Unearthly images of the world’s largest non-polar icefield
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This post is part of Matador’s partnership with Canada, where journalists show how to explore Canada like a local.
DESPITE THEIR APPARENT monolithic stillness, glaciers are in constant motion, and they can move mountains. Kluane National Park and Reserve, in Canada’s Yukon Territory, is one of the best places in the world to witness the effects of glaciation, and the best way to see Kluane is from the air. There are no roads leading into the 21,980 square kilometer (approximately 8,500 square miles) park, but local company Sifton Air offers “flightseeing” tours with departures from the Haines Junction Airport.
Lowell Glacier surface
Silt works its way through the glacier and eventually deposits into Lowell Lake as icebergs are formed. Older icebergs normally display a richer blue color, as years of pressure causes the ice to absorb the longer wavelengths of light and reflect only high-energy blue wavelengths.
Lowell Glacier terminus
Our pilot took us low on the second fly-by of Lowell Glacier so we could better view the terminus – the end of the glacier. At one point he even took us into zero gravity, allowing us to experience weightlessness for a couple seconds.
Glacier and icefield
These peaks are surrounded by the largest non-polar icefield in the world. Glacier and icefield make up 82% of the park's surface area.
At least five times in the past 3,000 years, Lowell Glacier has dammed the Alsek River, impounding a large lake that extends up the Alsek's valley to Haines Junction and into the Dezadeash River valley. When the dam eventually breaks, the lake drains into the Pacific Ocean at Dry Bay, Alaska. These floods cut giant braids that are still visible in the Alsek River valley.
Lowell Glacier intersection
Glaciers appear to be motionless, but this frozen intersection is moving. Scientists have set up time-lapse cameras to monitor long-term glacier dynamics; the ice is always either advancing or retreating.
Two separate mountain ranges make up the St. Elias Mountains. The Kluane Range is a chain averaging 8,000ft in height, while the Icefield Range averages 16,000ft.
Entering Kulane National Park
As the plane pulled farther away from Haines Junction, I noticed a long ribbon of river underneath. It led us through a wide valley and right up to Lowell Glacier.
Waterfalls descend Goatherd Mountain
Waterfalls descend Goatherd Mountain, which stands opposite of Lowell Glacier. It’s a popular hike, and the summit offers a panoramic view of the glacier and surrounding mountains.
Paddling Lowell Lake
You can raft or kayak Lowell Lake to see the glaciers up close. Some people actually climb onto the icebergs that fill the lake and dive off.
Grizzly bears and bald eagles are common in Kluane, but the tundra was quiet the day we flew over.
Icebergs of Lowell Lake
Lowell Lake is dotted with icebergs that have broken off from Lowell Glacier. I was lucky to witness one as it fell; it sounded as if the mountains were coming down around me.
Inside the cockpit
Although it was cold and loud, I had to have my window open for most of the ride to get the best pictures. I tried to keep my camera steady in the high winds and to make sure the wing and landing gear did not enter my shot.
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