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Herbert Glacier Via Coastal Helicopters
andrew @ 08/ 25/ 2009

Herbert Glacier is one of many glaciers that branch out from the Alaskan Ice Shelf in Juneau.  According to our tour guide, it is one of the least touristy ones because the only way of accessing this hole-in-the-wall glacier is either by helicopter or by a long hiking path (note not a foot trail) only feasible by mountain bike. Sitting only 18 miles away from Alaska's capital city of Juneau and at 2000 feet above sea level, Herbert Glacier is one of the most magnificent wonders of the world.  I chose the helicopter route because it seemed like the more exhilarating and fun route, as well as being able to set foot and walk around on the glacier.  Because we arrived in Juneau by cruise ship in the afternoon, we were scheduled to leave at 8pm that night.  Juneau was our first port of call so our group was very anxious to get out of the cruise and walk around with our sea legs.  I read some reviews about a few helicopter companies beforehand and found that Coastal Helicopters was a great company to fly with. Not only did they get good reviews and ratings, they were the cheapest of the three companies that fly out from Juneau International Airport.

 

This company does not just specialize in helicopter tourism. Helicopter tourism only pays for the gas they put in their helicopters.  They also fly rescue missions, help fight forest fires, and transport heavy goods for construction and other purposes.  We had bought our plane tickets via a middleman booth outside the cruise terminal where they were selling for 25% less than onboard the boat.  Because we paid in cash, the man further discounted our price.  We had asked which glacier Coastal would take us to and he said that it was pilot's choice between three glaciers, Herbert, Mendenhall and Taku Glacier.  Mendenhall is the most populated glacier and we were glad not to have been transported there.  We were shuttled to Juneau International Airport at 5:15pm and did not arrive at the airport until around 5:45pm. One might think this is getting late and it would get dark soon, but let's not forget that we are in Alaska.  The sun does not settle down until past 9pm, which allowed us to not fear it may get dark before being able to see the glacier in full day light. 

 

At the airport, we were brought to Coastal's little portable building where we were given snowshoes and a safety instruction about the flight. A short wait and then we were off in the helicopter with a very knowledgeable female pilot. The pilot said we were going to visit and walk on Herbert Glacier. She had told us that Mendenhall Glacier has too many tourists because all the city tours stop by there, which ruins the experience of feeling isolated walking on a glacier. As we were heading toward the glacier, the pilot narrated the trip, mentioning how all these glaciers were formed during the world's last ice age thousands of years ago. She also mentioned that although it may seem that everyday these glaciers are changing shape and melting pretty fast, it will be way past our generation and generations to come before it will all melt away.

 

We landed in semi-flat area that did not seem like it could take a helicopter, but it amazingly did. The pilot carefully maneuvered the chopper down and told us we had to wait for 2 minutes for the rotors to spin down before we could go out. These had to be the longest 2 minutes of my life. Seeing the beautiful, surreal scenery through our plexi-glass doors made us feel like we were in prison itching to get out and escape to the serene scenery. We were finally allowed out with the help of our pilot and she guided us around the glacier, making sure that we were safe and under her watch the whole time. I immediately felt the glacier wind chill my body as the helicopter door opened. It was sunny and hot in downtown Juneau, but on the glacier, it was windy and chilly.  We were isolated on the glacier, with just the nature's breeze flowing through us.  There were no other people or tours to be seen, and it felt as though we had the whole glacier to ourselves.  The floor beneath us looked so pristine and blue that it did not seem like it could handle our weight. The glacier ice was really sharp as I ran my hand across the floor, and it felt like swiping your hand over rough sandpaper. The unique landform that the glacier makes is a something that words cannot describe. The crevasses that the glacier decided to form look like dried up canyons with cracks and ditches, except that this is pure ice. We could see that this glacier extends from the top of the Alaskan Ice Shelf, all the way down towards the water where it sits melting away every second of it's life. There was a little stream that formed on the top of the glacier and ran down near our landing spot. The pilot said that the water was safe to drink and could be one of the best sips of fresh ice cold water we could have in our life. She was right and it tasted very refreshing even as I could feel the icy cold water go down my throat and into my body. Before we knew it, our 20 minutes on the glacier was up and we had to head back home.

 

Overall, I really enjoyed my experience with Coastal because they were not as commercialized as the other helicopter companies.  Most other companies will have photographers and videographers on board who will try to sell you pictures and videos of your experience on the glacier afterwards for a price that you wouldn't want to pay. If your the person that does not get motion sickness or have a fear of heights, then I highly recommend taking this helicopter tour and taking a glacier walk as it is a breathtaking, once in a lifetime experience. It was the best $210 I have spent in my life.

What were the WOW moments you experienced?
The big instant WOW moment is nevertheless being able to experience walking on a glacier. Not many people can say that they did that. Also riding in the helicopter was fun too because the pilot made some sharp high G turns and it's an experience that is unforgettable!
United States, Juneau, Herbert Glacier
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