Saturday, July 22, 2017

Vacationing at a Glacial Pace

We walk through the fields to the rivers of ice
(Obscure Simple Minds reference that no one will get)
Today I slowed down my Alaska vacation to glacial pace.  With a helicopter ride to a real glacier.

It all started with getting properly outfitted at the Coastal Helicopters international corporate office (above), in weather-proof boots (to improve traction on the ice) and rain slicker,

Soon we were off and flying.  This was my first time ever in rotary wing aircraft.

I was a bit nervous as I don't understand the physics of rotary wing aircraft.  I understand how fixed wing aircraft work, with the air pressure differential above and below the wing etc. etc.  And I understand how a helicopter goes up and down.  I just don't understand how a helicopter flies forward.

The pilot tried his best to answer my question about basic flight physics with an explanation about the angle of the front rotor blades etc. etc.  But it didn't matter whether I understood, we were moving, booming and zooming (another obscure reference to an obscure song by a kinda-sorta obscure band).

Over Juneau:

This is the area of the ferry terminal, north of the airport, on the way to glacier-land.

A better view without window framing:

After a short flight (10 minutes, maybe?), the destination came into view.  The Herbert Glacier:

Yes, we went to the Herbert Glacier, not the Mendenhall Glacier.  Everybody goes to the Mendenhall Glacier.  It's like the Grand Central Station of American glaciers.  So being the people of discriminating taste, we went to the much more exclusive Herbert Glacier.

And here I am:

Stylin' in my glacier boots.  Lookin' slick in my slicker.

The glaciers really are sky blue.  It has something to do with ice crystal structure, according to our guide and helicopter pilot.

I was glad we got the special boots for walking on the glacier.  That stuff was slick.  It was like walking on ice.

You could drink the water run off from the glacier, although they neglected to tell us to bring a cup or bottle.  I cupped some in my hands.  It tasted just like -- I kid you not -- melted ice cubes.

You can't really tell from the above photograph -- you'll have to take my word on this -- but down in that blue hole about 30 or 40 feet was a river of water.  You could hear it moving fairly loudly.  The good news is that I could see how thick the ice was and see that there was no risk of that thick of an ice sheet breaking loose.

The Herbert Glacier flows at a rate of about a foot and a half a day, which is faster than what I would've expected a "glacial pace" to be.  This means that all of the ice in the glacier is completely replaced about every 300 years.

We also saw some mountain goats way high up one mountain side.  I didn't even bother to try to take a picture because my little camera lacks the pixel power to zoom that much.

Soon play time on the glacier came to an end and it was time to fly back to base camp.

The helicopter held a maximum of six and we were at maximum.  Oh, and if you care, ask me someday to explain the "glacial pace" reference in the title.  There's a story there.

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