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A Helicopter Ride Up To The Cambrian Ice Field


The towns of Stewart (in British Columbia) and Hyder (in Alaska) lie a few miles apart at the head of a fjord. The fjord is lined on either side with tall ice-capped peaks.

Behind the peaks on the east side of the fjord is a huge ice field covering around 1000 sq miles (approx 1500 sq km). It varies in size somewhat by season, and is shrinking as global warming takes place. A number of glaciers around the edges run off this ice-field.

The only practical way to enjoy the spectacular scenery is by helicopter - unless you want to emulate the early prospectors and miners who spent days scrambling some 6000 feet (1800 meters) in altitude up steep scree-covered slopes just to get to the edge.


In the little town of Stewart, there is a single main street with some smaller side-streets. If you go to the very end of the main street, you will run into the hangar of the local helicopter company. Inside the hangar was a guy who said he could take us up towards the end of the day after he had taken care of the "real" work for the day.

Apparently he uses a bicycle to get to work - a sensible idea in such a small town. It does not imply that he doesn't have a driver's license.



4134 The instrument cluster is narrow and in the middle, leaving a clear view for pilot and passenger who can see directly ahead as well as up and down. Looking down between one's knees and seeing a drop of 1000's of feet is a little un-nerving at first.



4135 We take off - the runway is visible ahead but we are already in the air. Nevertheless we traverse the length of the runway gaining altitude as if we were taking off in a conventional fixed-wing aircraft, to fit in with airport traffic protocols - just in case there is another aircraft out there wanting to land.



4139 The evening breeze is coming up the fjord from the west where the sun is setting. This makes us have to take off in a westerly direction - looking right into the evening sun. Tough visibility conditions for the pilot.

Here we are just beyond the end of the runway and still in Canada. Hyder is just over the border in Alaska - you can see a long pier going into the fjord from a flat green land mass onthe right just above the middle of the picture. That is Hyder where the creek with the salmon and the bears are that feature in other photo albums.



4142 We start climbing up a ravine that goes up the side of a mountain on the left (Canadian) side of the fjord. The ravine was carved out over the years by a stream of melt water which cascades down to the fjord..

At the top we can see a small granite peak with snow fields on either side - that is where we are heading.



4152 We have nearly reached the peak - once over the top we will be able to see what is behind...

Note the steepness of the slope on the left - and the loose dirt and rocks where plants could not maintain a hold. If you stumbled while climbing here, you'd fall a very long way down.



4169 Over the top, and the pilot circles to get a good look at an abandoned mine structure. The planks and litter to the right are evidence of a second structure which has collapsed under the ravages of time.



4171 A little further is the rest of the mine workings - a building perched precariously on a steep slope and built on a structure of scaffolding.. This building too is deteriorating. Every plank, piece of scaffolding and sheet of roofing was carried up here by miners. And then they moved dirt - a pile of which can be seen just above and to the left of the building.



4181 We move further up the mountain and encounter a glacier - this picture was taken sideways to fit it into the frame - there is a steep slope going down the mountain from left to right in this picture.

Those "little" crevasses are easily large enough to swallow a man. If you didn't have the equipment to climb out, you'd freeze and become part of the glacier, maybe to be found many decades later when you reached the end of the glacier and thawed out.



4186 Continuing up the glacier we reach the source. If this were water instead of ice, this would be the source of the river with beyond it the lake.



4190 One of the many mountain peaks that surround the ice field



4202 The Ice Field itself - about 1000 square mile of just ice, some hundreds of feet deep.



4212 We set down on a small outcropping - a chance to stretch the legs, wander around and marvel at the view from what looks to be the top of the world.



2905 I didn't bring a jacket, but there really was no need as there was almost no wind and I felt cool but not cold.. But I should have brought sun-glasses. The glare off the snow was vicious.



2897 The pilot climbed up and appeared to be checking the rotor blades. "Nothing wrong I hope" I asked bravely... It turns out he was merely stopping the rotor from windmilling slowly in the breeze. Once the rotor is stopped, it stays stopped apparently.



2903 Over the edge of the outcropping where we landed we can see a glacier coming down from a peak in the distance - but I don't want to walk too close to the edge to be able to see the rest of the glacier. Maybe when we take off again...



Only when we fly over the mountin and into the saddle between two peaks, do we see the full length of the glacier in its full glory.



4224 Sometimes the high ground is a long ridge with a series of smaller peaks rather than individual mountains. Sometimes the color of the underlying rock is startlingly different from its neighbors.



4233 As we traverse a lower area with vegetation, we come across a mountain goat.



4240 Along the side edges of a glacier, the ice is torn up into huge crevasses and rifts. If as a climber (or mineral prospector) you need to cross a glacier, these edges can make life difficult and extremely dangerous.



4260 As dusk is finally falling and the shadows grow long, we fly back down the mountain and approach the airport via the approved landing pattern. The runway is in front of us, with the fjord beyond.

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