Dangerous ice arches threaten glacier hikers

Park Service beefing up patrol to keep visitors out of danger

Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2001

SOLDOTNA - Kenai Fjords National Park has canceled nature walks at Exit Glacier near Seward to keep visitors away from potentially deadly ice caves and arches.

The exposed arms of ice look something like flying buttresses on a cathedral but are dangerous.

"They're pretty neat and of course everyone wants to stand underneath them and get their picture taken. Unfortunately, they're unstable," said Mike Tetreau, resource management specialist for the park. "It's just a game of Russian roulette if you get around one."

In 1987, a half-ton block of ice sheared off an overhang and killed a 59-year-old woman from Napa, Calif., who was exploring Exit Glacier with her husband. She was posing for a photograph when the ice fell.

Warm weather and recent rains have created several new caves and arches right off the Overlook Trail near the glacier in the last few weeks, and some of those arches have already come crashing down, according to the Park Service.

Signs warning people to stick to the trail have been posted every 100 feet near the arches, said Sandy Brue, the park's acting chief of interpretation.

The Park Service has beefed up patrols of the trail. Officials also canceled guided nature walks for the season, Brue said.

Arches can be so small people have to crouch to get through them or big enough for 20 people to pose in, Tetreau said. Some of them are 10 to 12 feet tall.

"They're really amazingly unpredictable in strength," he said. "One day it looks solid. The next day, it might be pieces on the ground."



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