When I visited Alaska, probably the highlight of my trip was the fact that I got to hike on the Mendenhall Glacier, in Juneau. When I went it was summer, so the glacier had retreated a bit, but there was still plenty to see, and of course, hike on.
Unfortunately, you can't just walk onto the glacier, you have to go with a company, but often their rates are pretty reasonable. The company that we went with was called NorthStar Trekking. They provided everything, from the the crampons and jackets, to the transportation to the top of the glacier. But everything about this trip, from the helicopter ride to the actual walking on the glacier, was the coolest experience I've ever had.
We began the expedition by entering the NorthStar campus, where they suited us up with snow pants and boots. After a brief helicopter safety instruction, they split the group in two and loaded us up into the helicopters. I had never been on a helicopter before, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but the ride there was almost as spectacular as the hike. When the helicopter swooped over the ocean and the tips of the mountains, it felt as if you were actually flying between the clouds. It gave us a view of the glacier from above too, and from the way we saw the ice spill from between the mountains, it seemed like we were in a National Geographic documentary.
After the helicopter flew us over the glacier, it landed and dropped off us off onto the surface. There, we were fitted with the crampons and the guides taught us how to maneuver with them. Once with we were comfortable with the technique, the guides began to lead us over the glacier.
The glacier itself had an alien beauty. Huge white waves of blue-streaked ice seemed to ripple down into the ocean. Each day the ice shifted, and so when they were leading us the guides had to devise several new routes. You had to dig your crampons into the surface and jump over small, completely clear rivers of melted glacial water. We actually were allowed collect a bottle of that water and take it home with us, and the taste was unbelievably pure. Deep, navy blue crevices cut into the ice for thousands of feet, as if a giant had stuck its knife into the glacier and then messily pulled it out. There were even waterfalls, falling straight into the heart of the glacier as they tumbled against the ice.
One highlight of the trip that we didn't get to do was the ice cave, a huge blue cavern twisting its way into the glacier. It had collapsed due to rising temperatures, and so we extended the time we spent hiking instead. However, this experience still left me in awe. I had seen glaciers in pictures, but never had the chance to actually see one, much less walk on it. When the clouds lifted off the glacier, and you strained you head, you could even see the blue line of the ocean peeking over the great shining wall of ice. This experience struck a chord in my heart. It felt as if I was standing something huge, alive, but sleeping. And standing on the boardwalk afterwards, looking on this craggy, beautiful glacier sliding into the water, it still seemed unbelievable that I had been actually had the fortune to touch it and hike over it.
Therefore, if you're ever in Juneau, I highly recommend doing a glacial hike. It will open your eyes to just how amazing this world we live in is, and why we need to protect it. There are options for even the tightest of budgets when deciding to take this trip. The experience, and the memories it will leave you with, will be priceless. And I'm sure that if you do try it, you'll understand why I think that it's the coolest experience ever.
**What do you think of glacial hiking? Would you do it or skip it? Comment below!
***Want to be alerted when a new post is up? Click that feed button or sign up for my newsletter by scrolling down.