergs. Suddenly, I felt very small and insignificant. From the ground, they were much more intimidating and imposing than they were from the air. As I walked around each iceberg, it would reveal a constantly changing perspective of itself. These monolithic chunks of ice take on a character all their own. I stood next to a giant prehistoric pachyderm and admired the Trojan Horse of Troy. My kids pretended to surf under a frozen tidal wave that had just begun to curl. I saw the sunlight shine through blue crystal slabs that illuminated like stained glass in my own private wintery cathedral. From the abstract to the surreal, the shapes and colors mother nature presented were all magnificent in their own way.   

 

Each iceberg was a new adventure just waiting to be explored. I found ice caves in some and tunnels in others. Some were polished smooth and round, while others had jagged spires and deep crags. I didn’t have ice-climbing gear, but that was probably for the best, as I didn’t need to press my luck with thousand-year-old ice. Besides, I was privileged enough to just walk among these natural ice sculptures.

Each time I come back, they all look a little different, having been altered over time by the sun, wind, and weather.

Some icebergs glistened like neon blue beacons and stood in stark contrast to the white snow surrounding them. Others had millions of ice crystals that would reflect the sun’s rays in a dazzling display of refracted light. Meanwhile, the 200-foot face of the Colony Glacier stood majestically in the background. Occasionally, I would hear a thunderous roar as a piece of the distant glacier came crashing down onto the frozen lake. The whole experience nearly overwhelmed my senses. 

 

I have returned to this “blue oasis” every year since I first discovered it. Part of the magic of this place is that it has a different look every year. The winter days are short and as the sun slides low across the horizon I always regret having to leave sooner than I want.  To appease myself, I’ll take off and circle the lake, looking for the next blue-berg to explore. Each time I come back, they all look a little different, having been altered over time by the sun, wind, and weather.

 Flying out to a frozen lake is not without risk, nor is climbing around an iceberg. The conditions need to be right. You want little or no wind, a surface that is frozen solid, and preferably clear sunny skies. However, if you have the ability and are willing to accept some risk, the reward is one you will never forget. It’s become one of my favorite ways to combat my cabin fever. So the next time you get those “Winter Blues,” I hope it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

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Author

Ted Bryant

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