Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mendenhall Glacier

Yesterday afternoon, we all took a break from conferencing and signed up for various field trips. One of those trips was to hike out to the Mendenhall Glacier and I don't remember what the others were because they did not include the words "hike" or "glacier."

We piled into a school bus and made the incredibly short trek from downtown Juneau to the Tongass National Forest. And basically, we came around a corner and BLAM! GLACIER!

None of these pictures are going to do the experience justice, I'll just put that out there.

Even from a distance of 1.5 miles, we could see how blue the ice was and how fractured and ready for calving (*gulp*).

Cue the science - See where I'm standing? Approximately 1.5 miles from the face of the glacier? Well, in 1938, you could touch the glacier from pretty much right there. This thing has seen tremendous loss of sea ice in the past century and even in the past five years. Changes both dramatic and startling.

We were told that as it is March, and the thing between us and the glacier is a melting lake, trekking out to the glacier from was NOT recommended. The last calving event (when mama glaciers birth baby bergs) was on March 4th (*gulp*).

But out we all went because when are we ever going to be so close to a glacier like this again and the ice looks good and solid. . .

So away we went! And here's the thing about trekking across an lake covered in ice and snow - you are constantly falling. Not down on your hands and knees, but through the snow until it decides to catch you again and laugh at your expense. Basically, I spent a lot of time feeling the ground give way beneath me and wondering if I'd actually found a whole that would drop me into the freezing lake.

I'm really not joking.


Here's proof.

This was very close to the glacier where icebergs had torn through giant sections of lake and we had to tread very, very carefully.

Unnerving doesn't really begin to cover it, but again, worth it and what kind of Sagittarius would I be if I didn't do things that make normal people make the o_O face?

And why did we cross the hole of icy death? To get to the other side!!!

I did not actually make it to that tear drop cave because as my group and I  stood strategizing our approach (which berg to climb? is that the ice that guy fell through a few minutes ago?) we watched the rough edge of the ice sheet we stood on break away and fall into the lake. It was followed by many a groaning, popping sound you DON'T want to hear ice make unless it's on your TV screen and collectively decided to put a little distance between us and the unstable ice.

(I'm not the craziest of Sag's after all!)

On our way back to solid ground, there were bear tracks and water falls and many a breath-taking sight. I'm including a few of my favorite photos below. They can tell you better than I can this morning just how much beauty lives in that ice.

Looking through the ice.


A risky journey to the ice face.

Midnight sun (okay, not really, but sorta).

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