Glacier Hiking in Alaska
Despite global warming and all that, Alaska isn’t short on glaciers yet. The truth is there’s so many, some don’t even have names. Glacier hiking is usually a risky business intended for professionals only, but there are some friendly glaciers that you can hike on. Granted, some people do it in jeans and sneakers, but it’s highly recommended to rent a guide and equipment (trekking pole and crampons), so you can get to all the right places on the glacier and, more importantly, so you don’t get to any of the wrong places.
These tours usually focus on interesting glacial phenomena, and there are plenty: rivers and waterfall that flow on and into the ice, blue ice caves and the like. In short, a great experience. Adventurous travelers can go on a full day of ice climbing, including harnesses, ice axes and all bragging rights. The advantage is getting to all kinds of places that are inaccessible by foot, like going down an ice cave near a waterfall, or climbing up the steep parts of the glacier. If you’re into it, here are some recommendations:
A long flat glacier, about two hours east of Anchorage. It’s a popular destination because its highly accessible and because there’s no need for advanced technical skills to hike on it. Near the glacier, around the 102nd-103rd mile of Route 3, there’s a company called MICA Guides that offers glacier tours. There are 3-hour guided tours or a full day of ice climbing.
Side note: the glacier itself is not private property, but to get to it you have to cross a river. Incidentally, the only bridge crossing that river was built by a private person, who for many years has been charging $20 per person for crossing. It sounds like a skit, but apparently fact is stranger than fiction.
Root Glacier is adjacent to the ghost town of Kennecott, about 5 miles from McCarthy. It’s a relatively flat glacier, and the surrounding view is spectacular. A local company called St. Elias Alpine Guides offers half-day or full-day tours on the ice, as well as other park activities such as trekking, climbing groups and rafting. Their office is in Kennecott, so if you’re coming from McCarthy you’ll have to take a shuttle that runs once an hour, or walk 5 miles. However, if you order the trip in advance, they cover the shuttle charge. Don’t say we didn’t tell you.
St. Elias Alpine Guides – The site also contains information about longer trips with the company, as well as some general information about the park.
Not very large, but relatively steep. Located on the road between Glennallen and Valdez (Route 4), right before Thompson Pass. A company called Pangaea in Valdez offers day trips to the glacier, which are mainly focused on ice climbing. Incidentally, Pangaea specializes in kayak trips to destinations in Prince William Sound – if you’re into it, it’s worth a look.