First off for all the trolls and poo-pooers out there. Do I believe I am the first human to lay eyes on the glacier? Seeing as the land has been inhabited for thousands of years, no. As the "discover" of the northernmost glacier on the North American continent I think of myself as more as the glacier's talent agent. Where it was already out there and in the span of modern history, I would assume a handful of humans had seen it, yet it no one gave it any notice. Northernmost Glacier as I aptly named it was not on any map or in any database. Infact when I was looking for it, I really didn't think I would find it.
I was working on my map and wanted to perfect the glaciers layer, so I was pulling up satellite images tracing glaciers to make shapefiles to import to my map. At the time I had read parts of Glaciers of North America - Glaciers of Alaska, USGS Professional Paper 1386-K, By: Bruce F. Molnia which reads "Alaska's glaciers extend geographically from the far southeast at lat 55 deg 19'N., long 130 deg 05'W., about 100 kilometers east of Ketchikan, to the far southwest at Kiska Island at lat 52 deg 05'N., long 177 deg 35'E., in the Aleutian Islands, and as far north as lat 69 deg 20'N., long 143 deg 45'W., in the Brooks Range." (Likely referring to G216258E69346N or G216237E69336N.) Other than a subterranean glacier that was found next to Kaktovik in August 2008, common belief was there were no glaciers in Alaska north of the Brooks Range.
So why then was I looking? Because well, there's mountains, and just maybe, maybe one slipped through the cracks... If not, I was curious of the terrain so why not take a look. Sure enough I found some cloud free images and started searching the Sadlerochit and Shublik Mountains and within minutes found the glaciers. Infact at time of writing you can find the glaciers on Google maps. There was snow that flowed down the mountain bowls in the shape of a glacier, but the tell tell sign was the ablation zone was visible on Northernmost Glacier and you could see banding from the layers of glacier ice. Like if you were to cut an onion or jaw breaker at an angle. Just east of Northernmost Glacier is a sister glacier, or at one time eastern fork of the same glacier that has now receded into two. It's a rock glacier so I wasn't confident in claiming it as a glacier at the time.
I reached out to a few places University of Alaska - Fairbanks (UAF), Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS), USGS, and the Anchorage Daily News (ADN). I was looking for confirmation. I already verified these glaciers weren't on any topo map or any map I could find from behind my computer in Valdez, Alaska, and everything I knew said no glaciers north of the Brooks Range. Had I really found a "new" glacier in 2022?
GLIMS responded and verified they had no record of the glacier, and the ADN did a lot of heavy lifting to indeed verify there was no record of this glacier.
Martin Truffer a glaciologist at UAF also confirmed the sister glacier was a rock glacier. I was immensely excited. The ADN wrote an article on the discovery, followed by an interview on Alaskas News Source, and a misguided article in July 2023 copy of Alaska Magazine.
What I wanted most was to see the glacier and to document it before it was gone. I began planning for the Almost Overlooked expedition to go document the glacier. As the glacier lies in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) it limited what I could hope for offering when panhandling for sponsorships. Luckily, I own an Alaskan guiding business that offers information on the outdoors of Alaska so I had plenty of gear at my disposal and the trip could be a tax write off for the company. What I didn't have was a way to get out to the glacier.
I tried to talk my friend Zack Knaebel, owner of Tok Air Service to fly me out there but it was too far from base to be worth his interest. But thankfully he pointed me in the direction of Matt Thoft of Silvertip Aviation. Next was finding expedition members. At one point I had the expedition consisting of 6 people including myself. All of which had amazing backcountry experience. But as the date got closer the party shrank to two. Eric Christensen and myself.
The goal was to reach Northernmost Glacier as late in the season as possible for maximum exposure of glacier ice and snow recession. The problem is August is when most Alaskan bush pilots make their living. Flying hunting clients is their livelihood. Matt was great to work with, we just needed to try and plan our schedule to take less of his time as July came to a close. Eric had plans which had him in the lower 48 later than when I was able to go. The plan became; July 21st, I drive up from Valdez to the Happy Valley Airstrip 73 miles south of Deadhorse and the Arctic Ocean. Eric would then drive from Anchorage to Valdez, maybe rest, then also make the 16-hour drive up to Happy Valley and fly out to meet me on the 25th or 26th.