Glaciers have been expanding the minds of humans since well before the John Muir era. You will never hear me refer to a glacier as 'it', but instead 'she'. Glaciers are very much alive, with temperament and personality, aesthetic and charm. Ever since I moved here to Alaska, I've been incredibly drawn to them, and was instantly moved by the Mighty Mighty Mendenhall. Her ease of access and beautiful lakeside presence makes her one of the most popular tourist stops in all of Alaska. But beyond that, her willingness to share but inheritant shyness have always intrigued me.
As any new residentof Juneau, Mendenhall is a mandatory first stop. I had never seen a glacier before, and now I was working for a glacier guiding company, so I needed not only to go out of intrigue, but also for professional reasons! I had never seen a glacier, and couldn't have ever imagined the magnitude and beauty. I was wholly unequipped to explore the ice itself, and knowing I would have plenty of time to learn about glaciers and glacier safety, I didn't even choose to enter the at-the-time large ice caves. Now, I've seen dozens of glaciers and been on almost as many. But not a single glacier sighting or trek is less exciting than the last.
Tidal glaciers tend to be extremely temperamental, as they draw tired of the endless crashing of warm waves upon their face. They stare down at you with power and vocality as they warn of their strong presence and dangerous approach. Some are much more welcoming than others, and with age, they grow more and more accepting of their human interaction, almost as if pleeing for help. These introverted glaciers hide some of the most amazing wonders possible, you just have to dig deeper to find them.
Landlocked, or lake glaciers have matured to their humble stage. They usually boast impressive terrain both on the glaciers themselves and the terrestrial landscapes surrounding her beauty. They are often times more welcoming, sometimes even inviting you in via a beautiful network of ice caves. But as you explore more and more, you realize she is more complicated than simply the beauty on the surface; with dangerous icefalls, crevasses and moulin forming a vast and complicated landscape.
We dare not forget about the alpine glaciers which hide away in the mountains and can easily be missed. They blend in with the year-round snow pack and sometimes are indistinguishable, but boast a long history and allow us to look into the past. If you make the effort to get all the way up to their faces, you can see their beauty shining as much as any other, and you'll likely find some unexpected gems and surprises. They take the winters to expand outwards with great expression and confidence, and beg to be explored and valued, while looking down and nurturing those attached to the same icefield.
But each glacier, regardless of definition, has a very distinct personality. Some are more moody than others, allowing for only rare passage through the area, but when possible, making no mistake to show off her beauty. Even glaciers which seem very still and stable are always moving, talking, learning. It's rare to have the opportunity to look at glaciers every day throughout many years, but think about these things next time you see one. Talk to her, study her, and enjoy her beauty in awe, but with respect for who she is and what she's been though.