One of the things I have always wanted to do was to walk on a glacier.
Actually, I have done this previously. When I was a little girl living in the wild mountains of Colorado, we used to hike up into the high places quite frequently. I walked on the St. Vrain glacier, and also the Arapahoe Glacier. Nowadays, the tiny remnants that remain of both of these glaciers makes me wonder how in the name of sanity people are still able to convince themselves that there is no problem going on as regards to global climate change, or global warming (which seems to be a term that is in disrepute for some reason).
As I read the news of the disappearance and retreats of glaciers world wide, my internal need to walk on these ancient ice fields becomes more and more urgent. When we decided to go on the seven day Inside Passage cruise up to southeast Alaska, I knew that I really really wanted to experience being on a glacier, before it was too late and there aren’t any left. I mean, it is hard to believe that they might actually all melt world wide. They are so massive, and there are so many of them. People used to think that the Passenger Pigeon was so numerous they could not be hunted to extinction either.
Oh darn. I was just going to tell you about my wonderful walk on the Herbert Glacier. Then I went all poignant and scientifical and thoughtful on you. Sorry.
Lets see. We booked a tour up on the Mendenhall Glacier about four months before we went. That is Juneau ahead of us, all decked in typical Southeast Alaskan weather. Rain.
Because of the low ceiling at the Mendenhall Glacier, our tour was cancelled. I am not ashamed to admit that I went to my cabin on the ship and cried like a little child over the disappointment, but the day was saved by Chris with Juneau Tours , who was able to book us on a tour with Coastal Helicopters that went later in the day and to a different glacier that was not weathered in.
(I really can’t say enough good things about the staff of Coastal Helicopters. They were dealing with two different groups, ours and one which spoke only Hebrew and had a translator, going to two different sites in three helicopters. They were pleasant, professional, efficient, friendly, and went out of their way to get us what we wanted, even when they had to run across the tarmac in the rain to the warehouse to secure a t-shirt in the style and size I wanted.
And the pilot! Wow. I want a helicopter now. Okay, I’ll be honest. I want the pilot too… but I’m already taken and he’s probably way too young for me. Still, cute! And professional. And a great pilot.)
Okay. Now the pictures. When we got to the airport where the helicopters were, the clouds opened and an omen appeared.
After a safety briefing, we were taken out to the helicopters in single file like a bunch of baby ducklings being shepherded along by their concerned Mama. After we were all strapped in and equipped with our headphones, through which we could actually talk to the pilot, our little group of helicopters took off.
Even though none of our craft were gunships, all of us thought of the movie Apocalypse Now for some reason as our group headed off up the valley.
We flew past the Mendenhall Glacier. Still socked in but beautiful anyway.
You can see the big terminal moraine where the glacier has receded in the past few years. We flew over some mighty pretty country, on the lookout for wildlife. But we didn’t see any.
It seemed like only moments, and we reached the Herbert Glacier. Our pilot took us on an exciting little ride up over the terminus, along the glacier itself and through a small cirque off to the side where the glacier that created it was gone, centuries past.
It was a thrill ride. I’m sure we were never taken closer to the rock walls of the cirque than was safe, but it felt like you could have reached out and touched them. The helicopter tilted and rose like a magic carpet. Finally we descended to the glacier itself and landed.
We de-coptered and our pilot strapped on crampons, and suddenly became our glacier tour guide.
First thing he took us to was a moulin. This is a place where melt water pours into a hole that tunnels through the glacier, flowing down to the rocky bed under the glacier. At this particular spot, the glacier was about 1500 feet thick (about 450 meters or thereabouts). The hole, about 10′ in diameter, was plenty big enough to swallow a human if she was so careless as to slip and fall in.
“Anybody want to get close?” our intrepid guide asked. Of course I did! With a good hand to wrist grip on each other, he dug his crampons into the ice and I edged my way to within a couple of feet of the edge so I could get my shots. What a rush.
After that, he led us across an ice bridge, and allowed us to peer into a deep crevasse. “Don’t fall in that, please. We don’t have ropes that are long enough to reach you to save you if you do,” we were instructed. Needless to say, we approached that abyss gingerly.
This is the ice bridge. Jim is on the bridge, our guide is down in the cave below it.
I wished I had real crampons and not the silly studded overboots I had been given by the tour operators. Our intrepid guide helped me go down to the cave safely.
Yes. It REALLY IS that blue.
Back out of the cave, across the bridge after looking around at some more cool stuff. Then the obligatory shot proving that We Were There. We were also very glad that we both had on long johns, boot socks, coats, hats and gloves. Believe me it felt really silly to pack those things here in Missouri when it was 90 degrees. It wasn’t so silly when we were on the glacier!
I believe that there must be a required course in operating every kind of camera known to man for all tour guides. I have never met one that had any trouble getting a fine documentary shot of my presence at a feature. Our guide was no exception.
All too soon our time was up; our pilot had to get us back to civilization. As he tried to round up his four chicks, I managed to get another couple of shots.
This is a hole that is mostly full of melt water. I guess it to be about six feet deep.
Jim looks at the view.
Back in the air, we get another juicy little roller coaster ride down to the end of the glacier. Lots of fun.
Came around the shoulder of the mountain and BAM! Right in front of us was spread the Lynn Canal, in all its sunset glory, complete with holes in the clouds and rays shooting down. Unbelievable. I was unable to get a good shot because we were heading back to Juneau and the pilot, the instruments, and the curved bubble of the copter were all in my way.
Plaintively, I asked if he could just turn the helicopter towards that view for me, please?
“Just for a minute,” was the reply. I know we were way late, so I snapped away as he kindly held the attitude for me.
So grateful for that minute, aren’t you?
Then back to the airport, where the other groups had been landed several minutes and the rest of the tour operator staff were figuratively tapping their toes in impatience to finish their day.
It was a glorious day.
I walked on a glacier. I am so blessed.