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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mendenhall Glacier

Previously on the Juneau junket: Juneau

Welcome to another part of the largest forest in the United States, the Tongass National Forest. Among these 17 million acres of temperate rain forest, we discovered the awesome Mendenhall Glacier.

The ice was originally know as Sitaantaagu or Aak'wtaaksit by the Tlingits. It has been steadily retreating, over two miles, since 1500, and is predicted to continue its retreat in the near future.

The ice first came into view as the ferry pulled into Auke Bay. Then as we approached along the road, around the bend the ice reappeared from behind the trees.

At the base of the glacier, chunks of ice are calved off and go floating in Mendenhall Lake. Also a small waterfall at the bottom right corner spews into the lake. Further off to the right, emerging from the surrounding mountains, pours a large waterfall.

The water is cold to the touch. The air temperature at the rocky point facing the glacier is noticeably cooler than near the visitor center, as cold air rushes down from the mountains and replaces the warmer air. We sat at the point for quite a while, waiting to witness some live calving, but the ice didn't oblige.

Many of the creeks in the area are full of salmon. The beavers have also been busy with their dam building projects.

While heading back to the bus, we followed a trail along the road, through the forest and over the creek, and were pleasantly surprised to see a bear cub fishing for dinner. He followed the creek further into the forest, and we headed out, not keen on encountering the mother who we assumed must be nearby.

The newspapers and oral reports have been full of bear sightings, and we had begun to wonder if we would see one in the wild. Our Juneau junket not only resulted in the bear sighting, but also several whale sightings, and an up-close experience of a glacier. Despite the drawbacks of the city itself, the trip was great. Seeing Alaska by water is wonderful and definitely one of those things not to be missed.

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