The way may not be easy, but if you don't mind getting a little wet and you have an extra pint of blood to spare to the mosquitoes, finding the Davies Creek Glacier is well worth the struggle.
The glacier is about six miles from the road and though there is only a 600-foot elevation gain, you'll feel like you've hiked half way to Skagway and back by the end of this hike. Actually, you should probably count on hiking an extra 40 miles if you factor in getting lost, avoiding beaver ponds and exploring the Davies Creek Valley once you get there. And you will want to explore once you get there.
The way to the Davies Creek Glacier is actually an unmaintained route that, for the most part, follows Davies Creek through land managed by the U.S. Forest Service. In 1896, gold was discovered in the area and J.G. Davies and E.P. Pond staked three claims on the ridge above and to the west of the creek, though little gold was actually found.
Davies Creek joins Cowee Creek not far from Glacier Highway at 39.5 mile. After crashing your way through thick brush and hop-scotching through several small soggy meadows for the first few miles you'll find yourself wondering how to traverse a huge network of beaver ponds that stretch nearly the whole way across the valley floor. If you can still see the ground at this point through the dense mass of what seems like tiny flying piranhas that have nearly encapsulated your body in a feeding frenzy, you may be able to make out the deep tracks of brown bear that live in this area or perhaps, rumor has it, even the tracks of an occasional moose.
If you make it through this particular section consider the worst over. On the other side of the beaver dam the route begins to climb and the valley begins to narrow. In the spring the hoots of what sounds like hundreds of grouse bounce from valley wall to valley wall in a confusing symphonic monotone. For all of the echoes there may be only two grouse in the whole valley but they are persistent.
At this bottleneck, there is a short, somewhat steep climb through some fairly large spruce and hemlock and you'll begin to hear the roar of water. Though you may be weary from loss of blood and focused solely on attaining your goal of finding the glacier, take a few minutes to investigate the source of the roar. After countless years of tumbling its way down this steep section of valley, Davies Creek has carved itself one amazing cascade. A series of small waterfalls spill into several deep pools filled with frigid glacial water. The bedrock of the stream bed has been sculpted and smoothed into an amazing gorge with curves and lines that flow something like the creek itself. It's quite a sight.
From this point the terrain climbs for a short ways more and as the last turn in the valley is made, the spruce and hemlock give way to the willow and alder of the upper valley. The valley walls rise nearly vertical to 3,000 feet, funneling you toward your destination. Huge rocks left behind by the glacier litter the valley floor and the thunder of the calving glacier can be heard with surprising regularity. The hanging glacier, which sits atop the back wall of the valley, is an amazing sight. Perhaps more amazing is the huge pile of rubble beneath it that has accumulated after years of calving and rock slides.
It's easy to become mesmerized by the sight and sound of tons of ice and rock tumbling a thousand feet to the valley floor, but don't lose track of time unless you're prepared to camp. The hike back - believe it or not - is just as difficult as the way in and you'll need plenty of time to haul your battered and bitten self back to the car.
Though grueling and sometimes painful, the reward at the end of this hike is well worth the effort. Remember though, the way there is not actually a trail but an unmaintained route that is sometimes extremely difficult to follow. Bring plenty of food and water and be prepared to be in the woods for a good 12 to 14 hours.
On the Trails is written by staff and members of Trail Mix, a local nonprofit trails organization.
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