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Living on the Edge—Mendenhall Glacier

- Nick

With the bulk of the country in the midst of a heat wave, it’s time to leave the desert Southwest-like heat  and head to cooler climes. There’s nothing like a walk on a glacier to beat the heat and Alaska is just the place to go!

Mendenhall Glacier is part of Tongass National Forest and generally only available for viewing from ground level. In the forest, there are a number of trails that lead to excellent views of the glacier and the lake at its foot. However, the real treat is up close and personal – hiking on it.

So, how does one get onto Mendenhall Glacier? Helicopter and small plane rides are available through a number of outfitters and cruise lines, and with an added bonus of a guided tour.

The helicopter ride is spectacular. In approaching the glacier, you pass over vast forests and rivers. The glacier itself ends right at Mendenhall Lake, a huge reservoir of water.

You can watch as the glacier breaks pieces off and into the lake, creating huge splashes. Looking from high up, it looks small, but the pieces that fall off into the lake are huge—the size of SUVs! If it isn’t your perfect blue-sky day, that’s actually better for watching the falling ice: on a rainy day, more ice calves off than on a clear one.

Off the helicopter, the first steps are surprisingly slippery. I almost fell down once or twice! Thankfully, crampons are provided for traction, as well as the rest of the outfit, complete with fanny pack.

The tour guide took us around the area, showing us deep crevasses and glacial streams.

The glacier itself is massive—it’s tough to tell, but those plants are a lot bigger than they look! Your sense of vision actually gets a little distorted: what looks like a short five-minute hike turns out to be a twenty-minute trek across the ice.

The glacial water is completely pure, since it’s too cold for anything to grow in it. As a result, the water is clean and some of the most delicious I’ve ever tasted.

The lengths of the tours vary—shorter tours like the one I took are only for a couple of hours, while all-day excursions are available.

All in all, walking on a glacier is an unforgettable event… not to mention an excellent way to beat the heat!

To visit the Mendenhall Glacier website, click here.

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