(This photo is actually from the movie Armageddon--but it shows the concept).
Of course, a helicopter isn't as cool as a spacecraft, but the helicopter flight to see the Juneau Ice fields and to land on Mendenhall glacier for a walkabout, was among the coolest experiences of my life. (If I ever get a chance to ride in a spacecraft, I'll definitely blog about it here! Don't hold your breath though!)
Here's what the Mendenhall Glacier looks like from a distance--this is from a viewpoint just off the highway in Juneau. The gorgeous pinkish lupine flowers are there because the glacier has been retreating, and they are some of the earliest plants that can take root and survive in the nutrient-poor, squished (but gradually expanding) ground that was once below a stinkin' heavy piece of ice. The lupine will help put nitrogen back into the soil, paving the way for more plants to grow there in the future.
Here's a little video showing the portion of the helicopter flight just after we left Juneau, so you can see how wooded and beautiful the area is. You can also see our pilot, saying funny things over the two-way radio headsets. Along with the pilot and my three fellow travelers, a female guide flew to the glacier with us. Our pilot said he was sweet on her, so he'd give us an expanded flight so she could see more of the glaciers around Juneau, which she hadn't seen before. So, we were lucky to see 8 or 9 different glaciers that morning.
The Juneau ice field, which collects all the snow that turns into slowly moving frozen rivers called glaciers, is a huge area that extends from Juneau for about 85 miles to near Skagway. It feeds 38 glaciers. (Incidentally, while I was doing this, my parents flew to Skagway for the day, and came home completely amazed by the beauty of the ice field they saw along the way, so that's another great way to see this gorgeous area).
As the flight started, we first saw lots of wooded landscape like around the rest of Juneau.
Then we moved into some areas that were bright green, as if they were covered with moss.
(Sorry that you can see the reflection of the helicopter blades in some of my photos. Any yellow spots you see are a reflection of the emergency kits we had with us, and any red you see is a reflection of my "Right Stuff" uniform.)
As we got closer to these bright green mountains, we could see mountain goats on them. (Too bad the mountain goats look like little cotton balls in my fuzzy photos of them...hence, no photo is here).
Here you can see the transition between the green lush mountain and the barren Juneau Ice Fields in the distance to the right.
The sight of the rugged mountain peaks and the undisturbed snow was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.
Here are some of my favorite photos from that area:
Didn't God do an amazing job creating this beautiful world!?!
I was surprised to see that the glaciers had a big black stripe down the middle, so perfect and symetrical that you'd think it was made by man. But these big stripes are actually debris lines, and are made up of rocks that were scraped from the surrounding valley. Called moraines, you can see them along the edges and down the center of the glaciers
Another example of a striped glacier:
Here's a place where two glaciers meet:
I liked this photo because the retreating of the glacier makes it possible to see how glaciers carve U-shaped valleys. (Rivers carve V-shaped valleys).
As we got closer to the glacier in preparation to land on it, we could see more details, like the texture of the ice here: And the crumpled-up ice as it makes its way around a bend:
Here's what that crumpled-up ice looks like from a little closer:
We landed in a flat spot on the glacier, and began our 4-hour trek. Here's a photo of our helicopter and the female guide that flew up with us (and to whom we owe our extra special tour from the pilot!)
Our trek was led by a young man who first helped us put crampons on our boots and gave us ice picks/axes.
Then he lead us around so we could check out the different caves, streams, pools, and waterfalls along the surface of the glacier.
Here's a stream and waterfall that were on the surface:
There were also waterfalls coming down from the surrounding mountain valley, along with deep gashes in the glacier where the ice had started to melt:
We drank some of the glacier water, and checked out the great big rocks that were moved by the ice:
We loved the beautiful blue of the ice ponds. Our guide said that they just suddenly appear at times, which is why he seemed really jumpy and spooked if we ever took a step that made an unusual noise, as you just never know if the ice really is stable.
Here's a photo of me in a cave created by the ice. We climbed down into this area and then quickly got our photo taken so we wouldn't have to stand for very long under the dripping ice water that wanted to run down our backs.
For the grand finale, we put on harnesses and ropes so we could get a look at a 400-foot deep mulan (hole) in the glacier. Here's what the mulan looks like:
Here's what you have to do to get a photo like the one above. I found the experience a little frightening, but afterwards felt hope that perhaps I do have a little of "The Right Stuff", to feel the fear and do it anyway.
I'm so thankful I had the opportunity to go on a helicopter glacier trek...the experience is among the highlights of my life.