The next day we got up early for our Salmon Berry tour pickup to hike the Matanuska Glacier. Today was also Katie’s 30th birthday, and she informed me months ago that all she wanted to do on her birthday was hike on a glacier. We were pretty stoked. Our tour had about 4 others on board, and it would be a 2.5 hour drive out to the glacier, where we would hike for around 2 hours before having lunch and heading home. The drive was instantly beautiful, with mountains and riverbeds hugging the road. Our guide gave us some useful tidbits about life in Alaska—like the fact that the “clicking noise” cars make when they drive by is from spikes around their tires (illegal May 1—September 1, but so common in winter that they wear the paint off lane dividers). We also got a glimpse on the drive of the all-too-common roadside espresso huts (even in minuscule-sized towns) that keep Alaskans going. After we started to get closer to the glacier, and the river ran nearly up to the road, our guide told us that every year houses are swallowed by when the water swells and all you see remaining is driveways that drop off into nothing. The view on the waterside was out of this world, with crystal-blue mountains in the background and orange tinted brush trickled along the edge, but the fear of river house-swallowing makes it an iffy spot to build.
Finally, after a bumpy ride down a rural road in the little bus, we got to the foot of the glacier. We got outfitted with spikey crampons for our sneakers, including an older man on the tour who turned up in corporate office shoes (last minute decision?). We hiked off toward the glacier, accompanied by a second man now, because as we were told, the conditions on the glacier can change daily and it’s crucial to have somebody there who monitors it constantly. The first part of the walk took us over silver-colored glacier silt, which felt like mud at first touch, but sunk slowly beneath our feet like putty. Our crampons clinked against the metal bridges that allowed us to cross the deeper muddy passes, and finally we were on snow.
We hiked up and down small icy hills, and the crampons allowed us to scale steep walls of snow with almost no effort. The glacier glistened in the sun and crystallized snow created a windswept look that showed the many dimensions of the mountain scape. Hilly ice tips jutted out in all directions, and the glacier was littered with ice crevices and tiny streams under cave-like structures. It was one of the most mesmerizing things I’d ever seen. We moved through the chilly landscape and snapped photos, marveling at the view. At one point, our guide let us hop down a steep several-foot drop that put us into an ice cave with a view of water flowing through a crack in the earth. Several tour-goers were hesitant, to which he replied:
“Well, this is inherently dangerous, so….”
Out we made it and on we went. Further along the hike, we squeezed between a tall, deep crevice in the ice that was steel blue and dripping with water from the peak far above us. It looked more like glowing rock than ice, and I happily let the “waterfall” splash over my windbreaker as I navigated the slushy ground. Eventually it was time to head back, leaving that jarring scene behind us.
Hungry and tired, the tour took us up a steep mountain road to a log-cabin restaurant perched on a hill.
“Is there really a restaurant up here??”
Inside, we ordered burgers and (well deserved) beers and glanced around at the wall decor (err, taxidermy) until our food arrived. At one point, we saw a family of 3 moose run across the field below us, followed by a coyote. Considering all the warnings we had gotten about moose in the road, it was nice to have our first sighting while we were safely indoors. We slept the better part of our ride home.
That night, we grabbed a pre-dinner glass of celebratory champagne for Katie’s birthday at the Bubbly Mermaid, a hole-in-the-wall champagne bar with a rustic wooden bar shaped like a boat and about 50 different sparkling delights on the menu. Pealing ourselves away reluctantly, we had dinner at Simon & Seaforts, polishing off some hearty, fresh salmon with a tangy Asian glaze and sweet, fresh King crab legs drenched in hot butter and lemon. Alaskan seafood heaven—washed down with crisp white wine. Afterward, we bounced around a bit to some neighborhood bars, chatting with a local about travel (which seems to happen everywhere we go) before calling it a night.