When we found out we would be in Juneau, the first thing we did was book an excursion to trek Mendenhall Glacier. If there was one thing I would have changed about our cruise to Alaska, it would have been to get more time in Juneau. It seemed like there was so much to see and we only had a single day. So sad! Mendenhall was at the very top of our list, so it won out by a landslide over helicopter tours, dog sleds, canoeing, walking around the town, etc. All of that to say – it was hands down one of the most incredible days of my life, so today I’m sharing our experience trekking 10 miles of Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska!
Our Experience Trekking Mendenhall Glacier
To be honest, there are tons of excursion packages offered by the cruise line, but we knew from talking to several people that we would save some money by booking it ourselves and that the varying companies were familiar with dock times, so we took a very small gamble and that paid off. Our excursion was $1500 for 4 of us (Dane, myself and my in-laws. My brother-in-law did a slightly different excursion, but we ran into him while we were on the glacier which was awesome and we were able to get a family photo!), which seems pricey, but for an entire day of hiking, sightseeing and just generally learning, it was well worth the spend. It included all the specialty gear we needed (rubber suits, crampons and poles), plus transportation to and from our cruise ship, which was nice.
Our first stop from the ship was getting properly outfitted. We were advised to wear waterproof gear and boots, but we were also given rubber suits, wet bags, boots if we wanted them and crampons for hiking on the ice.
Once outfitted, we hiked down to Mendenhall Lake and got in a canoe to paddle out to the glacier. Full disclosure: I had no idea a canoe paddle was part of this excursion when Dane booked it and therefore when our guide told us about it I was a little bit like…excuse me?! But let me just say that despite 5 miles of paddling against the current, it was nothing short of incredible even though my arms 100% wanted to fall the F off when we were done paddling, LOL!
When we finally got to the glacier base, we still weren’t technically there yet since it’s not like Target where you just walk through the door like “hey glacier – we are HERE!” I was relieved when our guide was like, hey let’s maybe take a short break here and have a snack. I laughed with my mother-in-law, because she and I were both like THANK GOD while Dane and my father-in-law were like LET’S GO!
Once we started our hike, I couldn’t help but smile, because I felt so alive. I still can’t really put my finger on why I felt this way – the crisp air, the incredible views, spending time with family – I don’t know what. It was magical. After about a ¾ of a mile we were at a good “hop on” point of Mendenhall and I remember staring up at the summit and just feeling so, so small. Nature is amazing. You’ll notice I have glacial mud on my face in nearly every photo. Our guide mentioned that putting it on your face is amazing for your pores and skin and I very nearly stripped down and rolled in it, LOL! When used for skincare it is sometimes referred to as a “Glacial Facial” 🙂
Getting onto the glacier and navigating it was exactly the opposite of what I imagined it to be. I don’t know what I was thinking – maybe ice skating at Rockefellar Plaza, who knows – but climbing the ice was almost 90 degree climbs at many of the peaks and I was so grateful for the crampons that dug firmly into the ice walls. Oddly, I didn’t feel nervous or shaky at all, which is pretty shocking given my unease with heights, but I did find myself shoving my feet as hard as I could into the ice hoping like hell this wasn’t the day shit decided to go awry with equipment.
I can’t put our trek on Mendenhall Glacier into words, because it truly took my breath away. I struggle with this as a writer, because isn’t it my job to put magical places into words? But feeling so small against nature and taking in the landscape (lake on one side, ice wall on the other) is an emotion I won’t forget. We all kept saying to each other – THIS IS AMAZING! – and it was/is. I am not a born-and-bred hiker. In fact, until I met Dane, hiking really wasn’t in my blood at all, but now I cannot get enough and I can wholeheartedly say that it makes me feel so happy.
Some of the highlights of our day included rappelling down a huge broken crevice, suspending into an ice cave that had water running through it (we didn’t go in for safety reasons) and finding a fish that appeared to have been left behind by a bird. Our guide said it was the first fish he had ever seen out on the glacier!
A note for those considering booking this excursion – you do need to be in decently good shape fitness wise and I think that’s important to explain, because it’s not truly emphasized in any of the pamphlets I read. Surely it can be assumed given the description, but I have learned never to assume and after hearing some of the crazy stories from our guide about people who attempt and fail (and the insanity that ensues), I think it’s important to include.
After our adventure, we all cheers-ed with some local beer (cider for me!) and looked at each other like…did we really just do that?! I’ll be honest, I’m really proud of myself for doing it, because if you ask anyone who I talked to before our trip – I was very nervous about this particular aspect! It was better than I could have ever imagined and if you’re even remotely considering it, I cannot say enough good things about it.
Okay so let’s chat – have you been to Mendenhall? Did you trek? Visit by helicopter? Hike? Tell me about it, because I’m clearly OBSESSED!