My now fiancee and I did the full day Mendenhall Glacier Trek while visiting Juneau. We were on a cruise ship but researched and booked this trip directly with Above & Beyond Alaska.
This turned out to be a great hike and a challenging one at that which takes up the whole day. The tour provider picked us up directly from the ship, provided gear (see below), and acted as the guide for the trip. In this particular
case which we liked there was no handing us off between different guides, drivers, etc. One person did it all which was great. At the end we were also driven back to the ship. We can't say enough about our guide Dawn, we had a great
time throughout. I'm sure other guides are similar based on various correspondence with Above & Beyond Alaska.
We did the full day very active Mendenhall Glacier hike so the following will apply to that option only. We aren't sure about other options as this is the only thing we had time for and wanted to do. I would say contact the tour
operator via phone or email with questions and concerns.
The hike itself is quite challenging especially during inclement weather. We had mostly mist and then pouring rain but had a blast on our trip. This adventure is really going to be most enjoyable if you generally are fit, active, play
sports, have hiking experience, and are ok with getting dirty/wet at times (it's nature what do you want). The trip is also 6-8hrs long including driving from Juneau to the trail head and back. Plan on a solid 5+ hrs of hiking and
related activity throughout the day. This is definitely one of those hikes I would recommend to just anyone.
The effort is well worth it. The trip begins as most normal hikes do through the woods and remains relatively flat with a few scenic initial stops. The terrain once you get deeper into the rainforest (yes rainforest) changes in some
cases quite drastically in both fauna and obstacles encountered such as boulders, creeks (with and without bridges), and rock that can be slick as it's flat due to glacial movements. These are not difficult to overcome but require some
dexterity and faith that the rock in the creek isn't really as slippery as it looks. At length, you'll end up coming out of the forest and into a rocky area where the glacier has receded over. This in essence will feel like bouldering
for those that have done that but doesn't require any very elaborate climbing skills or rope. It is definitely school yard playground/treehouse rules of climbing. After making the trek over this area you'll actually reach the base of
the retreating glacier. This is where the cramp ons and ice fun start. Walking on the glacier with cramp ons is definitely something. Don't worry, if you've made it this far this part will be fun and not nearly as tiring, the cramp
ons make good work of the ice. The sights on the glacier are amazing and each step is a photo opp for those budding photographers out there but be sure to lift your head out behind the camera and up from the ice and see what's out there
too. Since the glacier is moving, obviously I can't tell you what you'll see but some things we saw included icebergs floating, ice (small chunks) breaking off, water tunneling at the surface, and even an ice cave. Two things you will
definitely see and appreciate is the blueness of the ice and the true expansiveness of the ice. No National Geographic/Discovery channel and HDTV can do the magnificance and magnitude of that justice. Once you get back off the glacier
it's time to trek back but we took a different way home than where we came which was an adventure of itself. The trek back is where some of the conditioning (or our lack thereof) was felt and it includes lots of vertical ascents and
descents through gullies and riverbeds. The general geography is up and down. There's lots of hanging onto a branch to step down from a higher ledge and similar type of stuff. A little more akin to a descent off a mountain hike. It
can get really tiring and we made many more stops as a group then we did on the way to the glacier.
Definitely book directly if you can. Seasoned travelers will know that's generally the best way to book "excursions" especially if you are on a ship or traveling with another operator (which will charge their cut on top of the normal
Contact Above & Beyond Alaska directly if you have special requests like scheduling, gear, etc. They were very helpful in explaining what they could and couldn't do. In our case they were able to speed up the trek some because our ship
was only at the port for about 7 hours and usually 8 or so hours is recommended. I had really good luck communicating via email due to timezone differences.
1) snack/bottle of water
2) Backpack which was a large climbing pack.
3) Helmet, ax, harness, crampons -- that's all the ice gear and you'll use all of it on the glacier not anywhere else
4) Rain gear -- This to those that aren't familiar means a windbreaker like shell with a hood that's waterproof. It doesn't provide warmth, it's only to keep the water off you and is worn over your other coat or layers
Gear you should consider/need to bring yourself:
1) Hiking boots, not sneakers, the crampons will hurt with sneakers/not work. I had low top hiking boots and those worked fine with the crampons although full hiking boots would have been better.
2) Dry bag or similar -- We put our stuff into a dry bag that we had and then into the backpack, this was for wallets, phones, etc. For those in the US, yes your cell phoen will work suprisingly along most of the trek so it's a good
emergency item to have on you.
3) Layers -- Think typical active thermal wear. Your mileage may vary in the summer but the glacier is always cold -- it's ice, duh
4) Gloves -- I really did well with a set of old skiing gloves, others had more spring skiing gloves or knit gloves. I was happy with my warm pair others were fine with lighter.
5) Additional food/water -- Not an all out dinner but energy bars, some water, or candy
6) Coat -- We wore light skiing/active jackets which worked well especially since some of that high tec fabric was water resistant enough until it started to pour.
7) Hat -- a good hat, wool hat, or the like goes a long way.
8) Good Attitude -- There's a lot of nature here so there's going to be things out of your control.
Lastly one word of caution in general based on our experience having done many similar things in new areas all around the world where we didn't live or spent a lot of time in -- use a tour guide to do this hike. Technically speaking if
you've traveled enough you go, well heck I could have done that myself from time to time, but this is Alaska, not your backyard -- there's way too many things that you won't be familiar with here and it's fairly technical hike and the
route, especially back is not marked/visible. Perhaps someone that's a mountaineer/extensively experienced hikers will attempt something like this on their own but those people have all their own gear, work in groups, and likely have
made plans with someone local before they set out. We saw at least one other pair of people trying to walk on the glacier without gear (nearly impossible) and neither had weather gear, a backpack, etc, etc. They went out of sight and
we didn't cross them again but given that it started pouring they at the very best had a horrible trip back. Do you really want to be those people on the cell phone asking for an airlift via chopper because you are ill equipped, lost,
and are close to being out of usable light for the day?