Glacier Touring is Out of This World
In Alaska, glaciers invite a closer inspection
A marvel of nature which lies 2,000 feet above historic downtown Juneau, the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Icefield is the fifth largest icefield in North America. Extending from Taku Inlet to Skagway, the icefield is the birthing ground of 38 major glaciers, including Juneau's Mendenhall Glacier. The icefield is estimated to be around 3,000 years old, but it is in a constant state of renewal and retreat depending on each year's dosage of snow.
When trying to describe the initial human response to seeing and experiencing the Juneau Icefield, Capt. Eugene Cernan, the last astronaut to walk on the moon, recalled his pre-lunar training experience near Juneau. Apparently, NASA chose the icefield as one of the places on Earth that "captured the emotional sensations that one might encounter while walking on the moon." The expansive views, the stark beauty, and the harshness of the ice and rock would have you agreeing with them.
Like getting to the moon, you have to fly to get to the icefield, unless you want to take a pretty vigorous hike up Mt. Juneau. Either way you get there, you'll be amazed by the abrupt transition from the lush green of the rainforest at sea level to the brilliant carpet of white perforated by gray mountain spires.
Juneau's experienced glacier tour operators make the icefield easily accessible for most everyone. The tours include the helicopter flight with a glacier landing, appropriate gear, and a guide. You can also expand your Juneau glacier tour to include dog sledding.
"Out of this world" takes on figurative and literal meaning when it comes to glacier touring, whether you are enjoying it from above or mushing over its surface.