Portage Glacier Cruise marks 30 years of business growth, glacial recession

Portage Glacier on June 30, 2019. (KTUU)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Sunday afternoon current and past crew members of the MV Ptarmigan celebrated 30 years of Portage Glacier Cruises. And while the business has grown, the glacier has shrunk.

In 2019, visitors must either take the boat, hike, paddle or fly to see Portage Glacier. However, some Alaskans remember when it could be seen from the visitor center at the lake.

David Mazack joined the crew on the MV Ptarmigan in 1997.

"It's changed quite a bit over the years. Behind us to the right you can see the bedrock there. It was virtually covered in ice and there was a small portion near the lake edge, but the ice on top of the bedrock towered over 130 high beyond that," Mazack said. "There was this huge monolith of ice, big walls of ice."

The ever-changing landscape of the glacial valley is a central theme of the cruise's narration, shared by a Chugach National Forest park ranger. Photos in the boat show how the glacier has receded dating back as far as 1914.

"I haven't noticed it too much year by year, but if I have to think back, 22 years its changed a lot. But then again, I don't look like anything I did 22 years either," Mazack said.

Even for younger crew members, the glacier's rapid change keeps their job interesting.

"I'm sad that its going, but I'm actually quite amazed about how it changes, the environment and everything and also the impact is has on the people that come on our boat," said Moses Oktollik, lead deckhand on the boat. "When I first came here it was actually calving a lot more than it is now."

For Mazack, helping run the ship is more than just a seasonal job.

"I look at it as God's handiwork, and we are participants in an ongoing process of change throughout nature. And the vast amount of history that's involved in this area with indigenous people over the years that used this area as transport, and then the Russian explorers, and then the miners came up through this area, and now we're moving through this area," Mazack said. "It's good to be part of it all."

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