Recent seismic measurements from upper Thwaites Glacier indicate that the bed-type variability is closely related to the along-flow basal topography. In high-relief subglacial highlands, stoss sides of topographic highs have a relatively higher acoustic impedance (‘hard’ bed) with lower acoustic impedance (‘soft’ till) on lee sides. This pattern is similar to observations of many deglaciated terrains. Subglacial hydraulic-potential gradient and its divergence show a tendency for water to diverge over the stoss sides and converge into the lee sides. Convergence favors a thicker or more widespread water system, which can more efficiently decouple ice from the underlying till. Under such circumstances, till deformation does occur but, fluxes are relatively small. Till carried from the lee sides onto stoss sides of downstream bumps should couple to the ice more efficiently, increasing the ability for transport by till deformation. In turn, this suggests that steady-state till transport can be achieved if the stoss-side till layer is thin or discontinuous. In addition, the large basal shear stress generated in the highlands seems too high for a bed lubricated by a continuous although thin deforming till, suggesting till discontinuity, which would allow debris-laden ice to erode bedrock on stoss sides, supplying additional till for transport.