Miles of ice.
Little sleep last night. The excitement of our hike, ate at me, invading my dreams. After seeing the glacier from the east, I had no idea what to expect approaching it from the west. The size, the mass, a mountain of ice in motion.
I quickly packed and prepared for the long day ahead. The cooking kit, water, raincoat, camera and a couple layers of shirts all went on my back. Packed light but sufficient, I was the first downstairs waiting by the door.
Dirk, Cyndi and Todd soon followed, all making it out of the hostel by 8am. With our group together, we were soon on the city bus toward the Mendenhall glacier. The hour long ride was full of laughter and stories, passing the time quickly. Cyndi and Todd, two fellow hostel guests whome we met last night, were equally excited for the trek. The morning was cloudy but with the spots of sunshine peeking through, we had a chance for an amazing day.
The hike began with a two mile stroll down a street not accessible by bus. As we approached the trail head the glacier could be seen in the distance, above the tree-line reflecting in the sun, overpowering the scape. The blue mountain was near and I couldn’t wait any longer. We moved into the rainforest, pushing through the moss covered vegetation and wet ground. From the canopy to the undergrowth, everything seemed to be blanketed in a layer of dark green fuzz. Numerous streams cut through these moss covered valleys, adding blue to the dominant green landscape and feeding the lush environment. Boulders seemed to pop up in the most odd of places, randomly dropped by the ice centuries ago. The rocks, scared and smoothly polished, reminders of the power tons of pressure and weight can bestow on the land. Moving at 1foot per day, the Mendenhall Glacier was making its way down the mountain, releasing ice that has been trapped for more than 250 years. A cold tomb for what ever lies in the way.
A fork in the trail put doubt into our heads, right or left,back and fourth my eyes scanned the dark paths. Either way, we would move toward the glacier but what trail leads us to the caves? At this point, the terrain was about to make a drastic change. As the rainforest abruptly ended, the steep rock faces jarred out at us, making us climb and navigate with caution. We took the right-hand trail, fingers crossed and minds full of worry, we pressed on into the most narrow of passages. Eyes searching for orange ribbons marking the trail, we made sure we didn’t venture too far off course. The concern in getting lost and spending the night with the bears was on my mind, not my idea of a good night.
The last rock face was now below my feet and as we rose over the lip as a group, Todd let out a yell. The glacier, the entire mass of ice was now visible, blowing a chilling breeze into our faces. The deep blue ice met the water, cracking and falling, melting once more to join the sea. We stood there for a minute, silent, gazing at the view of a lifetime. As if someone snapped their fingers and released us from our hypnotic spell, we scrambled down to the base. I have never jumped down a mountain of rocks with out a concern. As if I was some kind of mountain goat, I hoped from rock to rock until the ice was before me, towering into the air. Words nor pictures could describe the scene. Video maybe able to reproduce a fraction of the experience, yet being there was the only way.
We stopped and set up our lunch camp at the entrance to an ice cave. Sheltered from the wind, we enjoyed the warmest place next to the ice. Grabbing my raincoat and camera I ventured down the rocks into the blue room. Navigating the slippery rocks and streams of ice water, I was in a world unlike anything I have ever experienced. The sound of creaking ice and rain falling from the roof above, I went wild with photos. Dirk and Cyndi would then have the courage to join me, all looking about in silence. Looking up, the thought of ice meters thick above was enough to make me nervous. Walls so clear, glass-like and smooth, no oxygen was left in the crystals. Pure and as blue as the sky, all I wanted to do was sit down there for ever, watching the vapor of every breath.
After lunch and a few more hours of wandering, Cyndi and I would then take the chance of putting foot on the glacier without the security of crampons. Finding a low point to access, we both made our way on top, excited and lost for words. Keeping safety in mind, we didn’t go too far. Memory cards spent and guys waiting, we turned to make our way down the ice. As we had no traction, moving down was the most difficult part of the excursion, slipping and sliding on our butts.
The walk back to the road was hard. Not that the terrain was difficult or we were tired, just the concept of leaving something so incredible behind to never see again was hard. Talking all the way back, excited and adrenaline still pumping, the four of us jumped on the bus and sat back. I will be so excited to see the photos when I get back to my office, reliving the day, reliving the journey thus far.