Juneau was probably the highlight of my trip to Alaska. We hiked to, on top of and into a glacier! It was incredible.
The hike itself was a lot more challenging than the day before in Skagway. If that was a, let’s say 6, this was a 12! Not for the faint hearted It was a solid 2 hour walk/hike/climb/stumble across some of the toughest terrain I have encountered in a long time.
It started calmly enough. Wide undulating paths climbing slowly through the trees but before long were facing sheer drops and a steep inclines. There was one particular part where somebody had installed a rope to enable you to actually climb up the rock to continue your journey. This we made reasonably quick work of being the spritely young people that we are.
All the hard work and near 90 degree climbs were worth it when we reached the end. As we emerged, sweating and exhausted from the trees the Mendenhall Glacier lay before us. I was astounded by the scale of it. The people up ahead who were already on the glacier looked like ants standing next this giant natural phenomenon. And the colour. There were parts of it, from the outside which where such a rich blue, it almost didn’t look real.
We made our way down the steep back which stood at the edge of the glacier and went in to one of the ice caves. It was not as cold as I expected but was pretty wet due to the melting ice above us dripping on our heads. The ice was thin enough above us to let the light through and it took on this eerie greyish blue quality. Like the day before I drank from the stream which came from the giant ice structure and again it tasted so fresh.
After a time we decided to head back. Matt and I got separated from the crowd a little when I stopped to take photos and all of a sudden we couldn’t find the path. Well, path is a generous term. The trail was across the top of a smooth rocky outcrop and as such it was not possible to follow and worn path as you would on dirt. There were pieces of plastic tape tied to the branches of bushes along the way but I hadn’t realised how easy it was to miss them. We ended up spending about 5 minutes (which felt like 30) trying to find the tape again. It gave me a very brief glimpse of how easy it is to fall foul to the terrain in places like this. Fortunately there was plenty of daylight and the weather was good but I was told stories of families getting stranded out on the glacier because they wandered from the path.
We embarked upon the epic journey back to the start and came across the same rock we had done on the way out with the rope attached to help you navigate it. However this time we also found some other people there. There were two women who had used the rope to climb up but instead of continuing across the top of the lower rock which they were supposed, they had somehow climbed another 6-10 feet up to the very top of the rope and to the top of a much higher rock and could not get down!
It had taken them about 30 minutes to get all the way up and they were not pleased when we informed them that they had wasted their time. We helped them down, not an easy feat as they were a little on the heavy side, and they went on their way. However, that served as another reminder of how easy it is to get into trouble if you don’t follow the paths.
The Mendenhall Glacier was truly humbling. The scale and the colour took my breath away. It was well worth the challenge of hiking there.
We made it back to the start of the trail and then back to the town for a bite to eat before heading back to the ship. We sat and ate on the balcony over looking the bay and watched the sea planes take off and land. Not a bad day if you ask me.