Helicopter Glacier WalkJuneau, AK
Glacier Walk by way of Helicopter
In late July, I threw down $300+ to book a last-minute helicopter glacier walk with Coastal Helicopters. Blue skies, blue water, sunshine of the non-liquid variety — I couldn’t have picked a better time.
At the Juneau Airport, bright yellow and black helicopters buzzed and hovered like worker bees. A large group of guests and I locked up our belongings, donned boot covers for traction, watched a safety film and lined up 6×6 by weight. As we boarded our assigned chopper, the whir of the engine tickled the butterflies already flitting in my belly.
Michael, pilot and guide for our our helicopter glacier walk, has the kind of smile that says he absolutely loves this job. After flying past mountains of green, he flew us up, over, and through the Juneau Icefield, further than usual given the crystal clear air. Through our headsets, he told us about the 1500 square mile icefield, home to over 40 large valley glaciers and 100 smaller ones.
We touched down on Norris Glacier. Micheal noted that he feels this spot is is the prettiest of all possible landings. I have to believe him.
The Gravity of My Relativity
The engine was stilled and Michael escorted us out. As we walked on that glacier, the enormity of nature’s powerful and beautiful force sprawled for miles around us.
Moraines of powdery silt to boulders the size of our helicopter (see below) painted the ice in muted golds and blacks. Clear glacial runoff gushed into azure blue fissures that dropped deep below where we stood.
I felt so small.
It’s both awe inspiring and unsettling to stand where a gaping chasm did not exist a week prior. The hole below is the length of my thumb . One just like it turned into that waterfall in just one short week. Science tells us that glaciers are not just in constant motion, but receding at alarming rates. To be riding on the back of one in July’s ever-increasing Alaskan heat is to feel your bones begin to liquify.
The adventure is thrilling, exceptionally beautiful, and it’s also sad to see something so incredible fading so fast, right before your eyes.
It’s hard to understand what we are losing without experiencing it ourselves, a shortcoming of human nature. And, yes, the “going” is part of the problem. But the understanding is monumental once you do.
Before take-off, we drank from the icy runoff, taking in this spectacular place, making it a molecular part of ourselves. As we returned to the lower regions of Earth, our hearts and minds were still miles above, reveling in the beauty found there.