A hike to Flute Glacier, and a step back in time

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 23:00
Route to Flute Glacier, the closest glacier to Anchorage.

A hike to Flute Glacier during summer and fall is definitely a rewarding trip that allows you the trace the geologic history of glacially-carved valleys (South Fork Valley and Flute Glacier Valley). Flute Glacier is about 25 miles due east of Anchorage, and while it is the city’s closest glacier, it doesn’t receive much attention from hikers.

The trip begins at the South Fork trailhead and after hiking five miles over a good trail, you reach Eagle Lake. You will find primitive trails around either the north or south sides of Eagle Lake. While the south side is slightly longer, it is a better trail. After about a mile you’ll come to the gravel bars of Flute Creek. On this section, about 1-1/2 miles, I take off my socks, put on tennis shoes and sling my boots over my shoulder. Instead of detouring all over the place to avoid the water, I just walk through it from gravel bar to gravel bar in a direct route toward Flute Glacier Valley.

Finally, you’ll come to a steep waterfall. Once there, I stash my tennis shoes and put on my nice, dry socks and boots.

Ascend up the grass and scree slope a few hundred feet to your left, or north, and you’ll find a distinct trail that takes you around the waterfall and up into the valley. From there it’s about another 1-1/2 miles to the glacier. In my younger days I made this trip (about 20 miles round trip from South Fork trailhead) in a day, but now I’d prefer to overnight. There are nice camping spots up in Flute Glacier canyon and there is certainly plenty of water.

I’ve generally spotted sheep and once in a while a bear on this trip, and eagles are a common sight. The temperature can drop considerably as you enter the valley because of the ice mass above, and also because the narrow passage creates a kind of wind-funneling, Venturi effect. So even on a warm summer day, bring along some extra clothing.

This trip is also one of the main routes up 6.955-foot Eagle Peak. While this mountain doesn’t require technical expertise, it must only be attempted by skilled scramblers. It follows a steep gully and requires good route-finding skills. I climbed it once with a friend about 12 years ago and it was one of my more difficult climbs. There are websites and books that can describe the route in detail, but the main thing is to remain in the gully until it splits near the summit. At that point take the right-hand gully and it leads you to the summit ridge, then turn to climber’s right for the summit.

On one trip to Flute Glacier several years ago I was moved to write a poem about how the journey seemed like an excursion back into time:


A glacier memory

Unequipped to cross the labyrinth of crevassed incisions, nature’s scalpel gone wild; I lay down for a rest with my canine friend and thought about this retreating world, my brief presence a faint echo between canyon walls that leaned closer to hear ancient stories awakened by the winds.

In glacier time it was as if we were never here, so I imagined I could stretch time to make this day last beyond a lifetime.

Cooling down, I arose from my icy bed and began the long hike from the canyon down into the widening valley past moraine, down into bushes and trees, around Eagle Lake to where the glacier was only a distant memory.

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