Juneau and Mendenhall Glacier hike

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Mendenhall Glacier

Post written by Laura

The Norwegian Jewel docked in Juneau, the capital of Alaska. Juneau is remote and is only reachable by boat or seaplane. There is no current road although the Lynn Canal Highway is proposed. Even if this new highway were ever to be built, a boat would still be necessary to connect Juneau to Alaska’s road system.

As the ship was docked only until mid afternoon, I didn’t have the opportunity to explore the city of Juneau on foot. I did, however, participate in a Glacier trek to the Mendenhall Glacier. This was one of several excursions on offer, another being the opportunity to fly over the glacier in a seaplane or helicopter.

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Lots of moss

After an early breakfast I disembarked the ship, joined a small group of about 12 fellow hikers and we set off at 7.30 am in a mini bus. We drove through Juneau and the guide gave us some information about the city.

After around 12 miles or so our guide parked the mini bus in a purpose built car park and from here he led us along the trail and through the moss-covered Tongass National Forest towards the glacier.

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The Tongass National Forest is a rainforest which covers most of South East Alaska. As we hiked through the forest our guide pointed out various types of flora and fauna and pointed out different kinds of moss and indigenous plants.

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There is an abundance of spruce trees in the forest and our guide explained the above tips are harvested to make spruce tip beer!

As well as the flora and fauna our guide explained the forest is also home to eagles, bears and wolves! We had been given a ‘bear briefing’ with some tips to ensure the group would be safe should we encounter a bear. For example:

  • Stay calm and don’t run; bears can run faster and will chase you (bears can also climb trees and swim)
  • Stand closely together in the group so you appear larger than the bear
  • Stand behind the guide who has pepper spray. This is harmless to the bear but acts as a deterrent.

(So this was definitely one occasion where I ensured I didn’t lag behind the trekking group and generally stayed in the middle somewhere…)

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Blue Stellar Jay

We didn’t see any bears however we saw an eagle circling above and also a colourful Blue Stellar Jay bird.

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The hike was fairly flat to begin with but became steeper as we climbed towards the Glacier viewing point. Throughout the trail we saw markers to show how much the glacier had receded even over recent years. The guide explained this could be determined by the age of the trees… newer and smaller trees could be found in the more recently uncovered parts of the forest.

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Me in front of the Mendenhall Glacier

After about 2.5 miles we had climbed many steps and reached one of the glacier viewing points.

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We were not able to get close to the glacier so the above photos were taken with my zoom camera. Specialist equipment would be necessary for walking on this part of the glacier as some of the crevices are hundreds of meters deep, so this isn’t recommended.

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Lake Mendenhall
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Lake Mendenhall

From the viewing point we made our way back along the same trail for the 2.5 miles to the mini van. On the way back we stopped at the shores of Lake Mendenhall for a few minutes.

This was an enjoyable hike and it was fascinating to see the glacier. Unfortunately with so many helicopters and seaplanes buzzing above it wasn’t as peaceful as it might have been!

 

 

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