Black Rapids Glacier January 2018

 
 The entrance to a spacious, crumbling ice cave in the moraine of Black Rapids Glacier.

The entrance to a spacious, crumbling ice cave in the moraine of Black Rapids Glacier.

 Forrest just before he plunged his foot into slush.

Forrest just before he plunged his foot into slush.

I continued my tradition of hiking to Black Rapids Glacier in January last Saturday. My adventure buddy Forrest accompanied me and we arrived at the Delta River shortly before sunrise under cloudy skies and light snow. We crossed the river ice just upstream of an unfrozen section, then started hiking up the unnamed creek that flows from the glacier. Recent strong winds and warm weather had wiped out most of the snow along the creek so we were able to walk without skis or snowshoes on a thin layer of fresh snow, avoiding several areas where the surface ice had collapsed. With the temperature around 0 °F (-18 °C) and the breeze at our backs, the hike in was a lot more enjoyable than the worst case conditions we were expecting. About halfway to the glacier we stopped to attach Microspikes to our boots to keep from slipping and it was almost as easy as walking on solid ground after that. Blue ice eventually came into view, and we steered toward the rightmost side of the glacier moraine.   

We walked along a street-sized gap between giant blocks of glacier ice until we turned down an sidewalk-sized wedge in one of the blocks, post-holing through a rotten mixture of snow and debris. Forrest unwittingly stuck his boot in slush at one point, but luckily avoided getting any water inside. (Such mishaps always remind me of "To Build A Fire", but I don't think you'll ever catch me attempting something like this in -50 °F.) We climbed up a snow ramp at the end of the wedge and continued over the moraine into a large, flat depression—surely a frozen glacial lake. While crossing the middle of the lake we heard the ice creak beneath our feet, so we quickly hugged the perimeter to avoid taking an unexpected dip. After marveling at the details in the glacier ice encircling the lake, we climbed over the rim on the far side and worked our way back to the creek, continuing farther upstream beside the moraine. We passed a few ice formations that looked vaguely familiar from last winter and plenty of new ones.

After a short time, we hopped back onto the moraine and followed a sizable meltwater channel into a spacious ice cave. The cave wasn't very deep, but it was tall and featured a lot of crumbling ice. As soon as the sun starts shining on the cave in February and melting the ice again, the large rocks looming precariously above the entrance will become quite dangerous as they start sliding off. Even without the ice melting, one side of the cave interior looked rather unstable and dangerous, but we were content to hang out on the other side for a bit while we ate lunch and sheltered from the breeze.   

 Crossing the frozen glacial lake.

Crossing the frozen glacial lake.

 The interior of the ice cave. In the melting season, water presumably runs around the pieces of collapsed ice and into the gap under the ice in the back of the cave.

The interior of the ice cave. In the melting season, water presumably runs around the pieces of collapsed ice and into the gap under the ice in the back of the cave.

Due to January's short daylight hours, we began our return after exiting the cave. The clouds began thinning out and the snow stopped falling, and the surrounding mountains that had been cloaked all day soon emerged, including Mt. Silvertip across the Delta River. We walked with our masks and goggles covering our faces, but the cold breeze still managed to bite my face from time to time. With less than a mile to go we came across a fresh set of wolf tracks, which paralleled our old tracks for a lengthy distance until they disappeared into the brush beside the creek. The river finally came into sight and we crossed it just after sunset. I felt comfortably warm most of the day, but I was happy to turn on the seat warmer and pull off my frozen face mask after we started driving back to Delta Junction.

I will explore Black Rapids Glacier again later in February or March when I have more daylight and (hopefully) warmer weather. The glacier really is a photographer's playground, and it really isn't that hard to reach, so I'm lucky few other people venture out there. 

For tips on photographing ice caves, read my post How to Photograph An Ice Cave.
Interested in visiting or photographing an ice cave? I offer guided winter tours. More information.