It looked like it was going to pour when I woke up in Juneau. Suddenly, I was really regretting for signing up for an all-day glacier trek instead of staying snuggled up in cruise cabin. But they say there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing, so I gathered up my rain gear and decided to make the best of it! Surprisingly, the skies cleared for most of the day and didn’t start back up until evening, after my tour had ended.
With only 13 hours at my disposal to see all of Juneau, I was determined to be off the ship right at 8am, when we docked. I had a single hour to tour the city, so I simply started walking. I saw the courthouse, state capitol, and St. Nicholas Orthodox Church before returning to the tram area to meet my tour…which was just enough to tell me that Juneau is only semi-interesting that early in the day.
My plans in Juneau would be the most physically strenuous of my 13-day trip: I had signed up for a glacier trek with Above & Beyond.
After meeting our guide, we began the day hiking the West Glacier Loop. The trail itself was relatively easy in the first section and not at all what I expected from Alaska, despite knowing that the area is officially classified as rainforest.
Afterwards, the trail became gradually more challenging, moving onto uneven terrain or slick bedrock. Every step was worthwhile, though, since it led to beautiful views of Mendenhall Lake and our first view of the glacier.
Eventually, we made it to the glacier itself. Outfitted with crampons, helmets, and ice axes, we were prepared to begin the highlight of our trek.
You know what no one tells you ahead of time? That glaciers are dirty. Of course, that makes instant sense when you recall that glaciers are moving, bringing sediment along with them. The other thing they don’t tell you is that sometimes you can hear running water flowing underneath you. That discovery alone made the entire trip worth it.
Once we were on Mendenhall Glacier, we trekked for about an hour, spending way more time ooohing and aaahhing than actually walking. With crevasses, ice caves, streams, multi-hued ice, and other formations, there was no reason to rush.
Even now, back home, I’m still in awe of this opportunity. Every minute on the glacier was absolutely mind-blowing.
Luckily, even once our time on the ice was over, the adventure continued. To get back to our starting point, the trail required some bouldering and down-climbing on rock walls.
Going into the trip, I knew I would love going into the ice caves and checking out the glacier, but I was really surprised how much I enjoyed the hiking and climbing sections. It was an absolutely great day and it was on that glacier that I fell in love with Alaska for the first time (it would happen over and over again after that…) It was a highly strenuous hike and I was really hurting afterwards but it was worth every ounce of energy. If you are in shape and enjoy a challenge, I can’t think of anything better to do in Juneau.
And as all good hikes do, this day ended with a cold beer. Joining some of my fellow hikers, I had a few Alaskan beers at — where else? — the Alaskan Bar. A locals’ joint with exactly zero ambiance, this was the perfect end to my day.