Archive for Mendenhall glacier

Juneau ice caves

Posted in alaska, photography, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 20, 2014 by polarguide

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.

First photos of solstice

Posted in alaska, photography, Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 30, 2013 by polarguide

Some days are just not good for photography.  Today was one of those days.

It didn’t start out that way. The morning was cold and crisp with patches of blue sky peeking through the clouds.  Though solstice has passed the sun isn’t rising here until well after 8:30 am,  by 9 o’clock this morning the sun hung low above the Gastineau channel casting a warm orange glow over  the water, the mountains and the cold ice crystal trees. For the first time in months I picked up my camera, dusted it off (literally) and went out side to take some photos.

I walked across the street and snapped this shot of the stairs that lead into Town.  You can see Mt. Jumbo in the upper right hand corner of the frame. It’s only nine thirty in the morning and already the sun is about to duck behind the mountain.

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I turned around and took these next two shots of my house and Mt. Juneau that rises up behind the street I live on. The sun was lighting up everything so nicely.

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I was inspired.  I went inside and gathered my gear. I put on some warm clothes, gulped my coffee and gobbled some Vension stew for breakfast then headed to the Mendenhall Glacier. Knowing that in just a few hours  that warm winter sun would turn the cold blue ice a fiery orange.

Then the fog rolled in. Just as I arrived at the glacier the sun was struggling through the clouds, lighting up the glacier in a patch work of buttery light and blue shadows. I rushed to get my camera set up, but by the time I was ready the clouds had engulfed the glacier and the surrounding mountains.

I turned my attention to the forest and the streams that run through it, hoping with time the sky would open up.  The scenery was beautiful to the eye, but the grey clouds and lack of light made every photograph dull. I searched for contrasty compositions and interesting shapes, these were the best I could do.

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I decided to head back out to the lake and shoot some photos of the glacier in the clouds.  The blues in the glacier become vibrant on cloudy days, I thought maybe I could get some dramatic shots in the fog.

I like the lines in this next photo. How the curve of the snow meeting the frozen lake matches the curve of the glacier flowing down the mountain.

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I felt that I needed more contrast and foreground so I backed up and took these next two shots. I think it worked out well, the dark water and trees in the fore ground give the scene more depth  but the lack of light and shadow doesn’t allow anything to pop.

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This is one of the last photos I took.  This ice berg is frozen into the middle of the lake in front of the glacier.  I liked the way the angle of the blue ice matched the angle of the gully on the hill side behind  the berg. The blue in the ice really glows against the monochromatic back ground. I waited there a while hoping a cloud would part and a ray of sun would lay some warm light and long shadows across this scene. But it didn’t happen.

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Regardless I am thankful for the suns early morning appearance, even though it was short lived. It got me motivated and out of the house with my camera. That hasn’t happened for quite some time. It’s 3:30 pm now and the sky is already dark, the sun long gone.  But it will be back, maybe not tomorrow.  Now that my gear is warmed up I’ll be ready when light is right.