Ice, Ice, Baby – Glacier Hiking in Alaska

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Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

I smiled as I dug my crampons forcefully into the ice underfoot. I'd forgot how satisfying that sound and sensation were — maybe even better than crunching through fallen leaves in autumn. Certainly better than the sound of ordinary hiking boots on packed earth.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

Yes, there's something very special about hiking on ice with metal spikes attached to your feet. Mostly because the scenery usually looks like this:

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Alaska's Matanuska Glacier was not my first glacier hike (last year, I climbed on the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand). But I'm now convinced that glacier trekking is like bungy jumping: it doesn't matter how many times you do it — it's still guaranteed to be amazing.

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

The morning of this particular glacier hike could not have been more perfect. It was cool and clear — ideal for some outdoor exertion.

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

A group of us set off early from Anchorage, bound for the Sutton area and the Matanuska Glacier. The 2-hour bus ride provided us with countless postcard-perfect mountain scenes, getting us pumped up for our adventure.

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

We arrived at MICA Guides, paid a special access fee for the glacier (it's located on private land), and collected all the gear we'd need for the hike. This included boots, crampons, and helmets — all the safety essentials. Thankfully, this hike would not require rain gear; only sunglasses!

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Our large group split into 3 smaller ones, with 6 of us joining a guide named Alyssa. It's possible to hike out onto the glacier without a guide (and gear, for that matter), however I wouldn't recommend it. Alyssa not only knew the safest ways to cross the ever-shifting ice, but she was also knowledgable about everything from the history of the glacier to the region's geology.

That, and she knew how to use an ice axe to carve out stairs for us.

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska
Me with Alyssa's ice axe.

It's difficult to describe just how awesome glacier trekking is in words. It's nearly impossible to capture the wonder and awe that accompany crunching up alongside hundred-foot ice falls and crawling into blue-white ice caves. I simply can't put it all into sentences that would do the experience justice.

So, instead, I'll show you.

Glacier Trekking

Hiking on a glacier is epic. There's no other word to describe it. If you haven't ever tried it, I highly recommend you consider it. The glaciers won't be around forever (in fact, some are receding so fast that you can't touch them anymore), so there's no better time than now.

This is what the on-ice experience looks like:

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Ice, Ice, Baby

And, of course, glacier trekking wouldn't be possible without the key ingredient: ICE. Tons and tons of ice.

The Matanuska Glacier has a lot of ice. The glacier is 27 miles long and 4 miles wide, and consists of some incredibly cool ice formations. These formations change daily (literally, the ice is in constant motion), but here were some of my favorites:

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

As much as I loved trekking the Franz Josef Glacier last year, I think the Matanuska Glacier may take the award for “coolest glacier hike I've done.” The climb was slightly less challenging than in New Zealand, the weather was far better, and the ice formations (especially that huge ice fall!) were much more awe-inspiring.

Two hours on the ice wasn't anywhere close to enough.

IF YOU GO…

Hiking on the Matanuska Glacier is fairly accessible – you can book a tour from Anchorage, Alaska pretty easily.

Book it: Matanuska Glacier Hike from Anchorage

Which ice photo is your favorite? Does this post make YOU want to hike on a glacier?

 

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Hiking the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska | Glacier hike in Alaska

 

*Note: My trip to Alaska (including this awesome glacier trek) was sponsored by the Hilton Garden Inn Anchorage. All opinions, however, are entirely my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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46 Comments on “Ice, Ice, Baby – Glacier Hiking in Alaska

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  1. Again, phenomenal photos — your pix are always amazing, but this set is just astonishing! And you’ve come up with another slew of viable new candidates for your “photo of the week” honour. 🙂 I have one question in particular about some of those pictures — did you use any kind of filter on the lens when you were shooting into the sun? (I tend to have a problem with the colours washing out in my photos when the sun is in the background.)

    You were obviously blessed with incredible weather (and the clouds are gorgeous). Do you have any idea how typical those conditions are for the summer season in that area?

