Glacier Trekking in Juneau, Alaska
Hooray! We’ve finally made it to Alaska – get ready for photos galore! After boarding our Holland America ship, the ms Westerdam, in Seattle, we cruised north towards our first stop in Alaska’s capital city – Juneau. Our first day at sea was a bit rocky but once we woke up the following day near Juneau it was clear skies and smooth sailing! Did you know that there are no roads that lead into Juneau? You can only get there via plane or boat – so crazy! We didn’t arrive in Juneau until 1pm so we had the morning to enjoy the beautiful Alaskan scenery as we made our way to port.
Beautiful, right?! Alaska has some of the most impressive backdrops I’ve ever seen and trust me, these pictures don’t even do it justice. We were beyond lucky to have such a clear, beautiful day – blue skies for miles and the warm sun shining down made for a perfect day in Juneau.
In Juneau Mike, my brother, his girlfriend Amanda, and I had a scheduled excursion for a helicopter ride and glacier trekking to Mendenhall Glacier with Northstar Trekking. Due to bringing the wrong ticket (me) and an extremely slow moving line to get off the boat (old people) we missed our scheduled tour time, but it worked out for the best. We had about an hour to check out this touristy area of Juneau and made the most of it.
First we stopped at Tracy’s King Crab Shack right next to the port to grab some local seafood. We weren’t sure if this was just a tourist trap with so-so food because of it’s location so close to the boat, but lucky for us Tracy’s was awesome! We tried the crab cakes that come with an amazing spicy dipping sauce, the creamy crab bisque, and the winner of the day (and maybe the entire cruise) the king crab legs. At $24 an order you might think twice, but trust me – they’re worth it! So much delicious crab meat dipped in warm, melted butter – it’s a little piece of heaven from the sea!
After polishing off the crab we checked out a few shops near the pier and then met up with our excursion group. From start to finish our excursion with Northstar Trekking was fantastic. They were super organized, friendly, and knowledgable about Alaska and Juneau. We took a large van out to the airport where they helped us put on all of the glacier gear. Water-proof pants, boots, gaiters, windbreakers, and fanny packs filled with a snack and a bottle of water were all provided by Northstar. Once we were geared up we had a quick helicopter tutorial and then headed to our chopper!
None of us had ever ridden in a helicopter before and I don’t think we could’ve possibly picked a better place to check this first off our lists. The skies were so clear that we could see for miles and miles – from green forests to snow-capped peaks, it was just breathtaking view after breathtaking view. Our pilot told us that clear days like this were hard to come by and he was able to show us much more because of it. We saw glaciers and ice valleys and even a few mountain goats on the side of a mountain (they’re the tiny white dots in the third photo below)!
Once we landed at our final destination on Mendenhall Glacier we were all ridiculously giddy from our helicopter ride and ready for more exploring. We were outfitted with a couple more pieces of gear, crampons and ice axes, given a tutorial on how to hike on the glacier by our two guides, and then we were off.
We had two great guides who were both geologists and they were able to give us a ton of interesting information about the glacier as we hiked. We didn’t have to do any technical climbing, just a few hops and steep climbs here and there – challenging but nothing too scary! We stopped every so often so everyone in the group could stay together and learn about where we were on the glacier. At one point we stopped to fill up our water bottles straight from a waterfall and stream of ice melt – best water I’ve ever tasted!
We were on the glacier for about 3 hours before our helicopter returned to bring us back. We all agreed that this was easily our favorite part of our 7-day cruise and even though it was one of the more expensive excursions, I would save a little here and there to do it again in a heartbeat. Had we come to Juneau one day later when the weather was terrible, I might not be singing the same tune, but we lucked out and had a fantastic day. If you’re thinking about doing a helicopter tour in Alaska here’s my advice – DO IT! We were going back and forth on it for awhile because of the price but in the end we went for it and it was worth it a thousand times over.
Once we returned to town we stopped at Hangar On The Wharf to try their chowder (highly recommended by our van driver who was a local) and had a quick beer at The Flight Deck. We wanted to stay in town a bit longer because our ship didn’t leave port until 10pm but all the restaurants near the pier seemed to close at 8pm so back to the ship it was! Amazing first day in Alaska, and more to come!