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It’s been a hot summer. Chill out with one of these Southcentral Alaska glacier excursions

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: July 6
  • Published July 6

Kids explore the waterline at Spencer Lake with a good view of Spencer Glacier and some of its icebergs on Saturday, June 11, 2016. Hikers can access the area, south of Portage in Chugach National Forest, by way of Alaska Railroad’s whistle stop service, which drops passengers about a 1.3-mile walk from the lake. (Marc Lester / ADN archive 2016)

Parts of Alaska literally are on fire this weekend, and so the battle is on to keep cool.

It’s one thing to hike up to the snow line to get some relief. You can get a jump-start with the tram at Alyeska Resort.

But it’s another thing to get out in a boat and paddle around the icebergs.

Matt Szundy runs Ascending Path, which offers a variety of trips to the ice, including a kayak trip to Spencer Glacier. “This is a great chance to get out on a lake and kayak around the icebergs,” said Szundy. “There’s a cool, katabatic wind that comes down from the glacier and keeps the mosquitos away.”

The first leg of the trip is a ride on the Alaska Railroad from Girdwood to Spencer Glacier. After arriving at the glacier, you get set up with your kayaks and safety gear. Then, after your glacier paddle, there’s a hike up to the face of the glacier for some hands-on time with the ice.

Cost is $339 per person, including lunch.

Szundy also offers a heli-hiking option from Girdwood Airport up to Spencer Glacier. This is a chance to do some serious hiking on the glacier. “We’ve seen a couple of ice caves, but they keep melting,” said Szundy. Guests can either concentrate on hiking around or do some ice climbing during the 2- to 4-hour trip. Cost is $529 per person.

Another option at Spencer Glacier is the Spencer Iceberg and Placer River Float with Chugach Adventures. Travelers board the train in Portage, which leaves at 1:15 p.m. each day. It’s a quick trip up to Spencer Glacier. From there, you hike up to where the boats are by Spencer Lake. “The earthquake in November really shook up the glacier, so there are plenty of big icebergs in the lake,” said owner Ari Stiassny. “We spend about 20 minutes at the lake with the icebergs. Then it’s a 7-mile float down the Placer River.”

The pullout for the rafts is interesting, since it’s right next to the railroad tracks. Right on cue, the train slows down and rafters climb aboard for the return trip to Portage. The guides move quickly to load the boats up in the baggage car! Cost for the trip is $204 per person, with a 10 percent discount for locals.

If you’re over in Valdez and you want to get out on the water, you can go for a glacier cruise with Stan Stephens Cruises to Columbia Glacier. If you want to get closer to the water, Pangaea Adventures offers kayak tours from the harbor to two glaciers. Shoup Glacier is closer to the harbor. The first part is a water taxi ride from the harbor to Shoup Bay. Depending on the tide, you may get to portage your double kayak for a little while before getting in to paddle. All of your kayak gear is included, along with snacks and hot drinks. Cost is $209 per person. The Columbia Glacier is farther away, so it costs more, $299 per person.

If you really want to keep cool, go with MICA Guides on their Ice Fall Trek to the Matanuska Glacier. Take a hike with an experienced guide for three hours. MICA will provide a helmet and crampons. You bring a backpack for your gear, long pants and some sturdy hiking boots. Cost is $89 for adults, not including the $25 access fee to the Matanuska Glacier. MICA also offers advanced treks for those who want to do some ice climbing and hike farther up on the glacier.

Just downstream from the glacier, the Matanuska River offers some great whitewater runs. Nova Riverrunners has operated float trips here for more than 40 years. “We’ve got just the right boats for the river conditions,” said owner Chuck Spaulding. “We’ve got some paddle rafts, as well as rafts with the guide rowing from the middle,” he said. Spaulding loves the Lion Head trip, which includes some “full-on Class III and Class IV whitewater,” said Spaulding.

There’s a 12-year-old minimum age. But Spaulding says that’s more for size than anything else. “We want people to be comfortable with the idea of self-rescue,” he adds. “We try not to put people in the river, but sometimes it happens!” Cost is $120 per person.

For a real thrill, consider a Glacier Jetski Adventure in Whittier. Travelers are outfitted with a Seadoo GTI 130se personal watercraft, a drysuit, and a full helmet with in-helmet communication.

“We launch in Whittier and we follow the coastline to Blackstone Bay,” said owner Rebecca Howard. “There are two tidewater glaciers there, lots of waterfalls and birdlife. It’s usually about 5-10 degrees cooler,” she said.

“We do a loop in the bay. How close we get to the glacier really depends on the variable conditions in the bay,” she said. “But nobody’s in a hurry. There’s a maximum of six people. We just want to make sure everyone has a good time.” Cost is $346 per person, including tax.

The entire trip is about 60 miles and lasts about four hours. Right now, there are two trips per day: at 9 a.m. and at 2:30 p.m.

As the sun turns up the heat on your great Alaska summer, this may be your season to chill … literally on the ice.

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