We’ve been fortunate to travel all over the world, both for business and pleasure, and have gotten to do some pretty cool things as a result. However, there are very few experiences that could compare to our day at the Mendenhall Glacier.
Originally, we had planned to go whale watching in Juneau, and to visit a dog camp in Skagway instead. (We had to visit a dog camp somewhere as Belinda insisted we go so that she could hold some husky puppies.) Shortly before we left on our trip, a business contact said that we should consider doing the helicopter and dog sledding tour instead as it was one of those “once in a lifetime” type of experiences, and typically the highlight of people’s Alaskan experience. We were a bit hesitant to do the tour due to the high price, but decided to bite the bullet based on his recommendation. We are so glad we did…it was worth every penny we spent and more.
The tour started with a short ride over to the heliport where we were fitted with glacier boots and given a brief safety overview. We were then loaded into helicopters for our 15-minute flight to what is one of the largest dog camps in the world. The tour was a caravan of three helicopters, and so our family was split between two of them. While disappointing at first, it worked out nicely because we all got the front seats right next to the pilot. It was both kids’ first helicopter ride…Belinda loved the experience and Kenneth described it as “nerve wracking,” but each enjoyed the flight.
And, oh, the views from the helicopter were just stunning. To see from the air where the north and south branches of the glacier meet to form the Mendenhall Glacier, which is 2000 feet deep with snow, was something awe inspiring. We soared past mountain goats grazing on the side of the 5000 ft peak, and watched for bears (didn’t see any of those, though). Finally, our helicopters came to a rest right on the snow in front of the dog camp.
At the camp, there was snow everywhere, which was such a nice surprise for our kids, who’ve only seen snow a couple of times in their entire lives. In places, we’d step in and sink down to mid-calf, so it was a challenge for these southerners to navigate the snow! Belinda fell several times (although I think a lot of that was on purpose because she thought it was fun). We were introduced to our musher, and then we boarded the sled for our ride.
Fern took the musher position at the back of the sled, and Kenneth sat in front of him. Belinda and I were in the front part of the sled with the “real” musher. She originally was scared to take the front seat, but then changed her mind after the ride started and we switched at the first stop. We took stops three different times to give the dogs a chance to rest, take photos of the amazing scenery, and we got the opportunity to interact with the dogs. A few members of our dog sled team had recently completed the Iditarod, so we had some very accomplished dogs taking us on our ride! The kids loved petting all of the dogs…one of them even jumped up on Kenneth and showered him with kisses.
They left their imprint in the snow up there by making snow angels…something they were dying to do from the moment they saw all that snow. Finally, at the end of our ride, we had the moment Belinda had been waiting for ever since we mentioned Alaska — they had 13-day old puppies that we were able to hold. I felt the need to remind her that she couldn’t take the puppy home with her because she was in love.
Then, reluctantly, it was time to leave. I think we all could have spent several more hours up there playing in the snow and snuggling the puppies, but alas, our rides were arriving, and with them a new group of people eager to experience what we just did. The helicopter ride back was just a beautiful as the one up there. Between Fern and I, I’m pretty sure that we took over 100 photos just on the helicopter!
Our original plan was to find a place in Juneau to have lunch before getting back on the ship, but both kids were tired and hungry…and HOT in all their layers because it was a warm day in Juneau. So we decided to just head back onto the ship. Lucky for us, as we boarded the ship, we were greeted by a beautiful bald eagle just hanging out on the lamp post right by the gangway — a great way to end what will no doubt be etched in all of our memories as one of the most amazing days of our lives. It was simply a priceless experience.