West Glacier Trail- Mendenhall

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#1
California
5 Posts
Joined Jan 2014
Anyone have experience with this trail? Specifically taking the smaller trail to the ice caves? ANY information would be great. We are pretty fit in general and do some hiking, but not a lot of advanced hiking and no 'backpacking". Just wondering how advanced it is... I've read that the Falls trail is good, but I am looking for something a little more advanced and longer. I love the idea of being able to get close to Mendenhall without the whole helicopter thing...
#2
616 Posts
Joined Jan 2014
I did a quick search on the boards because this sounded good for us, but determined that it would take too long, up to 5 hours.

"But if you are hiker, it is actually pretty easy to get to the glacier. We’ve done it. Get yourself to the parking lot at the end Skater’s Cabin Road (58°25’05”N 134°35’25”W), which is 4.0 miles driving distance from the Visitor Center, and do the West Glacier Trail. Some websites describe that hike as 3 to 5 hour of moderate to intermediate difficulty. The last third of the hike consists of bouldering. As far as elevation goes, the Juneau B-2 quadrangle 7.5 min map shows the trail crossing 400 m contours."
#3
Illinois, USA
283 Posts
Joined Dec 2001
Originally posted by kambam
Anyone have experience with this trail? Specifically taking the smaller trail to the ice caves? ANY information would be great. We are pretty fit in general and do some hiking, but not a lot of advanced hiking and no 'backpacking". Just wondering how advanced it is... I've read that the Falls trail is good, but I am looking for something a little more advanced and longer. I love the idea of being able to get close to Mendenhall without the whole helicopter thing...
I used to go all the way to the ice caves when I was young, but the glacier was a lot closer back then.

This last summer, I hiked to the face of the glacier up the ice caves trail. However, getting to the ice caves themselves involves hiking across the left side of the glacier based on my understanding. I was by myself and wasn't about to hike across a glacier alone. I'll tell you what I can though and then recommend taking a guided tour.

The West Glacier trail starts at the Skater's Cabin. To get there, head out to the glacier. About a mile short of the glacier, you'll see a road called Mendenhall Loop Road on your left. You can't miss it, there is a big sign. Take that road to Montana Creek road (which I think has a big sign). You'll come to the fork in the road by a gravel pit. Stay right and you are on Skater's Cabin Road. Follow this to the end and you'll find the West Glacier Trail Trailhead.

Walk about 20 minutes down the trail and you are going to see a "pull-out" on your right that has a gray bench with a small roof built over it. Before the bench, you will see the following sign on your left. This is the beginning of the ice caves trail:

https://fbcdn-sphotos-b-a.akamaihd.n...39129428_n.jpg

The trail can be narrow and a bit overgrown. In places, it reminds me of a deer path in the woods. To me, this is the scary part as there are alder thickets and visibility is short. Take appropriate bear precautions IMHO. There are rocks on the steep side and mud on this portion of the trail.

After what seems like an eternity to me, but is probably 20 to 30 minutes, you will suddenly reach a clearing with a lake. This is where the rock climbing begins. I recommend having your hands free for this portion. The climbing isn't hard, but it is high. Here is a picture of the rock face:

https://scontent-a-iad.xx.fbcdn.net/...79647013_n.jpg

My recommendation is to climb up the center. About 3/4ths of the way up, there kind of is a switchback on the right and a ridge line to climb. you'll almost be climbing back toward the lake. It is tough to make out in the picture unless you know what you're looking for. The rock face doesn't look high in the picture, but here is a pic from the top looking at the lake. There is a person standing right by the lake for scale:

https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.n...67419645_n.jpg

Now, walk toward the glacier. There is no set route from here on out. People have make little inuksuk/cairns to help guide people and there are a few orange flags, but this part is basically freestyling it and it is probably about an hour to get to the face of the glacier. There is a small inuksuk/cairn:

https://scontent-a-iad.xx.fbcdn.net/...66705079_n.jpg

They can be tough to find. You are going to come to a creek/small river close to the glacier that needs to be crossed. If you are close to the lake, head upstream and you'll find a decent place to cross.

This is far as I went, which is the face of the glacier:

https://scontent-b-iad.xx.fbcdn.net/...90123057_n.jpg

From speaking with people, you want to walk up the left side of the glacier for about 20 minutes. The ice caves are on the side of the glacier. I guess they are easy to find, but I cannot confirm.

After saying all that, there is a company that offers this exact tour that knows how to make the hike and do it safely. I grew up in the area, am familiar with the area, and can last a night or two if I had to.

