Mendenhall Glacier Trek — Part 1

The Sun Princess was scheduled to arrive in Juneau just after lunch and stay in port until after dinner. With the long Summer days, this allowed plenty of time to explore one of the area's premier attractions, the Mendenhall Glacier. While many companies sell flights over the glacier or a brief landing, only NorthStar Trekking offered two hours on the ice with all the equipment needed to safely explore the unique terrain. I was sold.

We docked about 90 minutes late, but all six of us were in the same boat (literally), so there was no problem. By the time our van dropped us off at NorthStar's building, jackets, boots, snow pants, hip packs, and a somewhat uncomfortable harness were waiting for us. After suiting up, we had a brief orientation and headed out to the helicopter. My only other experience in a helicopter was long ago on Maui, so I had forgotten how strange it feels to move in 3 dimensions, or to be rocked by wind gusts off the sharp peaks jutting out of the ice. Our pilot Christian called out the names of various glaciers and ice fields (who could remember them all?), and our two-way headsets allowed us to ask questions. I scored the right side rear window seat, but photography still was a challenge through the curved glass with the constantly changing angles. Here are a few shots as we toured a number of glaciers and then flew down to Mendenhall glacier to meet up with our guide. (The last photo was taken after landing safely back in Juneau.)

Out the front windowOut the front window The tree lineThe tree line An ice fieldAn ice field Another ice fieldAnother ice field Banking for some daring flyingBanking for some daring flying A dramatic ice pinnacleA dramatic ice pinnacle Tiny people and helicopter on the huge glacierTiny people and helicopter on the huge glacier Tiny people and helicopter on the huge glacierTiny people and helicopter on the huge glacier In front of helicopter with pilot ChristianIn front of helicopter with pilot Christian

We touched down and ducked our heads as we headed out onto the ice. Once our boots were fitted with crampons we could stand securely and were outfitted with ice axes. Standing around we were a bit chilly for the last time; once we got moving, we were quite warm.

Our trek began with a relatively quick ascent away from the helicopter area, after which we slowed down to see and photograph various attractions. At various points we were taught how to safely ascend and descend some of the steeper banks, and to traverse laterally. Our guide was patient and responsive to requests to explore interesting formations. The vistas were stunning. Here are some photos of the glacier against the mountains, as well as our equipment.

A large pool of melted glacial iceA large pool of melted glacial ice Suited up for trekkingSuited up for trekking Footwear for the iceFootwear for the ice The multi-purpose ice axeThe multi-purpose ice axe Mendenhall glacier with 
      mountains in the backgroundMendenhall glacier Mendenhall glacier with 
      mountains in the backgroundMendenhall glacier Mendenhall glacier with 
      mountains in the backgroundMendenhall glacier Mendenhall glacier with 
      mountains in the backgroundMendenhall glacier

My travel companions had a special interest in caves and narrow passageways, so we visited quite a few of them.

Continue to Ice FormationsReturn to Alaska Cruise 2007

Copyright © 2008 Jefferson Scher.