As a naturalist/tour guide for Gastineau Guiding Company, I spend summers leading mountain hikes and glacier viewing walks through the lofty conifers of the majestic Tongass National Forest. And if that was not happiness enough, I also lead humpback whale watching excursions where we may discover killer whales, sea lions, harbor seals, porpoises and sea otters.
If the cloud cover is cooperative during these excursions, we often see the lofty snow-capped spears of the Mendenhall Towers, multiple glaciers flowing from the Juneau Ice Field, or the distant Chilkat Mountain Range. That said, I am mesmerized by the seemingly out-of-reach landscapes of the Juneau Ice Field with its 38 named glaciers. I often envision how fascinating it would be to be a glaciologist, that is, until the winds howl and the temperature plummets.
Driven by a sense of adventure, I always make an annual pilgrimage into the interior of the Juneau Ice Field. I have taken helicopter flight-seeing trips over the ice field, ice trekked on the Mendenhall Glacier and flown over multiple glaciers to the serene Taku Glacier Lodge. This summer, I went dog sledding on the Norris Glacier through a partnership with Northstar Helicopters and Alaska Heli Mushing.
Although NorthStar Helicopters provides cruise ship passengers transportation to its helicopter base, I drove 15 minute from downtown Juneau to Northstar’s Douglas Island base. Once guests are assembled, the ground crew assesses guests’ clothing and provides boots and jackets if necessary. Once dressed, myself and three other guests were escorted to our helicopter. Pilot Christen strapped us in for our flight-seeing trip over Juneau’s towering mountain and glacial landscape before landing on the windswept Norris Glacier within the interior of the icefield. Christen also provided narration of the landscapes below, including pointing out mountain goats on the ridge-top of Mt. Juneau. I must add the entire NorthStar team was professional and accommodating, and the equipment was in excellent condition.
Hanging out with my appointed musher Gabe Dunham was interesting fun. Gabe is a professional musher who owns Ever More Dog Sled Adventures in Darby, Montana. Apparently Darby is snowless in the summer so Gabe moved her dog team to Norris Glacier this summer in preparation for her inaugural run in the 2020 Iditarod, one of the longest dog sled races in the world. You Go Girl!
Gabe’s lead team, Sigrid and Dietrich, are 7-year-old litter sisters and purebred Alaskan Huskies. Dietrich is Gabe’s main leader and is a “super hard driver.” Gabe said Dietrich, “is by far my smallest leader, but will put her everything on the line. Her nickname is my little mountain climbing momma because she leans into her harness, works so hard on the uphill.”
VIDEO: Click on the above photo.
The team is amped to get started. Clearly they love to run.
Admittedly, Juneau flight-seeing trips are pricy, some more than others depending on if you add in a glacier trekking adventure or a mushing camp visit. Think of such an adventure as a once in a lifetime experience and you may discover that the cost of the views, serenity and puppy love of the musher camp is cheap for the lifetime memories you will take away.