Food Exploring :: Hiking the Mendenhall Glacier

I’m out all week at the Association of the U.S. Army annual event for work, so what better time to go do a little food exploring? The Food Exploring series is a way to revisit adventures I’ve been on around the world that have opened my eyes, inspired me to think in different ways, and often left a serious food impression! This week, let’s talk Alaska!


When we’ve been moving between stations, Scott and I have used that time moving, unencumbered by stuff and by a house to close down, to go on adventures. When we were moving from New York to Hawaii, we took the opportunity to head out to Spain and France for conferences, then visit family in Colorado and California, and we finished it off with a Disney cruise from Vancouver to Alaska.

This cruise came with some incredible adventures. We trained with sled dogs and rode horses along the Klondike Trail, sipped spruce tip ale and learned its history, caught the freshest salmon you’d ever believe and learned about how much the different settlements depended on the salmon run, and enjoyed the wildness of nature. One of my favorite trips into the wild was a flight and hike up Mendenhall Glacier.

The Mendenhall Glacier hangs over the edge of Mendenhall Valley, only about 12 miles from downtown Juneau, Alaska. It’s named for Thomas Corwin Mendenhall, an American meteorologist and physicist, for reasons I’m still trying to learn. It’s original name, Sitaantaago, is a little more appropriate – meaning “The Glacier Behind the Town.”

Although it looked to us like it was about to be The Glacier On Top of the Town, and it will be if the Juneau Icefield warms any further and sends any more water down into the glacier. Good enough reason to name it for a meteorologist and physicist.

Either way, we thought it would be fantastic to get to know the glacier a little bit better by means of taking a helicopter and glacier walk tour with NorthStar Trekking!

As you all might have noticed, Scott has his GoPro at the ready, so stay tuned for our video cut of this little adventure – we’ll let you know as soon as it’s posted!

We flew up and over the glacier first, getting a good look at just how large it was, how deep the crevasses were, and how deeply blue the ice was. The bluer the ice, the denser it is, and likely the older it is! And the Mendenhall is a very old glacier.

We ended up having a tour to ourselves – not sure if the other people who booked cancelled at the last minute or what happened, but we were happy to take it!

There were other tours up on the glacier while we went, but the glacier is absolutely huge. Not only was there more than enough room for everyone, we didn’t even see any of the other tours!

That yellow tent is the base camp where the guides camp out for most of the day, when they’re waiting for other groups to come, and where they have a lot of the gear staged. And that was the first place we had to stop to grab walking sticks, crampons, and other ice-walking safety gear.

This trip isn’t a strenuous one, but if you don’t have proper gear, walking on ice is no fun – and a mishap can cut your adventure short pretty quickly!

Since we had the tour to ourselves, our guide asked us where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do. Our response to questions like that is usually to ask where the guides would go if they could go walk anywhere. That isn’t always an option with large groups, but with a small group of somewhat experienced mountaineers {Scott and I aren’t experts, but we’ve been up mountains before} you have more options.

So we decided to go check out some of the crevasses and see just how deep and blue that ice actually got. We stopped on the way out to taste some of the super fresh melting glacier water running down through some of the crevasses.

There is nothing in the world like fresh glacier water. You don’t normally think of water having a taste, but this had a truly unique fresh taste, maybe from the minerals it picked up and the lack of other stuff in the water!

We got a good look here how the ice changed, from the less dense ice on the top to the super dense deep blue ice at the bottom. In some places, it was so dense, the blue was almost midnight dark! It was incredibly beautiful.

I can’t describe the feeling of walking across acres of craggy blue ice. You’ll just have to get out there and try it for yourself. We definitely will be trying it again, the next time we get up to Alaska! Because after this trip, we want a next time!!

Until next time!


Mendenhall Glacier with NorthStar Trekking

  • No experience necessary – the guides will tailor the trip to your abilities!
  • Bring your insulating layers, but NorthStar furnishes jackets, pants, ice boots, and equipment.
  • For more information, call 907-790-4530 or click here.
  • Charge your camera, bring your GoPro, take all the pictures. This is an amazing experience!

What’s on your Alaska must do list?

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