Once our cruise ship docked at Juneau, my brother and I immediately rushed out of the pier and met with the representative from Above and Beyond Alaska. At Alaska, there is a stunning ice cave located around 10 miles away from the city of Juneau. I have been setting my sight on this cave for years, but never had the chance to visit the state of Alaska.
If you want to know more about the cave, there is a great article by BBC about it:
Princess Cruise provides many excursion to explore around the state capital. However, all of Princess Cruise excursion options are safe. On the other hand, reaching the Mendenhall Ice Cave requires tremendous amount of strength and endurance, because path to get there is quite dangerous. I researched for tour operators that bring people to the ice cave and I have found one reputable company - The Above and Beyond Alaska. They specialize in bringing people to the cave. When I found out about this company, I quickly emailed and asked them three questions:
1) How long does it take to get to the cave?
2) My cruise ship docks at 7:30 am and leaves at 4 pm, will I have time to come back?
3) Am I too late to sign up for this trip?
Luckily, I was able to sign up for a group to hike to the cave. This company only brings a maximum number of 12 people per day. It takes about 30 min to bus to the beginning of the trail, 30 min to get your gears ready, 3 hours to hike to the cave, 30 min to explore the area, 3 hours to come back, and another 30 min to bus back to the docks. If you think about it, that's about 8 hours round trip in total!
That's not a lot of time. Nonetheless, we signed up with this tour without any doubt. The trip costs around $200 USD but it's definitely worth it.
The $200 trip package includes a backpack, harness, a helmet, an ice axe, a pair of crampons, food and water. The pair of crampons are used for later when we have to step on heavy ice.
The first 2 miles of the hike was pretty easy, because the trail was well maintained. However, the next 4 miles was very challenging. Not only the trail wasn't maintained, but the trail was also quite dangerous. We had to climb over rocks and walk across hills.
Some of the roads were tough to walk on.
We had a couple mini-breaks, but those breaks were only long enough for us to eat a snackbar.
On our way to the Ice Cave, we learned about five different species of salmon. Our tour guide told us a trick to remember them.
Think about your fingers:
1) Chum Salmon - Sounds likeyour thumb
2) Sockeye Salmon - Use your index finger to poke someone's eye (evil!)
3) King Salmon - Middle finger is the king
4) Silver Salmon - put your silver ring on your ring finger
5) Pink Salmon - your pinky!
According to our tour guide, we were lucky to have a sunny day on our hike. Apparently, Juneau rains 300/365 days in a year. Often times, tour groups couldn't even finish the entire trail and had to turn back half way.
The closer we were to the glacier, the colder it became. Eventually, I had to put on my jacket. Once we hiked up this particular mountain, we found ourselves a specatuclar view of the glacier.
As we walked closer to the glacier, I felt like we were part of the fellowship in the Lord of the Rings. The scene was just specatuclar.
As soon we hit the ice, it was the time to put on our crampons. Since the crampons had spikes, we were supposed to walk heavily so that the spikes could go through the ice and to provide us with stability. As the tour guide said, we had to walk every single step with purpose.
At the end, the hard work definitely paid off. We reached the ice cave and was able to crawl inside for a good 7 minutes to enjoy the view. The cave inside was completely blue, which I mentioned from the previous blog post that ice reflects the shorter blue wavelength to our human eye.
I don't even want to talk about how difficult it was to hike back (all uphill).
However, at the end, it was worth it.