It’s a rite of spring for many cross-country skiers in the Anchorage area: a trip across Portage Lake to get a good look at the blue ice of the glacier. It can be a crowded place on a bluebird weekend day in late winter or early spring. Skiers can be seen streaming southeasterly from the parking lot at the Chugach National Forest’s Begich Boggs Visitor Center. Sometimes the path is so beaten down, walkers can also enjoy the trip.
I set out to experience it in a different way this year. Making the trip late at night on Monday, March 18, I had the lake to myself. I ventured out in search of a good place to see the northern lights. I never found them, but taking in the moonlit scene was reward enough. I started my three-hour ski at about 9:30 p.m. but spent a lot of time moving slowly or not at all, making photographs and watching thin clouds drift by.
Weather varied from perfectly still to breezy and cold that night. I was glad I carried a heavy jacket in my backpack. As I was standing near the icebergs at the glacier’s toe, cold wind would drop down the valley sporadically. Often the wind would die out completely and all of Portage Lake would seem eerily quiet. I could hear the tinkles and cracks of the glacier reverberate. It was just a little bit creepy.
Photographing proved challenging; it was too dark to focus. I made a lot of 20- and 30-second exposures trying to get just a few sharp ones. My headlamp proved handy. I used it to “paint” portions of the ice to make details more visible in pictures.
As I was heading back, the wind was at my face, but the skiing was fast and, still benefitting from the moonlight, I found it easy to find my way and finish the 4- to 5-mile trip. I drove home satisfied. Yes, a display of aurora borealis would’ve been welcome, but the starry scene and the dreamlike atmosphere were memorable.
Remarkable Places is an occasional series highlighting unique nooks and special spots in our area through photos. Take a drive along the Old Glenn Highway here. Here's a collection from Freezeup at Potter Marsh. Click here to take a look around the Arctic Valley in Autumn. Click here to take a look around the Port of Anchorage Boat Launch.