Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Trek to Mendenhall Glacier (Juneau, Alaska)

One thing I wanted to do in Alaska was the glacier trek. In Juneau you can go with the tour group Above and Beyond Alaska. It's an 8 hour hike/trek for $199 per person so it's not cheap, but I think it's well worth doing. The hiking bit isn't actually that long but it takes longer because of the rock scrambling and you spend a lot of time on the glacier so the total trip is 8 hours. They'll pick you up at a hotel and provide you with rain gear, a day pack with a bottle or water and snacks, and hiking poles should you need one. Oh, and of course crampons and ice axe for walking on the glacier later. You need to come prepared with your own good hiking shoes, though.

The trek started easy with a flat trail through a temperate rainforest. 
One of the reasons you might not want to attempt this trek on your own as a tourist is because the trail changes all the time. When I did the hike the main trail was flooded so we had to do a lot of bush whacking around. This is when you need a local guide!
There was some steep descent on volcanic rock, then some rock scrambling after the forest trail ends.
At the top, you'll finally see Mendenhall glacier! It's about a mile in width and stops at the lake (so, another option as I've found out later is that you can kayak to the glacier via the lake, which would be a lot shorter at 45-60 minutes).
Almost there!
There's a lot of silt around the edges, but you can already see some beautiful white and blue parts. And caves! 
It's time to put on the crampons and walk on the glacier.

Stomping on ice.
It's a winter wonderland! Except it was a little warm..
Glacier trek
We went through a mini ice cave, just for fun. I was already so excited, but there's something even better to come ...
I think I got lucky for being in the same group as a couple of professional photographers, since the guide offered to teach us ice climbing! I think hey usually only do this for private groups, which costs extra, or if the group is small enough.
Ice climbing is hard! Well truthfully I was freaked out by the fact that my feet were only holding on to the ice with two spikes .. Hmm I should rotate this photo so I look more vertical and cooler.

After ice climbing, he took us for more rock scrambling down to the front of a cave. At first it looked like a regular cave to me. I saw the glacier ice at the edge, which is gray from all the silt, so I didn't know what to expect, or why we went all the way there.
But then I went inside. The first step only revealed more grayness, but I kept walking ...  and it slowly opened up to an ice cave. At first, still partially gray from the silt... 
 But then, ice so blue it is unreal. It is one of the most spectacular things I had ever seen in my life. What a natural wonder.
Glacier trek
The cave was formed from the river stream beating on the glacier over time. It formed pretty recently and they discovered it only about six years ago. It probably won't last too much longer as I can feel it melting and dripping on my head. You're bound to bump your head on ice a few times, so wearing a helmet is a good idea. I could see rocks inside the ice, one was so close to the bottom it might fall next week ..

Keep walking and you'll see a waterfall. At the end of an ice cave, underneath a glacier. Yep. You can also hop on to the rocks in the middle (you will get wet if you do this) and look up. You'll see a hole that opens up to the sky, and ice melting all around it.
Glacier trek
I almost didn't do the trek because of the schedule, but I'm so glad I did. I already thought it was well worth it after walking on the glacier and trying ice climbing, but the cave - oh, my god, the cave - left me speechless. It was truly a sight to behold, and the whole experience was not one to be missed if you're heading to Juneau.

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