Greetings from the glacier,old-ice-sign

For a few of us who have lived in Juneau for a long time 1975 does not seem that long ago, but check this photo as a reminder of how much our glacier has changed in 41 years. It was taken in July, 1975.

In about 2009, as the Forest Service Trail crew was clearing the way for the new trail through the forest to Nugget Falls, they came upon a hand-carved wooden sign hidden deep in the trees and brush. This old photo shows one of the signs which none of us knew existed. We retrieved the sign which is now in a safe place. At the time the crew created a short spur trail off the new Nugget Falls Trail to show where the sign was found. If you have wondered why there is a little detour into the forest this sign is the reason. We’d like to create a new sign – and include this photo from 1975 – to show visitors how rapidly change has occurred when you live with a glacier in the backyard.

When the new trail was designed I asked why it was placed so far into the forest. I was told the placement was to ensure the trail would be usable if the lake flooded for some reason. I scoffed at the idea that the water could ever get that high. Silly me. In 2015 Nugget Falls Trail was closed 14 times for flooding that made the area inaccessible. Since 2011’s first notable glacier outburst flood (or “jokulhlaup”) we have seen multiple closures of our most popular trail each summer.

I recall hiking out toward Nugget Falls in the first years I was in Juneau. The waterfall was still buried behind glacial ice. The glacier was grounded on what is now the sandy beach en route to the falls. We could walk up to touch the ice, defying the orange caution signs warning us to stay back. Sadly in late 1975 a fatality occurred when the glacier calved, killing a woman and seriously injuring her companion.

Mendenhall Glacier has been popular for decades. Fortunately smart people took photos that we appreciate today. I posted two other Now and Then photos on our FaceBook page which I will share here later in the week.

Enjoy the holidays!

Laurie Craig
Lead Naturalist