dana glacier

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A Long Trek to a Shrinking Glacier

img_5833-300.jpgThe glaciers in the Sierra Nevada are melting fast, and I really wanted to see one before it was too late. Earlier this fall, I got my wish. Reporter Sasha Khokha and I were lucky enough to travel to Yosemite and tag along with geographer Hassan Basagic on his trek to photograph the Dana Glacier as part of his research documenting the retreat of the Sierra glaciers.

The hike to Dana Glacier was stunning. We parked the car just outside Yosemite’s Tioga Pass Gate, which is at close to 10,000 feet in elevation, and began bushwhacking almost immediately. We climbed to the base of the glacier traveling through soft green meadows, up and over mountains of multi-colored boulders, and along the edges of electric blue and green alpine lakes. Not one cloud passed over our heads all day long.

While the climb was memorable for its beauty, what made the day truly outstanding was having a guide explaining the landscape around us each step of the way. Since 2003, Basagic has been tracking the changes in the glaciers of the Sierra using historic photographs. His research contains comparison photographs of several other Sierra glaciers, including the Lyell and Maclure glaciers.

Californians are thinking more than ever about water, snow pack, and our glaciers due in part to a couple of dry years and two pretty severe fire seasons. In October, Tom Knudson of the Sacramento Bee wrote an interesting piece about his trek to the Lyell Glacier with a team of scientists. Knudson and team found that like Dana, the Lyell Glacier has shrunk dramatically since 1883.

While the hike to Dana was spectacular, the glacier itself appeared less than majestic. It looked vulnerable, clinging to the side of a massive bowl, a remnant of the sea of ice that once filled the entire valley. It looked so small and fragile that I was not surprised when Yosemite geologist Greg Stock told us in an interview the next day that it’s likely the Dana Glacier will be gone in the next 25-50 years.

Check out the videos and audio slidehow of our journey to the Dana Glacier.

Listen to the radio report.

It's Not All Downhill

img_sasha-300.jpgSome of the most rewarding parts of my job covering the Central Valley are the stories I discover in Yosemite, Sequoia/Kings Canyon, and other parts of the Sierra. I’ve reported wearing snowshoes, sitting in a canoe, and perched in a Search and Rescue helicopter. So when the Climate Watch team asked me to tackle climbing to a glacier, I was thrilled.

The Dana Glacier is one of the most accessible in the Sierra, but the hike turned out to be a grueling journey. I was recovering from the stomach flu, and had to muster enough strength to scramble up miles of unsteady rock. There was no clear trail. I was never sure whether to plant my weight on the small boulders which sometimes tipped back and forth under my feet. I fell several times, and eventually decided to put away my microphone. Our trek (including stops to photograph and interview) took us about nine hours.

The air grew thinner as we climbed past 11,000 feet. In fact, you can hear my heavy breathing in the radio story about the journey. What you can’t hear is the screaming headache I developed when we reached the glacier.

We were dehydrated because the sun was intense, and we didn’t bring enough water. Producer Gretchen Weber and I were so worried about carrying all of our microphones and cameras up the steep bedrock that we only brought a few bottles. And there were few refilling opportunities in this parched moonscape.

But the journey was spectacular. Glacial “flour,” or fine silt from the moraine, colors the lakes below Dana almost tropical blue. They look like the Hawaiian ocean, but feel icy to the touch. Seeing withering Dana Glacier reflected in that water was magnificent.

On the way down, I badly bruised my toenails from banging them against my hiking boots. Three of my toenails fell off, and I had to wear a prosthetic one on my big toe to my wedding a few weeks later! When the fake fell off at the wedding, friends and family scoured the grass to find the missing toenail. That makes my hike to the Dana Glacier something I’ll remember forever.

Listen to the radio report.

Check out the video and audio slideshow of the journey.