Today I crossed off two things from my bucket list:
Walk on a glacier
See an ice cave
Mendenhall Glacier, is currently (as of June 2016) a 13-mile long glacier, situated a short distance of 12 miles from downtown Juneau. As it’s one of the highlights of Alaska’s Capital for many visitors, those who have opted not to take one of the many excursions offered to this majestic landscape, often choose to take the shuttle bus which will take them to Mendenhall Glacier’s Visitor Center.
From whichever direction you look at it, Mendenhall is a truly magnificent sight, and a sight which must be cherished, as this glacier – along with many others – is receding, so is unlikely to be around for much longer.
I had seen Mendenhall Glacier from afar just as many had and I wanted to get up close and see its true grandeur. So, with a few of my fellow colleagues, I decided to embark on a hike to the glacier.
Hiking To Mendenhall Glacier
If i knew beforehand how arduous the trek to Mendenhall Glacier would be, perhaps I would have made my excuses not to go… I’m not the most physically fit individual and was thankful to be with some of my strong male friends who were able to pull me up and push me down along the way.
We took a 30-40 minute taxi ride from the cruise ship terminal to the trailhead and embarked on a 1.5 hour trek through the rainforest that goes along Mendenhall Lake. The beginning of the trail has been well-maintained and the ground is generally pretty flat… an encouraging start. After crossing a few bridges over streams, the trail suddenly changes and for the next 2.5 hours, we were scrambling over uneven terrain, wet mud, slippery bedrock, loose gravel and rocks, there was a large rock we could only climb with the use of a rope that was tied there already, and the trail consisted of unpredictable steep uphill and downhill sections.
To help make the hike a little more bearable, there were sections of the trail where we could stop and take photos of Mendenhall Glacier & Lake from afar.
Upon finally reaching the edge of the furthest cliff, the breathtaking scenery suddenly made all the hard work seem worth it…
… and then we looked down and saw we still had to climb down the open slope of bedrock before we could even reach the glacier… and it was a long way down!
Some parts we could walk down OK and other areas we could only go down on our derrières!
The walk down the cliff took me about 20 minutes, though perhaps would have taken much less had I been wearing proper shoes – NOT Allstar Converse!
Nevertheless I made it!
Due to my poor choice of shoes, I found walking on the glacier very difficult, often slipping over and unable to stand or walk on two feet, which meant I had to be extremely careful when near the deep crevasses.
There are many ice caves within Mendenhall Glacier, and they should always be approached with caution… Because the glacier is constantly moving, many ice caves have collapsed unexpectedly.
The one I visited was at the bottom of the steep cliff we had just climbed/rolled down, located a little to the left.
At the entrance of the cliff, we had to be extremely careful because loose rocks were falling from the top of the entrance, as well as inside the cave.
However, beyond the obvious danger, stepping into the ice cave was one of the highlights of my entire year! An array of various shades of blue, it is understandable why people often label this cave with adjectives such as “otherworldly”, “surreal” “incredible”, “and “breathtaking”. Neither words nor pictures will ever do this enough justice!
I finally came out of the ice cave feeling elated and refreshed!
…That is, until I looked to the top of the cliff face and realised we would have to make the same arduous journey back…
Things I learnt today:
– Hiking does not come naturally to me.
– I cannot climb up or down rocks very well.
– Converse shoes are slippery and are not suitable for glacier walking, climbing rocks, or walking through mud.
– If you fall on a glacier you could fall down a hole, into an underground waterfall, or down a crevasse.
– Ice caves are cool
– I will forever be the slowest of the group in outdoor adventures.