Juneau ice caves

glacier-3The Mendenhall glacier spills off the Juneau ice field and snakes 12 miles down the Mendenhall valley to the Mendenhall lake, terminating in the back yard of Juneau’s neighborhoods.

Juneau has three glaciers within its city limits. The Eagle, The Herbert and the Mendenhall. All three originate from the Juneau ice field.  This large lake of ice lies east of the city and extends 87 miles north to south and 41 miles east to west covering an area of roughly 1,500 square miles, it is the fifth largest ice field in the western hemisphere and creates an icy border with British Columbia.

The Mendenhall glacier is the most accessible glacier in town with a parking lot and a network of hiking trails, one of which leads to the face of the glacier where you can walk on its atrophied ice terminus. It is the most popular recreation destination in Juneau. In the winter when the lake is frozen it offers ice skating, ice hockey and a three-mile groomed track for skate skiing and cross-country skiing. In the summer the network of hiking trails are popular with tourists and locals alike and the Ice free lake is a great place to kayak.

The Mendenhall river has a small run of sockeye salmon which attract bears. A few  paces from the parking lot gives a visitor one of the most accessible black bear viewing opportunities in the state, as bears wade up and down the small river snagging salmon and devouring them just a few feet from the boardwalk path that winds along the water’s edge.

The glacier has receded quite dramatically over the past few decades and a series of  ice caves have formed as a result of the massive amount of meltwater that flows from beneath the glacier. These caves are among the most beautiful of natural phenomena I have  been fortunate to see. From the parking lot one can hike about 3 miles to the glacier terminus and then walk directly into the glacier.

This weekend Sarah and I decided to kayak to the glacier. We paddled across the lake and landed our kayaks on the lateral moraine then hiked over a thinning tongue of ice and into an ice cave that lead us deep beneath the glacier. I’ll let the photos describe the beauty.

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Sarah standing on the lateral edge of the glacier over looking the Mendenhall lake

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Me, peering deep in to a “moulan”, NOT the way to get under the glacier

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The amazing view underneath the glacier

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Sarah cautiously inspecting a curious shape deep inside the ice cave


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After our journey to the heart of the glacier we began our hike back to the kayaks. We stopped on a rock outcrop protruding from the ice, ducked out of the wind and treated ourselves to  a bottle of wine with a snack of cheese and pears. Then we enjoyed a sunset paddle back to the parking lot with the wind at our backs. As the wind pushed me along in my kayak I gazed around at the amazing scenery and contemplated my travels over the past year and came to a fantastic realization. Of all the places I have been, from Antarctica to the Arctic, I can honestly say my back yard is just as beautiful and full of adventure and wonder.

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post adventure snack

After our paddle we went home, cooked an amazing dinner of wild caught salmon and watched a movie on net-flicks.

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