We are the Ultimate Guide to Meaningful and Healthy Travel with Hands-On Travel Advice!

Monday, July 13, 2020

NorthStar Trekking Helicopter Ride, Glacier Trek and Ice Climbing Shore Excursion from NCL Cruise in Juneau, Alaska

Glacier hiking is a surreal experience. You’ll never forget the satisfying crunch of ever-shifting ice underneath your crampons or the giddy feeling of drinking 100-year-old water from a glacial waterfall. Hands down, hiking a glacier is a must-do excursion in Alaska.

Before we departed on our Alaska Cruise and Land tour, we said to our friends "the one tour that you MUST do is the Helicopter and Glacier Walk!  There is nothing like it in the world! It is a bucket list item!"  We did a similar experience a few years before and felt strongly that this would be the most important experience for them.

What we will go over during this post:

  •  Outfitting Equipment
  •  Helicopter Ride
  •  Glacier Trek
  •  Ice Climbing 

Outfitting Equipment

A driver from NorthStar Trekking picked us up promptly from the pier and drove us to Juneau Airport. Everything ran like a well-oiled machine. Before you arrive, your weight and clothing and shoe size have been radioed ahead.  They have all your gear ready to go when you arrive at their office so you don't waste any time.  The adventure begins as you are outfitted with mountaineering boots, a climbing harness, gaiters, and appropriate rain gear, as well as gloves, a backpack, water, tissues and a granola bar.  Since we had done this before we knew to wear reasonably warm clothing including comfortable pants, socks and fleece -- it gets cold on the ice! Also we made sure we had sunglasses to cut the glare.  Other ice climbing gear and helmets are provided on the glacier.  One member of our party of 6 had an issue with his boot which didn't fit him correctly.  Before we left on the helicopter ride, he told the staff that the boot didn't feel right, but the person fitting him told him it was ok and to go ahead.  We'll get back to that during the Ice Climbing section.  

Helicopter Ride

Once everyone was ready, we received a mandatory safety briefing before boarding the helicopter (seats are already assigned by weight) for a flightseeing tour over trees of the Tongass National Forest, impressive mountain ranges, and massive flows of ice that change from white to radiant shades of blue. Our pilot narrated everything that we were viewing.  On the previous time that we glacier walked we saw a mountain goat and her two babies on a VERY STEEP side of a mountain.  Cute and amazing all at the same time! Fortunately a front seat was provided to one of us!  The ride was about 20-30 minutes long and unforgettable! 

From the moment we left the airport in the helicopter, we were tracking our course using our GPS watches.  Because of the GLONASS GPS system used, our helicopter route, ice trekking and climbing were recorded on our Garmin watches.  Here is an image recorded from our Garmin fenix 5.

We can't say enough about traveling with Garmin watches and our favorite for men is this model. Please click the photo below to learn more about the fenix 5 Plus at Amazon and support our mission to give to charity!  It doesn't cost you anything extra to click or purchase!  Thank you so much!

Glacier Trek

Upon landing at base camp on the glacier, you are instructed to walk to about 100 feet away without crampons (this is the most treacherous part of the day for most!) The guides outfit you with an ice axe, crampons, and a helmet, and provide instruction on how to properly use the equipment for safe glacier travel. Once familiarized with the gear, the hike begins across the ice, past moulins (roughly circular, vertical well-like shafts within the glacier which water enters from the surface), waterfalls, deep crevasses, and crystal blue rivers.

We had two guides hiking with us, teaching us not only how to navigate the ice and lend a helping hand or more if needed, but also about the formations we were seeing.  Take a look at video of some of the waterfalls and the incredible color:

Ice Climbing

Our climbing destination was a massive ice wall where we learned ice climbing techniques that built upon some of the skills we had used across the ice.  Some people in our group were in their 60's and went up the wall too. We were roped in with a safety line so you can't fall although it it's embarrassing to hang about if losing your footing which happened to one of us 😳. Everyone made it at least part way up and everyone had a great time!

We had more than enough time to practice what we learned and even had some friendly competition with side-by-side ropes. The guides were well-trained and extremely helpful. However, back to equipment.  The member of our party that had the ill-fitting boot had trouble on the entire trek across the ice and it was really evident to everyone during the ice climbing when his boot came off completely!  He was fortunate that he wasn't hurt in our opinion...

Look at a live view of one of us ice climbing...up and down!

Bottom Line:


It's definitely a "splurge" in terms of cost, but worth every single penny! We paid about $599 per person directly to the cruise line, NCL.  Also, we made sure to tip our guides at base camp, who in our opinion were outstanding and far better than those we had two years before.  For our group, it was disappointing that one of us had problems the entire trek due to an ill-fitting boot. That made the day for him difficult and not as fulfilling and fortunately he wasn't injured but that definitely could have occurred!  In our opinion it was the staff at the airport that didn't recognize the reported issue and its impact on safety as they should have.  Despite this, we highly recommend putting this excursion on your bucket list.  If you have to skip other shore excursions on your Alaska cruise to do this one, then just do it!  Make sure you insist that the equipment you're provided meets your expectations and if it doesn't feel right, insist that the staff making it right before you leave in the helicopter.  Lastly, be aware that this excursion is often canceled due to fog, rain and weather conditions.  Out of the three times we have been to Alaska and planned on this excursion, it was canceled once, but the two out of three times we were able to go...WOW!!!

Everyone from the driver, to the crew doing the safety briefing, pilot, and guides were all friendly and wonderful! 

1 comment:

  1. Ice climbing seems intimidating but fun! We hope to visit Alaska someday!