    Also, I note you mentioned that the glacier is on private land. How cool would it be to own property with a glacier on it? WOW.

    Finally, did you receive the private message I sent to your blog’s Facebook page the other day?

      The only thing I use filter-wise is a UV filter on my main lens. (It also doubles as extra scratch protection for my lens!) But other than that, no filters. Just good luck, I guess! Glad you liked the photos. 🙂

      And yes, we were very lucky with the weather! I’m not really sure how typical days like that one are in the summer, but I know it was quite rainy in Anchorage in the days before and after this one. So we definitely caught a good one!

    Amazing! We hiked Iceland’s Sólheimajökull glacier in January and I have to say I agree with you about the awesomeness of glacier hiking. There’s just something about that icy crunch! Adding Alaska to my must-do list—along with New Zealand.

      Awesome! I didn’t do glacier hiking in Iceland – but I considered it! It’s so much fun. And every glacier is so different, that I feel like no hike could ever feel similar.

    How beautiful! Did a road trip around Alaska with my fam about 10 years ago, but we didn’t go hiking on a glacier. Only saw them. I’d love to do that one day.

      Alaska is such a pretty place. I’d love to see more of it eventually! Road tripping up there sounds really fun.

    This looks awesome – what a cool experience. Love those spiky ice formations!

      Those spiky ice formations were SO COOL. I took way too many photos of them.

    This looks incredible!
    We were so excited to see a glacier for the first time in Chilean Patagonia a couple of months back… Can only imagine to actually hiking on it!
    Great photos!

      Thanks, Zara! If you ever get the chance to hike on a glacier, definitely do it!

    What stunning photos! The fourth one is my favorite because there is a bit of reflection in the water, and the person gives it scale.

    Trekking on Perito Moreno in southern Argentina was one of the highlights of my travels, and I would definitely trek this one too.

      I would LOVE to trek Perito Moreno! I’ve seen photos of that (including yours), and it looks AMAZING.

    Looks amazing and I love the magical look to your Alaska photos! I’m not sorry I missed this part of our trip ( I walked on several before in Norway – ahem – ice = not my thing – we drove to Denali instead on this day.) I do think it is very cool how accessible Matanuska Glacier is from Anchorage and how in the world of glacier hikes, it is relatively easy. And what a pretty drive from Anchorage! Nice meeting you! MM

      I’m sure your Denali adventure was just as awesome, Margo! And yes, it’s great how accessible this glacier is as compared to some others around the world.

    Would like to go there! Crunch. Crunch. Crunch 🙂
    Great pics! I liked how the dirt highlights the ice edges. A pic of you holding an ice axe is cute 🙂

      This glacier was certainly very photogenic! Glad you enjoyed checking them out.

    I don’t think I could ever get sick of glacier hiking either, it’s too much fun! This glacier looks a lot bigger than Franz Joseph. Great photos!

      SO much fun. It’s actually not a whole lot bigger than Franz Josef (maybe like 2 km longer), but I think it’s wider and has more eye-catching shapes. FJ was WAY steeper, though!

    I’ve never been hiking with spikes on my shoes before – probably because I’ve never hiked on ice before. Sounds amazing and your pictures looked incredible. I’d love to go to Alaska someday and hike their glaciers.

      Hiking with crampons on ice takes a bit of getting used to, but I think it’s really fun! If you ever get the chance to try it, do it!

    I have yet to walk on a glacier and long to visit Alaska but during the summer when not too cold which means I’ll have to take a summer off from Rangering.

      Yeah, I’m not sure how I’d enjoy Alaska in the winter… I mean, I’m used to the cold and have traveled to cold places in the winter before (Ottawa, Iceland…). But this particular activity is definitely best done in the summer!

    Awesome photos! Alaska is on my list! Not a big fan of the cold but the photos and views are gorgeous.

      Well, you know, it’s actually not that cold in the summer! 😉 And, even if it was, I think the views make it totally worth it!

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