Saturday, October 2, 2010

North to Alaska (Part 2)

Our next bit of land was Juneau, hanging on to its status as capital of Alaska despite having no road access to, ah, anywhere. Arrive and depart by sea or air, your choice. It's a small town by Lower 48 standards, but very much a year-round working town, not the tiny, seasonal towns we had thus far seen. Once again, the idea of waking up to a pretty mountain seemed quite appealing. In late summer, at least.

As the picture above shows, the day was quite clear. We were told this was unusually good weather, at least a standard deviation above the mean. This was particularly good news, because the day's activities started out with a helicopter trip to a glacier.

When previous visitors to Alaska would say "And don't miss going to a glacier," I nodded politely and changed the subject. (As, indeed, I see all of you Gentle Readers nodding politely and trying to figure out a way of changing the subject on me.) "It's ice," I would think, "and I've seen ice before. Okay, so it's a lot of ice. Big deal." Trust Auntie Rhianon on this one, it's not just ice. Go ahead and do it. Don't look at the cost - you'll be working until you're 75 anyway, so enjoy it now.

Although I'm susceptible to motion sickness under the right circumstances, neither rough seas nor helicopter rides seem to bother me much. Of course, not having been in Perfect Storm-type seas or in a helicopter maneuvering to avoid enemy fire, perhaps I should amend that to "neither the kind of rough seas that one normally encounters in a cruise ship, nor helicopters in normal operation ferrying tourists." All of which is to say: don't worry about feeling ill; if I can do it, you can do it.

After getting weighed and outfitted with booties with plastic spikes on the bottom, six of us plus the pilot took off. Our pilot took the scenic route over one mountain before landing on the Herbert Glacier.

Everyone was a little apprehensive about trying to walk on melting ice (the sun was quite strong) on a noticeable slope, but the boots really did the job. Soon everyone was walking about. Well, almost everyone: one lady refused to go more than a few steps from the helicopter. I assumed that the pilot had done this before and was not suicidal, so following him was a reasonably safe bet.

What seems like flat terrain from the air turns out to be anything but. We explored crevasses that ranged from a few inches to several feet wide. Some were quite deep - perhaps 20 feet.

Newly-formed crevasses showed ice that was a brilliant blue:

There was even a small stream running through the area. Wisely or unwisely, we tasted the glacier water.

Just in case we weren't glaciered-out, the afternoon was spent at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. (They have their own webcam of the glacier; in daylight hours, look here, though I think the photo below is better.) There is a short forest trail that takes one past a stream that salmon use for spawning. Though it was late in the spawning season, the stream still had a fair number of the creatures in there. Other trails were for more adventurous hikers. Signs kept warning that one might have a close encounter with a bear, something that might sound appealing when sipping a cold martini in the comfort of the ship's bar, but didn't sound like a good idea at the time. The real star of the show, however, was the trail that led to the lake and partway around the lake. Although actually getting to the glacier would have taken considerable effort, thanks to a big waterfall that emptied into the lake (thereby requiring one to get to the top of the mountain to get around the waterfall), one could get pretty close:

Somewhat anticlimactic after landing on a glacier, but pretty spectacular nonetheless. (And, for the shutterbug in me, it was the right order, as the sun was in the right spot for good photos in the afternoon.)

I thank the weather gods for their cooperation.

Next (and last): the salmon capital of the world and a 1958 Beaver.


HeadBurro Antfarm said...

OK... not too keen on hiking over a glacier, but it looks lovely :-D

Rhianon Jameson said...

Hey, we all have to go some time. Just have your will up to date and have fun!

Seriously, I'm a nervous person but found it quite a blast. And if anything goes wrong, the helicopter has a radio...I'm sure they'd eventually send help. :)