Juneau

Nancy Norris
Landing on the Glacier Glacier Walk / Helicopter Excursion On my last visit to Juneau, my much anticipated helicopter tour and glacier hike was thwarted due to inclement weather. Having waited almost a year for another opportunity to try again, I was overjoyed as we docked in Juneau on what can only be described as a picture perfect day. Clear blue skies and the warmth of a bright, sunny day welcomed our arrival. I eagerly departed the ship and immediately made my way to the sightseeing and tour booths at the foot of the pier. Although there were a number of other ships in port, I was able to secure a spot on the very last flight of the day with Coastal Helicopters for their Icefield Excursion. Coastal Helicopters at the Juneau Airport Coastal Helicopters provided a van to transfer us from the cruise port to the heliport. I, along with the other passengers that would be sharing the adventure, met the van as scheduled. A young guide provided an informative commentary as we made the 30 minute trip to the Juneau airport. My anticipation mounted as we turned into the airport and the helicopters were in view. As it was such a warm day, I had dressed accordingly, but was assured that my tennis shoes, jeans, t-shirt and light windbreaker were sufficient for the conditions on the glacier. Boots and raincoats can be provided, if needed, however. We were each required to weigh in and then assigned seat locations accordingly. The six of us that were assigned to the same helicopter clamored into our seats and donned our headphones as instructed by our pilot. Flying Over the Forest on the Way to Mendenhall Glacier Our flight began by flying over the lush forests at sea level, and within minutes of lift-off we were soaring over the deep, aqua-colored crevasses, jagged glacier spires, spectacular peaks and dramatic rock formations of the Juneau Icefield. The Juneau Icefield The awesome beauty of this natural wonder is even more magnificent when viewed from this vantage point. The helicopter tour was pleasantly and unobtrusively narrated by John, our expert pilot/guide, as we made our way to Herbert Glacier for our glacier landing. I was totally captivated as we crossed over the Mendenhall Glacier, caught a bird’s eye view of glacial lakes and rapidly flowing waterfalls. Landing on the Glacier Once we reached our destination, we approached the ice field gingerly and touched down on the icy terrain.  The pilot then shut down the helicopter and escorted us onto the ice for a glacier walk. He provided a knowledgeable and illustrative description of the area, but allowed us time to revel in the serene splendor of our surroundings at our leisure. The Glacier's Terrain Surprisingly, the terrain was quite easy to navigate, and I found myself transported to another time as I walked along the ancient landscape marveling at its massiveness. We had landed very near a huge crevasse and spectacular waterfall that I would have loved to capture in a photo, but the surrounding terrain made it impossible. We spent about 20-25 minutes on the ice. A Pond in the Center of the Glacier However, I must admit that was plenty of time as I was getting quite cold and ready to return to the helicopter. So much for being dressed warmly enough! According to our guide the temperature is usually about 10 degrees colder on the glacier than in town, but it felt to me like the variance was greater.  (My suggestion: No matter how warm it is, bring a pair of lightweight gloves and hat. I wish I had.) The Return Flight Down Mendenhall Glacier As we made our approach back to civilization, we spotted one of the dog camps that are used for the dog sledding excursions, observed mountain goats in their natural habitat and were intrigued by sculptured ice falls. The hour excursion was over way too quickly, but what an unforgettable experience! I can highly recommend the locally owned and operated Coastal Helicopters for their professionalism, expertise and very personable staff. At $185 this tour was well worth every penny. Seldom do our experiences exceed our expectations, but this excursion far surpassed mine and will remain an enduring memory.   

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