If you insist on doing it on your own, take a small backpack as you don't want to be carrying stuff in your hands while climbing rocks. Pack a jacket to keep warm if you need to. Take a compass, water, and a way to start a fire. I hiked the trail in tennis shoes. Personally, I'd recommend hiking boots, but it can be done with regular shoes on a sunny day and the trail is relatively dry.

I'm fat and not in great shape. I made the glacier face and back in under 6 hours (including drive time to the trailhead and back home). I was a bit tired, but it wasn't a terrible hike.

Again, I highly recommend taking the tour. I just provide info to try and keep you safe if you try it in your own.

Hope this helps!
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Jon

HAL Noordam, Southern Caribbean, 12/01
Celebrity Millenium, Western Caribbean, 10/11
#4
Anchorage, Alaska
3,201 Posts
Joined Jan 2003
The West Glacier trail is a wonderful hike and gets you above the glacier where the helicopter tours land. It also provides access to the caves but you need to know that hiking off of the main trail leads to 10-12 search and rescue efforts annually. The folks that do this and report back are the ones who did well. You never hear from the ones who had to be rescued.
#5
Overland Park, Kansas
768 Posts
Joined Oct 2012
Is there cell phone reception out there? How do find people who get lost or even know they are lost?
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#6
Illinois, USA
283 Posts
Joined Dec 2001
Originally posted by mollanjake
Is there cell phone reception out there? How do find people who get lost or even know they are lost?
From my recollection last summer, there was cell phone coverage, but I believe it is a bit spotty, depending on where you are at on the trail. I recall hiking across the glacial bedrock talking with my wife and kids on the cell phone, so there is coverage out there in the open areas.

I'm not sure how they find lost people. I'm guessing it starts with a call to 911. I don't know how it proceeds from there.

As the sign says, I have no doubts that a lot of search and rescue is due to injuries. The trail is difficult enough were a hike out with an injury is going to take a long, long time.
#7
California
5 Posts
Joined Jan 2014
Wow, thank you so much for the info and the pictures, it's more information than I've been able to find online. We tend to like to do things on our own, but I've been looking into tours also. We plan to be prepared, thanks for the info on bringing something to start a fire (just in case), great tip. We usually have our Camelbaks for hiking, so we'll have full use of our hands.

We're planning on renting a car so I figure what we'll do is head in that direction and if the weather is nice, not too wet, we'll head to the glacier. I don't think I would like going up and down that rocky area if it was pouring rain. The caves would be a plus, but I would be happy to make it to the base of the glacier. If it's raining, we'll just stay on the West Glacier Trail just to be safe. From what I've seen, it looks like the West Glacier trail has some beautiful views...
#8
New Boston, NH. USA
215 Posts
Joined May 2000
Great info. We are there in May, and look forward to trying this hike.
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#9
958 Posts
Joined Jan 2008
Thank you very much slider728 for that detailed info. I've searched blogs all over the net and your narrative of this trail going to the glacier face is the most detailed. The only lacking here is the glacier walk and ice caves.

I hope there is anyone who went all the way to the ice caves continue the narration.

Yes, there is a very solid and reputable company that organizes hikes all the way to the ice caves and they are getting excellent reviews...

But I'm still thinking of whether to join them.. getting to the ice caves and back is very strenuous.. and Juneau is just day 3 of my 14 day Alaska cruise.. not sure if I want to risk getting exhausted this early..

Perhaps if it is towards the last few days of the cruise, then I will join without any second thoughts.
#10
Singapore
66 Posts
Joined Sep 2013
Originally posted by slider728
The West Glacier trail starts at the Skater's Cabin. To get there, head out to the glacier. About a mile short of the glacier, you'll see a road called Mendenhall Loop Road on your left. You can't miss it, there is a big sign. Take that road to Montana Creek road (which I think has a big sign). You'll come to the fork in the road by a gravel pit. Stay right and you are on Skater's Cabin Road. Follow this to the end and you'll find the West Glacier Trail Trailhead.
Is there any shuttle buses or taxis that frequent that area? Im not driving and figured out that I could cab to the area, but im afraid I cant find any for a ride back to town.
#11
Illinois, USA
283 Posts
Joined Dec 2001
Originally posted by eldridchapman
Is there any shuttle buses or taxis that frequent that area? Im not driving and figured out that I could cab to the area, but im afraid I cant find any for a ride back to town.
Not that I'm aware of. The city bus can get you as far as the area around Mendenhall Loop Rd and Montana Creek Rd, but it would still be a significant walk to the trail head, not to mention a significant time investment just to get that far on the bus.

