You can’t drive into or out of Juneau. You must go by boat or plane. Hearing this was one of those little Ah Ha moments. If you look at a map, you can easily see, “Well of course”. Juneau is surrounded on three sides by glaciated mountains and the huge Juneau icefield. The other side of course is the water. Ferries bring in the automobiles and there are roads, just as in any semi-large city. Only here, the roads ultimately dead end.
We’ve been having bad weather and there was a chance we wouldn’t be able to go by helicopter up to the Herbert glacier to the dog camp. The cruise ship sponsored helicopter tours and fly-over tours to the Mendenhall glacier were canceled, but we were lucky. Having booked with a private charter, Coastal Helicopters, (and for less money) we were in luck. I guess the weather was a little better up on the Herbert glacier where we were going. This was an incredible excursion. The flight over the glacier was beautiful. You could look down into the crevasses and the blue and white ridges heaving up all along the flow. Looking down from the helicopter, you could really
see why a glacier is called a river. Its flow is sloth-like,but the Hebert glacier moves about 2 feet a day, and definitely has a meandering quality to it.
We visited an Iditerod dog camp which is situated near the top of the glacier in a plateau area. It was very misty and snowy while we were there. The ice is covered in snow, as it snows most every day, and this is primarily what melts off in the summer. The dogs are all working dogs, no puppies, and many have been in several Iditarod races. The men who live up on the glacier with the dogs are of a very different makeup, being rugged outdoorsmen with very little need for civilization. There are four men who normally work in the camp. The two I met were lean and wirey, not your typical lumberjack outdoorsmen. The work is hard. They have no power, cell service, or connection to the rest of the world. They cook over propane stoves and get what little warmth from them that they can, and then turn the stoves off at night because of the fumes.
My musher, A. J., said he has
a very, very large thick sleeping bag. During the day, when they are not mushing around the tourists (a necessary way to raise money to by dog food) they are shoveling poop, leveling the dog houses, working on the sleds, and smoothing over fissures in the ice around the camp so the sleds will glide over them. Because the ice is moving, nothing stays level. The dog houses, their sleeping quarters and the “community house” are constantly having to be leveled. I could easily see what AJ was saying. The dogs like to stand on top of their houses rather than go inside. They love the cold and they love to run. AJ says that to do what he does, you have to love the outdoors and you must love dogs. He says the dogs definitely have a sixth sense, that of telepathy.
At the end of summer, the mushers have to break down camp, which means disassembling everything so that it is small enough to be transported off the glacier by helicopter. Matt, the other musher has entered the Iditerod for 2012 and will move the camp and all the dogs to north of Anchorage to train for
the race. He says we will be able to follow the race on the internet. I'll be cheering him on.
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