BOYS ON ICE | Zach (left) and Addison chill out on Meade Glacier
ALASKA Diaries | Two
Alaska’s unique geography and location give it lots of what natives call “liquid sunshine” – rain – but not nearly as much as the real sun. Most of southeast Alaska gets between 200 and 260 days of measurable precipitation a year. Clear days make up about 5 percent of the calendar, but we hit the jackpot in Skagway on Thursday of our cruise: a clear, calm and warm (about 60 degrees) day that made it feel like you could reach out and touch the 5,000-foot peaks surrounding the harbor. The craggy, snow-laden mountain tops with a deep blue backdrop made every visage postcard-worthy. At some point you stop taking pictures because, really, can it get any more spectacular?
The boys and I had booked a glacier tour by helicopter for this morning, and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Our 20-minute flight from Skagway to the Meade Glacier was as awesome an experience as I’ve ever had, but paled in scale, and comparison, to the 40 minutes we spent on the glacier itself.
We’d seen glaciers on the trip. We flew over a glacier in a floatplane at Ketchikan, we’d sailed up to the Sawyer Glacier in the Tracy Arm and we’d seen the Mendenhall Glacier the day before from about a mile away. But there’s just nothing that can prepare you for helicoptering onto and standing in the midst an ice field that’s more than 400 years old, 500 feet deep and more than a mile wide, then drinking the hydrating water flowing from the countless small streams of melt that flow miles and miles to the glacier’s terminus.
Boulders the size of my old Toyota Tercel were strewn about the glacier, rocks that were actually traveling in a gravity-defying path uphill, against the flow. Actually, it was a combination of gravity, the sun’s radiation, the laws of melt and other geophysical oddities that caused the huge rocks to go against the flow, but standing there, just a speck on a portion of an ice field the size of Vermont, the enormity of it all was mind-numbing. We straddled crevasses two feet wide and 150 feet deep, gaps between two moving pieces of ice that if you happened to fall into, there’s no rescue from. Yep, getting there was only half the fun: we flew over 3,000-foot lakes that, in the heart of summer, created towering cascading waterfalls, and we saw peaks that rivaled anything in Colorado, but the pure majesty of approaching, then walking on, the glacier was indescribable.
This one excursion was worth the price of admission on this trip. To read another visitor’s experience, and see more awesome pictures go here.