Experiencing a Glacier by Helicopter Drop-Off
It is a blue bird day, in other words, there is not a cloud in sight. One of the benefits of being on the interior of Alaska is a warmer and dryer landscape. This creates perfect windows of opportunity to have crystal clear views of the intricate layers that make up the Mat-Su Valley. Not only that, but quick and easy accessibility to some of the more remote areas of the glacier. We open our day with sheer excitement of experiencing a glacier by helicopter drop-off this morning.
The group fills out paper work and goes through safety videos and protocols. Soon our bags and gear are queued for the lead guide to grab and place in the helicopter when ready. The group lines up to be escorted as planned to the the blue mechanical dragonfly resting on the launch pad. The rotor starts to spin.
The blades slice the air, wind whipping and cutting all sense of sound around us. The lead guide escorts us one by one to the helicopter. Carefully we follow the steps for a safe helicopter entry. Cautiously we scurry under the spinning rotor and climb into our seats. Noise cancelling head phones are handed along to protect our ears and better allow us to communicate through the voice activated microphones attached. The pilots choice of rock music plays through the speakers between conversations.
With the doors closed the helicopter slowly begins to lift off the ground and hover. Subsequently my stomach sways with the butterflies fluttering through my abdomen. The machine and pilot are swift and fluid together, giving me more confidence into the ascent. We watch the launching pad start to disappear as we crest over tree tops.
We take sight of the confluences of all the surrounding elements, intertwining worlds. Lush green coniferous forest lines the silted rushing river below. You can see the glacial melt pour into the flow, meanwhile the different colors swirl together as the water moves down valley. Lines of ant sized people dot the white ice to rendezvous at some of the favorite locations on the glacier. Rocky moraine lines the toe of the glacier and holds dazzling blue kettle ponds scattered by dirt cones at the toe of the glacier.
We soar over the ice fall, nature slowly cascading in its own art piece. Deep blue crevasses extend behind the peeling ice fins, simultaneously guiding our eyes to the expanse of the glacier. Medial moraine cuts down the middle showing the contrast of rock and ice, leading to the bases of snow covered peaks.
Below, water has carved deep canyons and left pristine pools of cyan behind that sometimes run into giant moulins. However, these moulins are so big that they could fit a semi truck in them. The evidence of moving water leaves behind detailed patterns of flow. Lush green flora borders the sides of the mountains giving quick peaks to cascading creeks and waterfalls as we pass them.
The helicopter turns in a long loop back over the glacier. Meanwhile, a fare warning from the pilot lets us know that we are about to go over a spectacular view. Soon we spot the spectacle as a massive ice fall splays below us. However, this one easily five times the size of the fall on the toe of the glacier. We take in the different hues of blue and dramatic crevasses with awe.
We swing further into the valley and are reaching closely into the accumulation zones by the bottoms of the snow covered peaks. Displays of of crushed rock pour in from the mountain sides to join the ice. Separate accumulation zones at the base of two different peaks sandwich rock between ice where the flows meet, moving it down the valley.
The pilot alerts us that we are going to land shortly. We take another long loop and descend into an area fit for exploration and proper landing space. The pilot finds a level spot on the ground and hovers for a moment. Gently the landing skids meets the frozen layer below.
The lead guide hops out first, grabbing the rest of us individually. Packs, gear, and the group are arranged in a specific location away from the helicopter as the pilot waves his goodbyes to us. He is off to fill the helicopter with fuel for the afternoon while we explore the glacier, set to return at the end of the day. We’re left to the seclusion of serenity.
Finally, with gear on and packs in tow we start to drop further into the glacier, miles from anyone else. The rush of our sensations heightening remind us how alive we feel in this moment. We navigate the ice by the sharp teeth of our crampons meanwhile following the lead guide down to a vibrant pool of crystal clear and frigidly cold water. We stand taking in the immensity of the terrain and this moment we are in.
Cold breezes move down the ice and over our sun warmed skin. We squat to fill up our water bottles so as to enjoy water straight from the source. This moment of reflection is the match that lights the fire of adventure for the day. We take off in a single file line to explore this icy new world.