Juneau’s Massive Icefields

You would expect Alaska’s capital to have some familiarity with snow, water and ice, but they don’t do anything by halves in Alaska, so the Juneau Icefield contains a massive amount of ice and snow that is almost mind boggling in magnitude.

The Juneau Icefield covers over 1,500 square miles of the Coast Mountain Range and contains 38 huge glaciers, some of which are 85 miles in length, and contains snow and ice which vary in depth from 800 to over 4,500 feet (245 to 1371 metres).

Two of the largest of those glaciers are the Mendenhall and the Taku. Although we know blame global warming for the retreat on many of the world’s glaciers, the Mendenhall has actually been retreating since the 1700s, and since then it has lost about 2.5 miles (4kms) of its original length.

The Icefield’s biggest glacier, the Taku Glacier, on the other hand, also began to retreat back in the 1770s, but then began growing in the 1800s, so that now it is 2.5 miles (4 kms) longer than it used to be.

You would imagine that glaciers of such extraordinary size must be very old, but the Juneau Icefield has been dated back to just 3,000 years, so the ice, in arctic terms, is quite young.
Perhaps the best ways to get to the Juneau Icefield are by small plane or helicopter. In addition to simply seeing the glaciers, you can also take a dogsled ride upon them.

If you prefer to go by foot, there are many trails around Mendenhall Lake, some of which offer astounding views of the mountain vistas and the glaciers. If you do decide to head out by yourself, be cautious if you try to walk on the glacier, as the can be very unpredictable, it is constantly moving ice, after all.

Perhaps more unpredictable than the glaciers are the bears, which thrive in the area. You are encouraged to clean up your rubbish and waste, and to take extreme caution if you are seen by one. Even the simple act of trying to take a photo could be interpreted by the bear as an act of aggression.

Bears are delightful creatures, but not so cute when they are chewing your face off after you put yourself in a dangerous situation.

The Juneau Icefield is a true wilderness area, if you treat it with care and respect you will be rewarded with some amazing experiences.

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