SENSES WORKING OVERTIME
Porthole Cruise Magazine|November/December 2020
Be sure to utilize all ve to fully appreciate Alaska’s glaciers.
ERIC LUCAS

“Have a taste,” my guide on Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier says, handing me a canteen cup he’s just filled at a tumbling freshet on the slope we’re climbing.“It’s pretty good.”

The frigid, aquamarine water is indeed quite good — as cold as water can get, highly oxygenated by bouncing down the ice, tinged with minerals from the heights above through which it has passed as snow, ice, then glacier-melt.

Located just 20 minutes outside downtown Juneau, the Mendenhall is among dozens of coastal glaciers that Alaska travelers encounter on journeys in the Great Land’s southeast and south-central regions, from Ketchikan to Anchorage. One nickname for America’s 49th state is “The Great Land,” and glaciers are among the greatest of its facets.

A research study years ago determined that seeing glaciers is among the top three objectives for visitors — whales and bears are the other two — and unlike those two, glaciers are basically guaranteed. It’s impossible to sail the Gulf of Alaska coastline and not see glaciers; they are as intrinsic to the landscape as the mountains that birth them. Most famous are those in Glacier Bay, the national park that draws about 1 million visitors a year aboard vessels ranging from day-tour boats to larger ships. Hubbard Glacier near Yakutat and Tracy Arm near Petersburg are also common destinations to see tidewater glaciers; locales with glaciers on land and sea, popular for off-boat excursions, include Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau, Whittier, and Seward.

They’re massive

Tidewater glaciers tower over the sea hundreds of feet high and are the terminuses of ice rivers that may stretch more than 50 miles. TheHubbard is an exceptionally immense glacier, 75 miles long, 6 miles wide at its end, 400 feet high (that’s about 40 stories). Even the biggest cruise ships look like toys next to the Hubbard, which they approach within a quarter-mile.

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