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Tucked in the mountainous landscape of Southeastern Alaska with its sporadic blotches of tall green aspen trees, there sits a glacial lagoon called Abyss Lake. Brady Glacier is Abyss Lake's primary inflow source. The glacier's melted water flows east to an adjacent basin, and the water accumulates to form Abyss Lake, which maintains an average depth of ten meters (33 feet). The lake deposits much of the glacial meltwater to the surrounding bodies of water -- namely, the Dundas River, Dundas Bay (its main outflow), and Cross Sound.
Abyss Lake is part of the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, one of the nation's largest parks. The lake is a popular fishing spot for the residents of rural Skagway-Hoonan-Angoon County, but it is best to consult local guides before heading to Abyss to fish. Abyss Lake can sometimes be a dangerous destination, because there are occasional glacial lake outburst floods when much of the lake's water propels into Dundas Bay in tidal size waves, dragging along whole trees, ice chunks, sediments, and boats.
The first official record of an Abyss Lake flood was on September 17, 1994. Since then, this natural event has been documented as occurring in 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, and twice in 2008. The flood waters build up because Brady Glacier acts as a dam. During the summer, water pressure builds as the lake rises. Each outburst is the completion of one of Abyss Lake's cycles.
Over the past decade, the frequency of flood outbursts is increasing. Abyss Lake's normal size is about 635 surface acres and 575 meters wide (1886 feet). However, the lake drains considerably after a flood, at which times all visitors will be stunned by a very wide and silver "bathtub ring" that surrounds whatever waters remain of the drained and low Abyss Lake. A 1997 study showed that the lake dropped 186 feet after a flood.
This lake is becoming more famous for its floods than its fishing. These floods are sometimes documented as jokulhlaups, which is an Icelandic word: jokkull means glacier, and hlaup denotes the sudden rise in a river. Jokulhlaups still occur in Iceland, when subterranean volcanoes melt large chunks of a glacier; the last catastrophic flood happened in 1996. Nevertheless, Southeast and central Alaska lead the world in glacial floods, due to Alaska's extra long and warm summer days.
There is no water level control of Abyss Lake by any local or national organization. Visitors to Glacial Bay National Park and Reserve can visit Abyss Lake as well as nine other glacier-dammed lakes around Brady Glacier -- each of them at different heights and stages of completion. This is an uncultivated area of pristine wild beauty, and visitors may want to include a hike of the Abyss Trailhead into their day's agenda. The Trailhead is a little more than eight miles in each direction, and it generally takes about six hours roundtrip. Along the way, hikers will witness breathtaking vistas of Alaska woodland, and at the end the trailhead they will arrive at the unassuming but striking Abyss Lake.
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