Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mendenhall, Mush and Majesty

Mendenhall, Mush, and Majesty

Yesterday we did the big shore excursion of the trip.      We took a helicopter out to the Mendenhall glacier near Juneau. A glacier is a giant river of ice. The Mendenhall glacier ranges from 1,000 ft to more than a mile deep. It flows, albeit very slowly, to the sea. The view is indescribable. Sparse rocky snowcapped peaks are mixed with mountainsides exploding in summer green. In the middle of it all is a giant river of white, seemingly frozen in time.

Bald eagles watched us from trees and light polls as we made our way to the helipad. We lifted into the air, gently and smoothly climbing over and through the ridges around Juneau. As we moved in for a landing, the dog sled camp materialized like a ghost. The glacier is part of a national forest, and Park Service rules require all the buildings to blend in to the white background.  Three hundred dogs live here for the summer, along with a number of handlers. These are racing dogs. Like marathon runners they are small, 50-60 lbs, but strong. Many of these dogs have run the Iditarod 1,000 mile race. A few have run all 5 1,000 mile sled races.

We each got a chance to ride in a sled and to drive a second sled. We played with the puppies. There is a team of people that live on the glacier all summer long. We saw their refrigeration, a hole in the ground. They cook with gas stoves and get supplies by helicopter. All the buildings and tents are on runners because everything comes in by helicopter. Don’t worry, each dog has its own dog house and they all come in by air too.

On our flight back, we saw alpine lakes made from melting snow and green valleys, where winter has retreated for a few months. Juneau gets 300 days of rain a year and we managed to find one of the 64 sunny ones. If you go to Alaska, do this tour. Don’t talk yourself out of it. It’s worth every penny.

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