What’s it like to walk on a glacier? Is the ice slippery? Are there big crevasses that will swallow you up, never to be seen again? How cold is it? Do you need to be decked out like an Arctic explorer? If you’re an active traveler asking these questions, do I have an adventure cruise excursion for you. And, it’s far different from the typical helicopter glacier landing that most boomer cruisers to Alaska experience.
Alan and I have had our share of glacier encounters. We’ve watched from the deck of Seven Seas Mariner as a large chunk of ice calved from Alaska’s Hubbard Glacier sending a gigantic spray of water into the air. In New Zealand, we walked through a temperate rain forest to view the terminal moraine at Franz Josef. We paddled a canoe for a close-up inspection of Davidson Glacier near Skagway, Alaska. But our InnerSea Discoveries cruise (now called the Un-Cruise) excursion to Baird Glacier in southeast Alaska surpassed them all.
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As the skiff motored across Thomas Bay towards Baird Glacier, we began to feel the cold chill that the wind blowing off of that much ice generates. After exiting the small raft, our path led through a moss covered field where large round stones littered the landscape as if some mischievous giant had emptied his bag of marbles onto the ground. Pockets of small evergreens stood in sheltered footholds, nature’s attempt to reclaim herself. And always there was the distant sound of melting ice, dripping like a water faucet that you can’t quite shut off.
To reach the glacial ice, we climbed down a boulder field and across spongy streams of glacial mud. The trick was to lightly, and quickly, pick our way to the glacier’s face. Anyone who stopped too long on the mud would have their boots sucked into the muck, ask Alan.
A short climb up brown, dirty ice and we were on top of Baird Glacier. Stretching as far as we could see, the white portions of the ice seemed to mock us. “Come closer, it’s not far.” But what looked smooth and white turned out to be ridges, hills and valleys of dirty ice. I thought to myself, “this must be what it feels like to walk on the moon.”
We stopped at pockets melted into the ice where blue holes revealed themselves. At a wide crack, Nitakuwa, our guide, tossed in a pebble as we judged the deepness of the small crevice. Walking on Baird Glacier was like hiking on a scenic mountain where each new bend in the trail begs to be explored, causing the hiker to go on and on. The pure, white ice seemed just out of reach, beckoning us to continue up and down ice ridges that sparkled in the sun; until, eventually, our progress was blocked by a large chasm.
The glacier experience ended as we made it back to land and stretched out onto the soft, spongy moss. As the sun warmed my face, I felt as if I could feel the glacier’s imprint, if not on my body, at least on my traveler’s soul.
This excursion was divided into ability levels, with more than enough InnerSea Discoveries crew to allow for those cruisers who might want to turn back after a brief glacial encounter. Each excursion leader carried a radio to communicate with other leaders as well as the ship’s captain.
Did we need special equipment? Alan and I wore rain boots provided by our ship, Safari Quest. I also carried walking poles from the ship’s stock, which offered just enough balance to allow me to continue exploring Baird Glacier when the terrain was a bit slippery or steep for this baby boomer. Of course you’ll want to bring a hat and gloves. I wore a pair of long underwear underneath water resistant safari pants. Sunny weather helped to make this a memorable experience. I’m not sure how far we would have made it in the rain.
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Disclosure: The Un-Cruise company (previously American Safari and InnerSea Discoveries) provided this travel experience, but the opinions are our own.