Without renting a car, realistically a cab would be your best bet. To get a ride home, you are going to have to have the number and call. The area isn't too far from the glacier where taxis frequent, so my guess is that one would be willing to pick you up for the decent fare back downtown.
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Jon

HAL Noordam, Southern Caribbean, 12/01
Celebrity Millenium, Western Caribbean, 10/11
#13
Illinois, USA
283 Posts
Joined Dec 2001
Just one last piece of information for those who might try this hike.

Here is a video I took at the face of the glacier this last summer that I uploaded to facebook. Right about the 28 second mark, you'll see the chute up the left side you would be hiking up to get to the ice caves. I thought this might be helpful so people get an idea what they are getting into:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10201995411701516&set=vb.1072330994&ty pe=2&theater

One other thing I want to mention. If you do this hike, talk to the locals you come across on the trails! The locals are friendly and helpful for the most part. They are usually more than willing to share their knowledge. Ask them to make sure you are on the right trail. Ask them how exactly to get to the ice caves. Ask them the route they took across the bedrock, etc... The locals are a wealth of information and they tend to be more than happy to share.
#14
Connecticut
1,886 Posts
Joined Sep 2009
Originally posted by roquejo
Yes, there is a very solid and reputable company that organizes hikes all the way to the ice caves and they are getting excellent reviews...

But I'm still thinking of whether to join them.. getting to the ice caves and back is very strenuous.. and Juneau is just day 3 of my 14 day Alaska cruise.. not sure if I want to risk getting exhausted this early..

Perhaps if it is towards the last few days of the cruise, then I will join without any second thoughts.
Yes thank you slider for this info. Like Roquejo, It is probably too early in my trip this time... but this gives me something new to come back for.
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#15
821 Posts
Joined Feb 2009
Having spent a few summers in Juneau, I had hiked this trail a handful of times 15+ years ago when the glacier was almost a mile closer to the lake than it is present day. Back then there were a few different ice caves created by cascading creeks that were pretty easily accessible by hiking the West Glacier trail and then hiking on side trails down to the glacier's edge.

I recently returned a year ago on a cruise and was amazed at how far the glacier had retreated since I last had seen it.

The traverse is a much longer off trail hike and one now has to travel over much more recently exposed loose silt in addition to scrambling up, over, down and around over the landscape that abuts the shrinking glacier's edge.

It is a hike that I would recommend only be done by healthy and athletic skilled hikers with proper hiking gear(boots/extra dry clothes etc.).

To get all the way up to where there is an existing ice cave takes roughly 6 hours round trip and includes moderate to intermediate inclines over uneven ground.

It still is doable for a cruise ship visitor (renting a car) with enough time for the day in port, but understand that this is the type of hike that may leave one a little sore if they aren't in shape and used to hiking off the beaten path in the woods regularly. There are also lot of spots where a person can roll an ankle or slip and bang themselves.
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2016 HAL Oosterdam - Adriatic Dream -- 2016 Ruby Princess - Mexican Riviera -- 2015 Carnival Sunshine - Eastern Caribbean Journeys -- 2015 Norwegian Dawn - Western Caribbean -- 2015 Carnival Dream - Western Caribbean -- 2014 Sapphire Princess - Mexican Riviera -- 2013 Emerald Princess - Southern Caribbean Medley -- 2013 Star Princess - Alaska/Glacier Bay -- 2010 Royal Princess - Tahiti and French Polynesia -- 2009 Caribbean Princess - Classic Southern Caribbean
#16
Connecticut
1,886 Posts
Joined Sep 2009
Originally posted by Skai
It is a hike that I would recommend only be done by healthy and athletic skilled hikers with proper hiking gear(boots/extra dry clothes etc.)
Thanks for the excellent advice. Time to start getting in shape for the following time I can return to Alaska. This will certainly be on the list.
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NCL Norway Caribbean Aug1985 ~ NCL Dreamward Bermuda Sept1995 ~ Golden Princess Caribbean Nov2001 ~ HAL Maasdam Caribbean Apr2004 ~HAL Zuiderdam Panama Jan2010 ~ HAL Eurodam Caribbean Nov2010~ HAL Westerdam Caribbean B2B Nov2011~ HAL Eurodam Caribbean Mar2014 ~ HAL Statendam Alaska Aug2015 ~ HAL Eurodam Caribbean New Years 2016 ~ HAL Eurodam Caribbean New Years 2017