Thursday, August 04, 2011

How Big is Big? Child's Glacier

[UPDATE Nov. 29: The road to Child's Glacier (and the $1 million Bridge) was closed in August due to a problem with one of the bridges and a new bridge is not expected to begin construction before 2015. You can read the details here.]

So, how high is this glacier?
a.   50 feet  (15.2 meters)  b.  100 feet  (30.4 m)  c.   200 feet  (60.8 m)  d.  300 feet (91.2 m)
e.   1000 feet (304.8 m)

Does this help?

It's the white mass in the lower middle.

How about this?

Or this?

Big is relative.  It has to be in context.  So when you see Child's Glacier, you need context to get how big it is.   At the view points, besides the signs warning about tsunamis, there's this sign:

Oh dear.  20 story building.  300 foot high face.  Who wrote 300 feet?  I always thought a story was about 10 feet (3 meters).  Did someone change it from 200 feet?

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat just happens to have a formula for calculating the height of buildings if all you know is the number of stories:

So, H= height and s = stories. (The formula assumes a story is about 3.1 meters and adjusts for a lobby, mechanical floors, and a roof.)  Using the formula the height of a 20 story building would be 93.6 meters or 307 feet.  So, I was off and the corrected sign was right.  

But none of that captures how awesome it was to be there on the bank of the Copper River (famous for its well marketed red salmon) watching this huge edifice a quarter mile away, as the water of the river causes it it calve huge chunks of ice.  

The sounds ranged from firecracker through cannon to thunder.  And it went on all day and all night.  Fifteen minutes and you were sure to see at least one, maybe a couple of ice falling events.  Two hours guaranteed you one or two massive events.  Camping there two nights meant we kept being wakened by the crashing thunder.  

The signs also let us know that this is one of the few glaciers that is currently advancing, not retreating.

How can I describe the campground?  How about gentrified? Ready for the big motorhome set with big campsites a comfortable distance apart and lots of clean pit toilets, bear proof garbage cans and food lockers.  But no water or electric hook-ups.  We were there Wednesday and Thursday night and I don't think there was more than one or two other vehicles in the campground.  There's a separate area for tenters.

There's no way you can get this short of going there. And since Cordova isn't connected to the rest of the world by road, you have to go by air or water. So I took some video to share. As I watched the waves come racing towards our shore, I couldn't help but think of surfing and watching the video, you'll see why.

Given this summer is the 50th Anniversary of the Beach Boys' first big hit, and Fender Guitar is giving away Surfin USA ringtones, I hope the Beach Boys don't mind my borrowing their great music which I've been enjoying these 50 years. I don't imagine they had Child's Glacier in mind when they wrote Surfin USA though.

And when I was looking for more information on the glacier, I ran across this video of Garrett McNamara and Kealii Mamala riding the surf here at Child's Glacier.

Occasionally, those waves are really big - the signs say that they throw salmon up onto the shore to the delight of the local bears. And back in 1993 someone I knew was there for the big wave and came back with only a broken arm to prove she'd been there.

How big?  The face of the glacier has to be about one or two miles.  So think of how many 20 story buildings you could have in that area.  The large chunks coming down are six to ten stories collapsing into the river.    Here's one last picture.  I stacked the two parts because it would have just been too small to try to fit them in here.  And I'd point out that on the ends, the glacier surface is covered with dirt so while it looks grey, it's still got ice underneath.

Did you get the height right without looking at the answer?


  1. That is such an interesting post. Thanks for sharing all that. I'd seen a little bit of footage on the surfer guys, but I didn't remember where they had their adventures.

    Great site.

  2. Thanks Joe, nice to know someone else besides me got something out of the post.


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