Thursday, May 29, 2014

Alaska: Day Four, Juneau


But first, my breakfast on Day Four . . . 
apple juice, scrambled eggs, yogurt, gluten-free oatmeal with brown sugar and dried apricots, & watermelon - yum!

And here's what I put on for the day:

You can't really see the outfit because I have on outerwear . . . here's a better photo of the outfit that's under the outerwear:

getting off the ship

the Juneau harbor

on the way to the airport

We got picked up at the pier by NorthStar Trekking, and they transported us through the lovely city of Juneau to the airport.  First, we put our belongings in the blue bags provided by the company (keeping what we wanted to take - like lip balm with SPF 30, our cameras, and our granola bars) along in the belt bags provided).

Then we put on the waterproof pants (snow pants, really), waterproof jackets with hoods, and the lovely orange boots.

blurry, but hilarious

Here's our 'copter!

And then, to the helicopter (after a little training on helicopter safety)!

This is our pilot, Danny (Hi, Danny!).  He told me that I was the co-pilot and my job was to not touch anything.  (I succeeded!)  Danny did a great job of describing stuff as we flew over it.  He even found us a little mountain goat taking a nap on a mountain ledge (it looked like a little white pillow from on high).

Rivers headed to the sea

glacial meltoff

Mountains from the helicopter

Another glacier coming down the mountain
(you can tell a glacier from normal snow because glaciers are blue!)

Mendenhall Lake

Mendenhall glacier melting into Mendenhall Lake (with icebergs!)

Mendenhall glacier!
The black "tracks" are dirt and minerals that have been brought down
the glacier as it flows down the valley

Landing on the glacier

In the background in the above photo, slightly to the left of center, you can see a teeny little helicopter.  That's where we landed.  To the left of the helicopter, you can see itty bitty people - that's where we got equipped with our crampons and helmets and ice axes!

Greg getting fitted with crampons
(metal spikes that attach onto the boot like old-fashioned adjustable roller skates)

Close up of crampons

me adjusting my helmet;
I have a teeny-tiny head and kept needing to make the helmet bindings
smaller and smaller!

Greg getting used to his equipment

Me, adjusting the camera

The six of us (plus two guides) traipsed around on the glacier for two whole hours.  
Our guides taught us how to use crampons to go up steep glacier walls and how to use them to come down steep inclines.  We also learned how to use them to go sideways ("the crampon cha-cha") along an incline.

It was beautiful and fantastic and I will be dreaming about it for the rest of my life.  It was very much like hiking in the desert, strange as it might sound.  Especially when I compare hiking on the glacier to hiking in the desert in the winter, when it can be bitterly cold (okay, I've only been hiking in Arizona twice that it's been bitterly cold).  The main reason is that the ice isn't slippery ice as you might expect like sidewalks in Minnesota in the winter - it's like frozen gravel.  That's why crampons work so well - they reach through the gravely ice and to the hard ice below it, sticking into the really hard part and keeping people from sliding around on the little pieces.

You can sort of see the different layers of ice in the photo below.
The white stuff on top is the gravely stuff and the bright blue stuff is the really hard glacial ice.

In some places, there was water on top of the glacial ice.  It was crazy!  Growing up in Minnesota, the presence of water on the ice was always a warning that the water underneath probably wasn't solidly frozen anymore.  But on a glacier, the ice underneath used to be snow that has been compacted and compacted and compacted for hundreds of years, and it's much more solid underneath than on the top - cool!
I think this picture deserves to be put on a huge canvas and hung on my wall;
I love the color and the leaves and the iciness.
I think I would feel cooler alllllll summer long!

 Some water sitting on top of the blue glacial ice.

I asked a lot of questions, and discovered that a crevasse is not the most dangerous thing on a glacier.  A crevasse is a deep valley in the ice that is formed when the ice sheet moves.  It's a crack.  The thing that makes it safer than other glacial phenomena is that it narrows at the bottom.  This means that a person could fall in, but that eventually that person would get wedged, and therefore be rescue-able.    

