Tag Archives: Exit Glacier

Finally Seeing

If I had to choose one lasting image from my trip to Alaska, it would be the Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park.

exitglacier

I have never had any doubt about climate change, but viewing this glacier somehow made me see the issue in a new way, as if I had not fully grasped the situation our world faces.

I recently watched “Chasing Ice,” a documentary created by photographer James Balog, who uses time lapse images of glaciers to tell the story of climate change. It is a spectacular yet jarring film that shows how drastically glaciers are melting around the world, including sequences from Alaska.

To see a disappearing glacier before my eyes was an unforgettable experience.  I initially was excited to discover that we would be visiting the glacier, but during our hike up to Exit Glacier, I felt anxious about what we would find.

Yes, the glacier was extraordinary. But because of its noticeably shrinking size, I immediately felt saddened by the sight before me.

I admired the shades of blue on the ice but then observed that it was losing its pristine white color and instead acquiring a grayish tint from the rocks surrounding it. I saw the deep cracks throughout the glacier and a stream of water flowing down the ice mass.

A few weeks ago, Kenai Fjords National Park posted a picture on its Facebook page that illustrates the progression of the Exit Glacier’s ice melt. The changes are staggering.

If I return to Alaska someday and visit Exit Glacier, what will it look like? It’s a startling question to think about. Depending on how far into the future it may be, the glacier could look strikingly different.

It all depends on how quickly we act because we are running out of time. I see progress being made, but there is still so much more we need to do to curb the affects of climate change. I still have hope that our world leaders will be brave enough to take these necessary and urgent steps before it is too late.

As we put together our own documentary, a goal for the film is to tell the personal side of the issue and how it is truly affecting people in Bethel. Like “Chasing Ice,” I hope that our project will in some way make an impact on the community and shine a light on climate change to those who may not have seen it.

 

Melting Away

On our last day in Alaska, our touristy group made a trip up to Exit Glacier. I was in an average mood; I was a bit tired, but excited for a scenic hike. I was excited for the thrill of reaching our destination and simply looking at everything around us, and enjoying our last true piece of our time in Alaska.

On the way up the trail, my thoughts just wandered. Each little break in the trees, we’d see the beautiful mountains and sky surrounding us, and each time I’d have to do a little spin around and smile with admiration for the beauty that is Alaska. It was hotter than I had expected, so after each little break, I’d rush myself just a bit to get up to the crisp glacier air a bit quicker.

As I got closer to the Glacier, I came to this point:

CUBP
The last sign on the way to Exit Glacier.

On that sign, it was noted as the location of Exit Glacier in about 1996. After reading, I began to feel slightly off, something I wasn’t expecting, as I finally began to feel the chilled wind from the face of the glacier.  I was still a little far from the edge itself, but I began to look around and I slowly realized the true impact of me being there.

I watched people walk up to the edge, smile or make a silly pose and get a picture. I watched people take a long look, and then just walk away. In the most recent exposed rock from the receding glacier, scrapes and scratches painfully dug into the rock were being ran over and overlooked. I suddenly felt disgusted with myself for being excited to be there. I was no longer a happy tourist; I was a mourning visitor.

This glacier, this change, had happened and is still happening in my lifetime. I looked at the clawed rock and I saw suffering. I looked at those smiling and taking goofy pictures as ignorant (even though I did get pictures in front of it). This once massive, beautiful structure stood with pride, yet now it is literally melting, receding, and cracking, losing its place on earth.

Exit Glacier, as it stands today.
Exit Glacier, as it stands today.

In a way I could compare it to the Yup’ik culture we experienced in Bethel. The old ways and traditions were being pushed back, forced, by a new western outlook. The children didn’t want a part of the Yup’ik ways, they want the modern ways, and therefore don’t make room for the culture. Just as the glacier had clung to rocks, trying desperately to pull itself back, those who believe in the Yup’ik culture are trying to bring it back to the people of Bethel.

In our times as humans, we lose things. From friends, toys, or games, to memories, material goods, or history, things disappear from our lives and this world all the time. But something made this different for me. It’s happening now. When I was 5 years old, that glacier was bigger; now it’s not. That one moment, standing on the edge of Exit Glacier made me realize the harsh truth of the matter; if people don’t see the importance of things such as culture and climate change, they are just going to keep disappearing.

Though I was in no way expecting something from that hike, it taught me something. It showed me the importance of staying aware, and being on the side of seeing importance and value in my history, my traditions and culture, and those of others as well.

I’ve learned a lot from my time in Alaska. From all the people and stories and lessons shared, it was all an incredible experience. Yet I got my final push of remembrance and inspiration from that hike frozen in my mind; and it’s one thing that will never melt.

A beautifully written passage about the glacier.
A beautifully written passage about the glacier.