September 19th, 2012 by Carl
This past August, we just did an EPIC traverse across the Malaspina Glacier. Our original plan had been to fly from Yakutat to the Samovar Hills, and hike south. Due to the insane amount of snow in the area last winter (Yakutat got 350-360 inches), we weren’t able to land at the strip we’d hoped to fly into. A last minute change of plan meant flying to Kageet Point, Icy Bay, and hiking east from there, before picking up the original route, and following it south to the coastline, then east again to our intended pickup spot. This added about 35-40 miles to our route, but with an adventurous and experienced group of folks, it was worth it.
We spent 5 of the 9 nights on the ice of the Malaspina Glacier; the Malaspina is the size of Rhode Island, over 40 miles and nearly 30 miles long. Contrary to what wikipedia might tell you about the glacier, it DOES reach the coast, and so should rightfully be called a tidewater glacier, not a piedmont glacier. We packrafted around the lagoon the ice calves into on the beach, and it’s most definitely coastal.
Camping on ice has its challenges. Finding a nice flat spot can be tough, but especially finding a nice flat spot with enough rocks around to use for holding the tent/tarp in place. Sometimes we’d find wonderful, long flat stretches of ice, perfect for tentsites, but not a rock in sight. You can’t drive tent stakes into ice (unless you carry ice screws, of course -major overkill for a tent). But usually it didn’t take too long to find a good spot.
Secondly, insulation. A regular sleeping pad just doesn’t cut it. I used an Exped Downmat 7 UL, and it was great. Warm, comfortable, and not too heavy. Other choices include using 2 pads, one hard-cell foam pad like a z-rest or similar underneath an inflatable Neo Air or thermarest pad. Sergei used the Exped Downmat 9, which was easily the best (most comfortable and warm) choice. A deflated packraft under the tent all offered some protection from the ice underneath.
Overall, it was a grand trip. The weather wasn’t too bad at all, which made a great difference. Camping on an expanse of ice like that for a week, with no real wind or rain to deal with, made the trip a lot of fun. A great group of folks, 4 of which have now done 4 or more different backpacking trips with me, and some world class adventure. Good, good times.