I absolutely LOVE Hubbard Glacier. It was named after Gardiner Hubbard, the first president of the National Geographic Society.
This tidewater glacier may be a bit of sleeping giant. Off the coast of Yakutat—200 miles NW of Juneau—Hubbard is gigantic. It is more than six miles wide where it meets Disenchanment Bay. Before it reaches the sea, Hubbard is joined by the Valerie Glacier to the west, which, through forward surges of its own ice, has contributed to the advance of the ice flow that experts believe will eventually dam the Russell Fjord from Disenchantment Bay waters. On a clear day, you can also see Mount Walsh, with an elevation of 11,000 ft.
The Hubbard Glacier ice margin has continued to advance for over a century. In May 1986, the Hubbard Glacier surged forward, blocking the outlet of Russell Fjord and creating “Russell Lake.” All that summer, the new lake filled with runoff; its water level rose 82 ft, and the decrease in salinity threatened its sea life.
Around midnight on October 8, the dam began to give way. In the next 24 hours, an estimated 1.3 cu mi of water gushed through the gap, and the fjord was reconnected to the ocean at its previous level. This was the second largest glacial lake outburst flood in recorded history, and had the equivalent flow of about 35 Niagara Falls.
In spring 2002, the glacier again approached Bert Point. It pushed a terminal moraine ahead of its face and closed the opening again in July. On August 14, the terminal moraine was washed away after rains had raised the water level behind the dam it formed to 59 ft above sea level. My first visit to Hubbard Glacier was only 4 years later, in July of 2006. The naturalist onboard was very excited that the opening to Russell Fjord was still open. The fjord could become dammed again, and perhaps permanently. If this happens, the fjord could overflow its southern banks and drain through the Situk River instead.
For now, the glacier isn’t surging, but it is advancing. It takes about 400 years for ice to traverse the length of the glacier, meaning that the ice at the foot of the glacier is about 400 years old. The glacier routinely calves off icebergs the size of a ten-story building, but usually about 3-4 stories high. Where the glacier meets the bay, most of the ice is below the waterline, and newly calved icebergs can shoot up quite dramatically.
The journey to the glacier is also wonderful. At the mouth of the fjord, it is very common to see a lot of wildlife…whales, dolphins, seals. And seals love to hang out on the ice floes. Keep an eye on the cliffs also….there is a chance of seeing Dall sheep. Be sure to bring warm clothing…jacket, hat, gloves for the sail in. It will be chilly!