Mendenhall Glacier Helicopter up and strap on your crampons! The Glacier is calling and we must go.

The Proper Function

Glacier Right Ahead

Glacier trekking is the closest experience you will ever feel when it comes to walking on the moon. It is truly awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping experience and your mind will rest within this timeless landscape. The Mendenhall Glacier takes about 80 years to complete the journey from its mountain source to the modest-size lake it has created. A mile thick at the top, it has been documented that this glacier is receding approximately 200 feet per year. Whether global warming exists or not, the clock is ticking on this amazing adventure!

Arriving at the heliport, there is an ignorance that exists amongst our group for we know not what we are about to experience. We are individually sized up in our jackets, pants, gloves, crampons and waiters. A body harness so tight that you feel as if you’re constantly being followed. The horn sounds and we scramble towards the helicopter, sit in our assigned seats and apply headsets to our heads awaiting further instruction. The pilot boards and the rotors start to drown out all every thought and preconceived idea. Then, “Welcome to NorthStar Trekking, is everyone ready?” says the pilot. I don’t know why, but my mind reacted in such a way that started a physical fist pump to acknowledge my enthusiasm. Probably a move I hadn’t performed since playing high school football.

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The land below us dissolved as we headed to higher elevations. The Juneau Icefield gradually came into view like a towering mountain of ice. In the distance, we could spot a tiny bright orange dot in the middle of the ice field, this was our basecamp.

“It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves – in finding themselves.” – Andre Gide

The White World

As we exited the helicopter, you find yourself completely at ease in a very strange world. The surface is snow-packed and the ice is neon blue.  We marched like ants towards our dome tent as the razor-like triangles of our crampons clawed into the ice. After a few lessons on the crampons and an in-depth discussion about safety, we started to transverse this frozen sea.

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“Where the glacier meets the sky, the land ceases to be earthly, and the earth becomes one with the heavens; no sorrows live there anymore, and therefore joy is not necessary; beauty alone reigns there, beyond all demands.” – Halldor Laxness

After 30 minutes of trekking, our guide casually tossed a rope down an ice cliff for anyone who wanted to repel down and overlook a 600 foot waterfall. There were only two people who volunteered, I was one of them. I could see my wife clenching her fists as I anchored in and leaned over this breathtaking view. Afterwards, we continued to trek on as we awkwardly hiked through a series of deep crevices. Armed with a bottle of water we were instructed to dump it out and fill it with fresh glacier water. The glacier water hits your mouth like mineral fireworks, it is simply the most refreshing water you’ve ever tasted. After the short break, we continued trekking through sun-melted streams.

After a 2-hour hike on the glacier, we then started back towards basecamp. As we left the glacier, you begin to realize that this ever-changing glacial icescape will be gone someday, it’s a shallow feeling that runs as deep as the deepest crevice. This experience will forever be seated within the index of my soul and I am thankful for that.

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Function Details

Our experience with NorthStar Trekking was simply amazing. They offer three various levels for glacier trekking and the groups are small. You get a spectacular 30-minute helicopter flight each way along with a two hour glacier hike. Level 3 involves an extended four hour hike with some increase in technical climbing. If you do not wish to visit via helicopter, you can access the glacier by road which is approximately 13 miles from Juneau. Allow for plenty of time to appreciate the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Centor which includes observation decks, museum, hiking and a book store. Guided hikes are available through the park rangers and you will witness salmon spawning in nearby streams.

 

This Proper Function
(Approximate Data)
Alaska
64°
clear sky
humidity: 29%
wind: 8mph NE
H 60 • L 60
94°
Sun
Weather from OpenWeatherMap
F
Party Cloudy
2,315ftElevation 13.7hrsDistance From You
LocationJuneau
State, RegionAlaska,Southeast
Coordinates58.433799°, -134.553795°
DirectionsView on Google Maps
DifficultyModerate
WaterAvailable
DogsNo
HistoricNo
Time5 hours

TPF

Dan is an explorer for The Outbound and founder of The Proper Function, an outdoor editorial. He is passionate about exploration and can’t stay put for more than a week.