Sunday, May 25, 2014

Matanuska Glacier Trek

If you're looking for a day trip mixed with some cool adventure, we highly recommend a guided trek on Matanuska Glacier. It's one of the most easily accessible glaciers in Alaska and it's located right off the Glenn Highway in South-central Alaska. We've done a lot of fun Alaska adventures, but this one ranks as one of our favorites. We went with a company called Nova Glacier Guides and we can't speak highly enough about them. They offer small group tours and will customize the trek to meet the groups desires and abilities. We were perfectly paired with two other ladies who were up for the challenge of a little climbing and a little rappelling. Our guide, Shawn, was more than awesome. He took excellent care of us during our 6 hour trek and provided great commentary and conversation along with way. He got us up close and personal with ice falls, crevasses, caves and surface ponds. He even took some great photos of us as you'll see. Whether you're a local Alaskan or a visitor, we suggest you plan a day for this very cool adventure! ~Audrey & Patti 
What: Guided "Adventure Trek" on Matanuska Glacier with Nova Glacier Guides.
 Difficulty Level: Their website says no experience necessary which is true, but you should be in decent shape and good health to complete this trek.
Where: Matanuska Glacier is located at about Mile 101 on the Glenn Highway. You can't miss it, trust us. Driving directions at end of this post. 
What to Wear: Long pants or leggings (not flared at the bottom), a spare warm jacket or sweater and rain layers. Bring along a hat or headband, sunglasses, sunscreen, lightweight gloves and hiking boots that cover your ankles. 
What they Provide: They provide a helmet, crampons and a trekking pole. They also provide complimentary hiking boots if you don't have any, which we took advantage of (and they were comfortable - bonus!) as well as all the glacier hardware you'll need.
What to Bring: Small day pack, water, a light snack and a camera.
Cost: $145.00 + Glacier Park fee (about $20)
Open: May 15 - September 2
Children: 12 years +
Duration: 5-6 hours
Pet Friendly: No

You can clearly see Matanuska Glacier from the Glenn Highway at around mile 101. It's approximately 27 miles long and 4 miles wide.

All the basics are covered before you head out, including harness and crampon fitting, proper use of gear, safety instructions, and important information about the icy surface you will spend most of the day on.

Getting geared up and ready to hit the ice. After a short van ride from Nova's office to Matanuska Glacier Park, we put on our helmets, harnesses and crampons. 

These blue, jagged seracs (large towering blocks of ice) are the signature feature of the terminus. It's not recommended and actually not allowed to climb up or around these peaks. As they melt, they break off and huge chunks of ice crash down, making for dangerous conditions. We trekked beyond this area (along the edge of the glacier) and found plenty of safe, steep slopes to climb and explore. 

The glacier feeds the Matanuska River and it's teaming with fish such as Rainbow Trout, King Salmon, Sockeye Salmon and Coho Salmon. It's also a popular whitewater rafting destination.

As we made our way up the glacier, we had to cross several swift running streams. Walking over boulders and rocks with crampons on your hiking boots is harder than it looks. There's no rushing or hurrying on a glacier trek. You take your time and make sure your footing is secure at all times. 

Mid way up the glacier, we stopped for a water break. Shawn used his ice screw to simply drill into the side of an ice wall and out came cold, crystal clear water. Not sure if it was all the minerals or what, but it was the best water we've ever tasted.

The shape and structure of the glacier changes daily as you can imagine. After all, it's constantly on the move. We trekked through all sorts of different ice formations like caves, ice walls and crevasses. Here, you can see the boulders and rocks that the glacier deposites as it advances (about 1 foot per day).

Lots of clothing layers came in handy. We started out at 9:30am and it was a bit chilly. By noon, we were shedding layers. Our guide, Shawn was in a short sleeved t-shirt the entire time. Audrey wore yoga pants that were slightly flared at the bottom  which would catch on the crampon spikes. So be sure to wear long pants or leggings that are tight at the ankle.

BTW, they call the area right around the glacier the banana belt because the glacier creates a weather hole. Cold air from it forces warm air upward towards the mountain peaks. This results in sunny skies and comfortable conditions. Therefore, sunglasses and sunscreen are a must. 

One of the many ice rivers we had to cross.

Chicks with Picks! Patti making her first climb up a glacier wall using two ice axes. Shawn was at the top with a good hold on the safety ropes.

Nova Glacier Guides matched us with 2 other ladies with similar abilities and goals for this trek. We were all first timers but up for some challenges. Here we are taking a mid-day snack break after our final ascent.

 Audrey chillaxin' before her big rappel.

We were all mesmerized by Shawn's experience and professionalism. We definitely felt safe and secure with him.

Shawn testing the ropes. He drilled 6 holes into the glacier with his ice screw in order to anchor the rope we would use to rappel down an ice wall. We think he said this would hold a few thousand pounds. 

Audrey rappelling down a wall of ice…..her life was literally in Shawn's hands :) Shawn was very patient with all of us and encouraged us to take our time and not do anything out of our comfort zone (except rappel down a glacier, backwards - haha)!

We didn't rappel down anything this steep but you can get an idea of how large and magnificent the glacier is from this angle. This climber was actually repelling down the seracs near the terminus which is very dangerous. Later in the day, someone from the park service was heading out to tell this climber to move to a safer location. 

Here we are with our fellow trekkers for the day. We all felt like we were on top of the world.

This was one of the best day trips we've ever done. Seriously, how cool is it when someone asks "What did you do today?" And you can say, "I just climbed a glacier!" 

Oh, and one last thing....we found glacier mud. 
We hear it's great for facials :)

How to Get There: Nova Headquarters is located at 38100 Glenn Highway, Glacier View, Alaska. Head north from Anchorage on the Glenn Highway. Take AK 1E exit toward Palmer/Glennallen. Merge onto AK-1 N and drive about 54 miles until you reach Nova's Hick's Creek facility. Allow about 2.5 hours hours travel time from Anchorage. When you're getting close, you will see the glacier from the highway. It's a magnificent sight!

Nova Website: