A Blast From the Past

A Blast from the Past

Katie Popyack, Hartwick College

Coming from New York, Alaska seemed like a mythical place; a cold area where bears and moose roam free and everyone is toughened by the climate. Two years ago, my family and I went on our “last family vacation” (according to my mom). Never would I have imagined that in two years’ time I would be back, having the adventure of a lifetime.

I first saw Alaska’s beautiful landscape from a cruise ship. The ship took the time to sail into Glacier Bay, turn off the engines, and allow us passengers to listen to the thundering of the calving ice. This was the moment I fell in love with these magnificent features. After that moment, my short time on and off the ship was dedicated to viewing any glacier I could find. In Juneau, I had the opportunity to visit the Mendenhall Visitors Center where I hiked out to Nugget Falls. There I was able to imagine the landscape hundreds of years ago, covered by ice.

Two years go by and I find myself back at the Mendenhall, viewing it from an entirely new perspective.

Setting out on the long hike to the Mendenhall Glacier, needless to say, I was excited. I didn’t know if any of the JIRP students (myself included) were ready for what we were about to experience.

Up and down we went; over hills, down steep, slippery rocks all excited to use our crampons for the first time. Over ledges that seemed impossible to climb, always looking towards the Mendenhall terminus, which seemed to be getting closer and closer.

Finally we were up close, the glacier looming over us in beautiful shades of blue and white. Hurrying to the junction of rock and ice, our first steps were tentative. For most of us, it was our first time on a glacier. We were transported into a whole new world filled with amazingly blue ice caves, deep moulins, and crevasses all around us.

And then we were off, walking the terminus of the Mendenhall, viewing things that brought us to this program in the first place. We were all there for glaciology, science, beauty, and adventure. This was our first taste of what to expect for the next two months.

Looking back down the valley, I recalled myself two years ago, viewing the Mendenhall from afar, desperately curious about glaciers. Never would I have imagined where I would be standing in just two years’ time.