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Alaska 2008
  • Territory: Washington State, British Columbia, Alaska
  • Time: April - August, 5200 miles traveled
  • Vessel: "Teacup", Nordic Tug 37
  • Primary Activity: Wait for the sun to come out.

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This article set is part of a larger work:
Alaska 2002 | Alaska 2003 | Alaska 2004 | Alaska 2005 | Alaska 2006 | Alaska 2007

Walking on a Glacier

I visit Mendenhall Glacier at Auke Bay (near Juneau) each year. Until this year I would walk along the edge of the ice, notice how quickly it's receding (like most Alaska glaciers), maybe take a few pictures of the pretty ice. This year I decided to use an ice axe and crampons to walk on the ice itself.

Mendenhall Glacier has killed a few more people than most Alaska glaciers. Primarily this results from its proximity to Auke Bay and Juneau — it is rather easy to get to. I regularly see college students venture onto the ice in street shoes and no ice gear, only to slide around out of control until (one hopes) common sense takes over and they get off the ice.

Because of its location in Southeast Alaska where things are relatively warm, this glacier is melting pretty quickly, and the edge of the ice is noticeably higher with each passing year. Also, compared to some glaciers I have visited this one is rather steep, which makes ice walking particularly difficult.

A classic glacier experience, certainly true for Mendenhall, is a pretty blue glow that emanates from the ice on a sunny day. At one point during my walk I found myself over a large mass of pure ice, and I could look straight down and see the blue glow. I realized I was above perhaps 100 feet of solid ice, which was filtering sunlight and emitting the classic blue of solid glacier ice. For some reason this blue glow is not easily reproduced in photographs — it has an unnatural intensity that photographs don't seem to capture.

While exploring the glacier I saw a number of pools and streams cutting through the ice, and a few deep ponds. It wasn't lost on me how risky such a pond would be if I were to lose my footing and fall in. But the colors were very nice.

The blue glow of glacier ice
A pond and streams on the ice
A fast-moving stream
Indestructible college student I:
He's probably safe.
No crampons or ice axe,
but he's wearing a life jacket...
Indestructible college student II:
Sliding down to the rocks.
Indestructible college student III:
Airborne between a rock and a hard place.

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