Reid Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Reid Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

by | Jan 3, 2022

Reid Glacier flows north for 11 miles (18 km) from the Brady Icefield to Reid Inlet, in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, about 113 miles (182 km) southeast of Yakutat and 50 (81 km) northwest of Gustavus, Alaska. The glacier was named by members of the Harriman Expedition in 1899 for Harry Fielding Reid. Reid was a geologist and professor at the Case School of Applied Sciences and Johns Hopkins University, who visited Glacier Bay in 1890 and 1892 and made a study of the glaciers in the area. At the time of the Harriman Expedition, the name ‘Reid Inlet’ was applied to the head of Glacier Bay which was the merged terminus of the Grand Pacific and Johns Hopkins Glaciers. Subsequently, these glaciers retreated, and the Grand Pacific Glacier uncovered Tarr Inlet to the north and Johns Hopkins Glacier uncovered Johns Hopkins Inlet to the west. Reid Glacier also retreated from the valley it formerly occupied to form another inlet and the name ‘Reid Inlet’ is now relegated to this much smaller feature. In 1899, the glacier filled all of Reid Inlet and has since retreated about 2 miles (3.2 km). Reid Glacier is now about 0.75 miles (1.2 km) wide and 150 feet (46 m) high at the terminus and both the eastern third and western third of the glacier are grounded. Sediment from streams draining the glacier along the eastern and western margins are deposited in the inlet and are exposed at low tides. The central section is still affected by high tides icebergs occasionally calve into the inlet. The center of the glacier continues to slowly recede at about 30 to 50 feet (9-15 m) per year, while the remainder of the margin is retreating at about 30 feet (9 m) per year or less and progressively thinning. Crevasses at the terminus are slowly closing as the rate of ice flow decreases and the terminus becomes fully terrestrial.

Gold-bearing rocks were discovered in the Reid Inlet area in 1924 by Joseph Ibach, a homesteader on Lemesuriur Island in Icy Strait. The General Mining Act of 1872 opened most public land to mineral entry, and according to the law, individuals were allowed to enter public land and stake claims to specific parcels. Once approved, these valid mining claims gave individuals exclusive right of possession to all minerals and all surface areas lying within a claim’s boundaries. Ibach landed near Ptarmigan Creek and prospected southeast toward Reid Inlet. At that time, Reid Glacier extended nearly to the mouth of Reid Inlet, and no protected harbor existed. He discovered gold veins high on present-day Mount Parker and staked claims named Monarch and Incas. A year later all of Glacier Bay was closed to prospecting and mining. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is now 3.28 million acres (1,327,370 ha), but was originally designated as a national monument of 1.16 million acres (469,436 ha) by proclamation in 1925 by President Calvin Coolidge. The monument designation meant the prohibition of most forms of commercial or extractive activities. Although mining was originally disallowed, President Franklin Roosevelt was convinced to open the monument to mining in 1936, but claim owners were not given title to the sites they mined within Glacier Bay. Ibach immediately set about staking 45 claims on the west and east side of Reid Inlet. In 1937, the Newmont Mining Company leased the most promising claims and spent several months examining and sampling the veins but ultimately gave up the lease after it was decided that the veins were too inaccessible to permit profitable mining. In 1940, Ibach made improvements to the existing claims by building a better transportation network. The exposed slopes surrounding Reid Inlet were covered by a layer of glacial debris, and although the area could be accessed on foot, it was not accessible by wheeled machinery. Ibach brought in a caterpillar tractor via the beach at Ptarmigan Creek and built a road to the divide at an elevation of 3,000 feet (914 m) between Ptarmigan Creek and Reid Inlet, and from the divide the road continued southeast to the Incas claim. Ibach also built a 1 mile (1.6 km) long aerial tramway from the beach in Reid Inlet to the Incas claim and on to the Rainbow claim. During the summer months, while prospecting and mining were in progress, supplies and equipment were brought in, and some ore was removed using the tramway.

In 1938, the Leroy claim was staked by Abraham Parker who designed and built a stamp mill at his home in Gustavus and towed it by raft to the mouth of Ptarmigan Creek, and within a few days had moved the mill up Ptarmigan Creek to a position below the claim. Parker died in 1941, and the claim was leased to the Leroy Mining Company. They built an aerial tramway and worked the mine during the summer months of 1941, 1942, 1944, and 1945. By 1945, they had removed most of the ore from the Leroy mine and had leased the Rainbow and Incas claims from Ibach. At about the same time, another operation called the Mount Fairweather Mining Company leased the Monarch claims from Ibach. In the summer of 1941, they built an aerial tramway from the beach on Reid Inlet to the Monarch vein, and ore was mined but the operation was not profitable. Sporadic gold mining occurred until the passage of the Mining in the Parks Act in 1976. The Leroy and Rainbow claims were the only prospects that yielded significant quantities of gold. The ore body consisted of a quartz vein with an average width of 2 to 3 feet (0.6-0.9 m) and a length of about 60 feet (18 m), and several hundred tons of ore were mined and milled from the vein. The amount of gold recovered through sluicing operations from surface outcroppings probably amounted to less than 100 ounces (2.8 kg). From 1938 to 1950, a cumulative total of at least 2,500 tons (2,267,962 kg) of high-grade gold ore, with a recovery value of about $100 per ton, was mined and milled from Reid Inlet. lbach had also built a cabin and two outbuildings at the mouth of Reid Inlet which he used seasonally until the mid-1950s. The area around the cabin was landscaped using rocks to create terraces, and soil was hauled in from Lemesurier Island for planting a vegetable garden, which included strawberries and flowers. Three small spruce trees were also brought in to add some greenery to the treeless landscape. Today these trees are 10 to 12 inches (0.2-0.3 m) in diameter and have sprouted several small seedlings. Read more here and here. Explore more of Reid Glacier and Glacier Bay here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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