Mendenhall Glacier, up close and personal


††††††††††† July 10 Ė We awoke to another day of bright sunshine (2 in a row, we could get spoiled).† We knew that there were 6 cruise ships in town, so we didnít want to go there.† Mendenhall Glacier was only two miles away by boat, about 8 miles by car.† We drove up to the visitorís center and found a parking spot with no problem.† There were buses arriving literally every other minute dropping off 40 to 50 cruise ship raiders.† As they got off the bus the driver would tell them that they had one hour and then they would be picked up.† Given that thereís a 12 minute orientation movie, 20 minutes worth of exhibits, and 10 minutes (at least) each way of walking to the viewing platform, these people only get 8 minutes to see the glacier and thatís assuming that they donít hit the gift shop or the bathroom (and most of them hit both).† We were glad that we had dedicated an entire day to see everything.

††††††††††† We started off with a guided nature walk along a trail that ran along the valley that the glacier created.† The glacier has been receding about 300 feet a year over the past 2 years (before that it was only 150 feet a year).† As the glacier retreats it leaves a barren landscape of rock and gravel with small streams (in which we saw salmon fry).† The appeal of this trail was that you could see the forest in action, taking back the valley.† Where the trail started we saw lichens and mosses which in time break down the rock and provide some soil.† Further on we saw the grasses and small shrubs moving in.† As we got even further from the glacier we saw leafy trees starting to appear.† Eventually the leafy trees create enough nitrogen in the soil so that the big evergreens, the Sitka Spruce and Hemlocks can grow.† These trees are taller than the other trees and eventually the evergreens dominate the landscape.† In a quarter of mile of walking we covered around 60 years of regrowth, from nothing to forest again.† The evergreen trees will continue to grow and in around 200 years the area will be ďold growthĒ forest again.


††††††††††† Our next stop was the visitorís center.† We saw the movie which was well done and toured the exhibits.† The exhibits were helpful, but the Canadians did a much better job at the Columbia Icefield.† We briefly stopped in the gift shop and picked up a tacky souvenir as a contest prize.† We then walked out to the viewing platform for a distant look at the glacier (it is about a mile from the visitorís center, ĺ of a mile from the platform).† There was a volunteer ranger there to answer questions and take pictures of you.† While we were at the platform we ran into a hiker we had met at Wrangell on the Rainbow Falls trail.† She had stayed in Wrangell for the Fourth of July and said it was a blast.† We forgot to ask her who won the queen contest.† Having seen all there was to see from the land we drove back to camp for lunch.

††††††††††† After lunch it was time to really see the glacier.† While we had a waterfront campsite, there was a small section of rapids between us and the lake so we couldnít launch from the campsite.† Just up the road from the campground was a beach on the lake and we launched the kayaks there.† It was a two mile paddle to glacier which wasnít a problem as our average trips have been 5 to 6 miles.† The one thing we didnít expect was rough seas.† In the morning all is calm, but as the day progresses and the temperature goes up, the extreme cold of the glacier creates a wind that runs down the glacier and out across the lake.† We have been having temperatures in the mid 70ís and the wind was significant and had whipped up some waves on the lake.† We pounded through the waves, glad that we had our spray jackets and skirts as waves were breaking over our bows (which is expected and normal).† We stopped at the first iceberg we saw and after a few pictures we headed to the cove where the glacier was.† For some reason the cove with the glacier had no wind or waves and it was smooth water.† We paddled by each iceberg we saw, being careful not to get too close as they will roll over or break into pieces as they melt (although most of the ones we saw had clearly bottomed out and were harmless).† There was also a wonderful waterfall near the glacier, created by the run off from a different glacier.† We approached the glacier to view it, but kept a reasonable distance.† Mendenhall is a small glacier (only 150 feet from top to bottom), but the pieces that break off into the lake are still huge (all of the icebergs we saw were pieces that had fallen off afterall) and they could easily crush us or tip us over with the waves they create.† Some canoeists got to with in 50 feet and thatís just crazy!

††††††††††† Having fully experienced the glacier, we started heading back.† On the way Stacie say some pretty pebbles on the shore so we stopped and she picked some up.† Dave noted that we were low on ice in the cooler and he picked up a 25 pound chunk of ice to take back, balancing it on his bow.† After about 10 minutes Dave pushed the ice chunk back in as it was interfering with his paddle stroke.† We left the protected cove and back into the choppy lake.† The wind had changed direction slightly and was not at our backs as expected so the trip back was not as easy as we had hoped it would be.† But we made it back just fine.† We put the kayaks back on the truck and went back to camp to sit by the fire and complain about sore muscles (that wind had given us a work out!)