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Home National & State Parks Other NPs Massive Alaska Landslide No Threat to Glacier Bay National Park Visitors

Massive Alaska Landslide No Threat to Glacier Bay National Park Visitors

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A five-mile-long landslide that roared down a mountain at Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska earlier this year was never a threat to visitors and is so remote that the vast majority guests who come by cruise ships will never see it.

"If something like this had happened in the lower 48 states it would have been huge news," park ecologist Lewis Sharman told OldWestNewWest.com Travel and History Magazine.

glacier_bay_landslide2"To our knowledge this was the largest landslide of its type in recent years in North America," he added.

The massive ice, rock and debris slide came off a portion of 12,000-foot, snow-covered Lituya Mountain, hurdling the landslide down onto the Johns Hopkins Glacier.

The size of the landslide is about a half mile wide and just over five miles long, Sharman said.

Park rangers and scientists knew some major event had happened at Glacier Bay National Park when seismic monitoring equipment registered a magnitude 3.4 event on June 11, 2012.

But it wasn't until Drake Olson, who operates "FlyDrake," an air service out of Haines, Alaska, spotted the huge landslide on July 2 while flying his single-engine Cessna 180 over the Johns Hopkins Glacier.

His first reaction?

"I said ‘xxxx,' when I saw it," he told OldWestNewWest.com Travel and History Magazine. "I just couldn't believe it."

Olson has been flying around Haines, Skagway and Glacier Bay National Park for 18 years, offering tourists flightseeing trips in his airplane, or transporting hikers and skiers.

"It's like a big neighborhood to me," he said. "You get used to it, and when something changes it sticks out like a sore thumb. You just can't miss it."

Olson was able to bank his Cessna over the glacier and take some remarkable photos, two of which he offered to share with our readers.

"It's really an incredible thing to see," he said.

glbaarea_1You can learn more about Olson, who has been a race car driver, adventurer and pilot, by visiting his company's Website at
www.flydrake.com .

The landslide, as incredible a sight to see as it is, probably will never been viewed by the vast majority of the 400,000 visitors that come to Glacier Bay National Park each year.

"It's in a very remote area of the park," Shaman said. "Rarely or even exceedingly rarely do people go there in the heart of Fairweather Mountain. It's really only visited by hard core climbers."

That means for visitors who come to the park on a cruise ship vacation, they won't have a chance to see it.

"It's about 10 to 15 miles up the glacier from where cruise ship visitors would be looking up the fjord," he said. "But I'm sure they'll be talking about it."

The debris may not reach the face of the glacier for many years, according to estimates. The glacier moves down slope at the rate of about 10-15 feet each day.

Melting permafrost may have been a factor, Sharman said. Also possibly a result of climate change. If the layer of rock and debris is think enough, he added, it should not be a factor in melting that portion of the Johns Hopkins Glacier under the debris field.

Scientists have yet to get to the glacier to take measurements. There were no reports of injuries.

glacier_bay_landslide1Covering 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, dynamic glaciers, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines, and deep sheltered fjords, Glacier Bay National Park is a highlight of Alaska's Inside Passage and part of a 25-million acre World Heritage Site.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve lies west of Juneau, Alaska. There are no roads to Glacier Bay; you can reach the park only by air and water. Most visitors come to the park on large cruise ships.

The main visitor season is from late-May through early-September with the peak being the month of July. The park is open the rest of the year, but visitor services are very limited.

For more information about Glacier Bay National Park, visit the Website at
www.nps.gov/glba .

 
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