You can see how much bluer the ice is further down.

This is a crevasse forming . . . it's only a few inches apart (see my feet at left) now, but in a few weeks, it could be many feet wide.  Or it could close up!

One dangerous thing on the glacier is snow.  Our guides (Aaron and Dylan - hey, ho, Aaron & Dylan!) instructed us to poke at any snow with our poles.  They explained that snow can form a bridge over an even more dangerous glacial feature, hiding it.  But if a person steps on a snow bridge, there's nothing there to hold that person up!  So don't step on snow if you're hiking around on a glacier!

One of the things that snow might disguise is a MOULIN.  
A moulin is probably the most dangerous thing on a glacier.

A moulin forms when liquid water rushes in a tornado formation and swirls downward in the ice.  It melts the ice in a cylinder-shaped hole all the way to the bottom of the glacier where all the water is liquid.  But the ice is a MILE thick in some places (!!!), Aaron told me that a person would probably die from the fall before reaching the bottom and drowning.  


Here is a moulin forming

Our helicopter landed on the flat part of the glacier, but up above us was a towering wall of BLUE ice.  The ice we were on seemed to be horizontal, and the ice in the big wall seemed to be vertical.  

We were able to climb up the vertical parts a little - you can see people far below.

There were waterfalls on the glacier.

Interesting openings appear in the ice (due to the shifting ice and to the action of liquid water)

Here you can see how the ice sort of forms huge steps.
You can't tell how big they are because the view of size is distorted on the glacier.
EVERYTHING is big and there's nothing to compare things to.

We even found a lake!  And it was the prettiest color of blue . . . 
we all found rocks and threw them in!

The spot where we are standing in the photo below is one of three in the world* where a person can stand 

1.  on a glacier 
2.  see rainforest 
3.  see the ocean!!!

*the other two are in Pataonia and . . . um . . . somewhere else (I'll ask Greg what the other one is - I can't remember).  UPDATE: NEW ZEALAND!

And yes, this part of the coast of Alaska is a temperate rainforest!

Greg hiking

Greg taking photos

Greg looking at a crevasse

 We were able to hike over to the wall of the valley in which the glacier flows (Mendenhall Valley, I think).  The rock walls are made of granite.

Time to fly back

You can't see very well in these photos, but the water coming from glacial melt is greenish.  It's because there is a lot of mineral silt in glaciers, and it runs off into the rivers and lakes.  Not many fish or other animals want to live in that silty water.  But apparently that silt is full of minerals that are great for human skin and hair!

They sell glacier silt soap in town!

Then we went browsing around Juneau.

We saw the tram going up and down.

 My parents and Mark & Jillian (and Cora!) went in the tram, 
but Greg & I didn't have time because of our glacier trek!

The city is beautiful, and the mountains are everywhere.

The weather was very pleasant - 65 or so.  About 10-15 degrees cooler on the glacier.  

We saw a restaurant that was named after Greg (and my brother Mark!): Grumpy's!

Did you know that reindeer and caribou are the same species?  
In North America, domesticated ones are called reindeer and wild ones are called caribou.

Super cool and beautiful.
Also, you can see some of the fantastic Tlingit/Haida graphic design on the t-shirts above the caribou hides.

Back to the ship . . . 

On our walk back to the ship, we saw a huge anchor in the harbor!
It was much taller than I am.

I miss Juneau already!  It was a very livable city, a beautiful city, and a city where the residents were interesting and pleasant.  Also, the typical weather is beautiful (at least according to a desert resident . . . )

At dinner, Cora was a little grumpy because she developed a little fever, but one of our amazing servers made a puppet out of a napkin and entertained her!

And when we got back to our room, I took the eyes off our towel animal from the previous night and put them on the hinge of our cabinet.  Isn't my creation adorable?  Anything with big eyes is cute.

And that was Day Four!!!

Visit again tomorrow for Day Five!

1 comment:

  1. Amazing glacier photos!!!! I liked all the info, too!!