ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Our National Parks: In Quest of a Glacial Ghost

Updated on September 28, 2018
juneaukid profile image

Richard F. Fleck is author of two dozen books, his latest being Desert Rims to Mountains High and Thoreau & Muir Among the Native Americans.

Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska

Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier
Chasm Lake
Chasm Lake

In Quest of a Glacial Ghost

I had recently returned from the stunningly beautiful Alaskan Panhandle witgh its myriad coastal glaciers calving into green waters of fiords when I suggested to my son Rich that we hike up to the ancient glacial terrain of Chasm Lake beneath the Diamond Face of Longs Peak. Neither of us had been there before despite the fact that we had taken many hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

During our pre-dawn drive down to Colorado, I thought of the living glaciers near Juneau. I remembered the blue dome of the Mendenhall (formerly the Auk) Glacier tucked between two mountain ranges looking like a curving blue planet temporarily in the Earth's midst. I remembered flying over the Taku Glacier that flowed majestically out of the Juneau Ice Field down to the sparkling seawater of Taku Inlet. Being up there in Alaska was like losing ten thousand years; its present-day landscapes are what the Rocky Mountains may have looked like through the eyes of Paleo-Indians. Modern Plains Indians still refer to a time when the Great White Giant reigned.

We pulled into Longs Peak campground a little before 8:00 am and shouldered our packs. We couldn't have asked for a more crisp and brilliant day. Every granite ridge stood out sharp and clear as we bounded up the trail through a sun-spiked lodgepole pine forest along a fairly straight but steep trail above the valley between Longs Peak and Twin Sisters, the old haunts of Rocky Mountain National Park's founding father, Enos Mills. Melancholic squawks of Stellar's and Canada jays resounding through the forest aisles blended with the distant roar of a cascade.It seemed like only an hour since I had climbed snow-laced Mount Roberts above Juneau, Alaska, but now I was with my son here in Colorado, and it felt good to be with him and to share with him Alaskan memories.

Lodgepole pines ever so slowly yielded to higher altitude firs and spruce harboring occasional clusters of Colorado columbines and bright blue chiming bells. The trail wound its way up through subalpine meadows affording us glimpses of Mount Meeker and the highest peak of this national park, Longs Peak, a mountain I had scaled three times during the past twenty-five years. But not today--we just wanted to hike up to the dramatically compacted alpine landscape of Chasm Lake. Even though it was late July, we had to cross a rather extensive snowfield fingering its way down to the forests of 10,000 feet.

We reached tree line country within an hour and a half--a land of twisted pine and dwarf spruce interspersed with arms of lush tundra. Marmots scurried about the rocks whistling to one another in the thin air. Longs Peak (14,255 feet) just loomed above us, ever so high, streaked with cloud-like snow in a crystalline sky. We sat down on some flat boulders to eat fresh oranges. I told Rich how twenty-five years earlier when I was a ranger here, an old Ute Indian tapped me on the shoulder and said with gleaming eyes, "Will you look up at old Longs Peak standin' way up there!" His intonations expressed far more than his words in that they quite literally intoned a sense of joyous awe and mystery. Rich, too, expressed wonderment at this "land above trees" as naturalist Ann Zwinger calls it. He said that even though he was a bit weary and the miles were long miles, he was anxious to get a closer look at the high glacial gorge of Chasm Lake.

We zig zagged along the tundra trail noting the delicate alpine-forget-me-nots and broke away from the main route up Longs Peak by descending into a gorge at an elevation of 12,000 feet. Our side trail led to a series of rather vertical snowfields. Again I wondered if all was an illusion, and I was in reality following bootprints in snow up on Mount Roberts, Alaska. I had never seen so much snow for this late in the year at this latitude. Much of the snow was stained with deep red algae smelling like watermelon, but I warned Rich against tasting it as this species is very poisonous to humans.

Marmots squeaked back and forth on the rocks above the snow as we crossed a gushing stream tumbling out of this glacial basin. We stared up at the striations of glistening Mount Meeker and could easily envision an Alaskan-like glacier packed into its midst grinding and polishing the curved bowl of Meeker's north face with what John Muir called "glacial hieroglyphics."

We ambled up to a ranger patrol cabin and then climbed a steep rocky face for about 200 feet up to a ridge overlooking the rugged shoreline of Chasm Lake, just shy of 11,000 feet. Vienna sausages, cheese, and grape juice tasted like a king's banquet. Our chatter back and forth about the immensity of this place faded into silence when we felt we must simply sit and stare. The more we looked, the more we discerned traces of glacial ghosts on vast cliffs with the same scratches and glistening polish I had seen from the deck of a ship in Tracy Arm, Alaska.

After a few swigs of cold canteen water, we scurried down to the lake for a closer view of tiny greenish icebergs afloat at the far end of the lake. Deja Vue! Surely Alaskan glaciers and a hundred centuries are not so far away! The spirit of moving rivers of ice in a glowing, flowery tundra lingered in our minds all the way back to Laramie, Wyoming.

Recent research by geologists has dtermined that there is yet another glacier in Rocky Mountain National Park above Chasm Lake underneath the Boulder Field and is responsible for the shifting movement of boulders from year to year.

Small glaciers and large

© 2010 Richard Francis Fleck


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • juneaukid profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Francis Fleck 

      8 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Thanks for sharing, Granny's House.

    • Granny's House profile image

      Granny's House 

      8 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

      June, my husband and I loved Alaska. We stayed in an indian village and heard a lot of the old stories. It was great.

    • juneaukid profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Francis Fleck 

      8 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Yes Dohn 121, I took my name from the glaciers near Juneau--fantastic country!

    • dohn121 profile image


      8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      Beautifully exprssed, juneaukid. I wonder if this is where you got your name? It certainly makes sense! My sister and her husband went to Alaska for their honeymoon and they still can't stop talking about it. My father has been there as well. I of course would love to go someday soon. Thank you again!

    • juneaukid profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Francis Fleck 

      8 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      Thank you, Hello, hello, glad you could join me.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      Brilliant, just brilliant. Thank you for enjoyable read and a journey alongside you. That is how it feels.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)