One of the great things about Alaska is the feeling that you are visiting one of the last frontiers in America. This is never more evident than when you attempt to visit Spencer Glacier.
No roads lead to Spencer Glacier. Fortunately, the Alaska Railroad does. You can combine a scenic rail trip with a gentle float tour led by Chugach Adventure Guides. They offer a Spencer Glacier Iceberg Float that combines the two. How long of a train ride you get depends on where you choose to catch the train. Instead of a highway, you’ll see glaciers, alpine meadows, wildflowers, and wildlife-really pristine wilderness. We spotted lots of eagles and a few saw moose. We sat on the second floor of the train, which seemed to have walls of windows for viewing. The train travels along the Turnagain Arm for almost 50 miles. I have to say that we did bring a card game for the kids to play. They can only search for wildlife for so long. Some of the seating is around tables, so we were glad to get one of those for the boys.
At the correct stop, guides will usher everyone off the train. Then it’s a 5 – 10 minute bumpy bus ride over rocky gravel terrain from the train drop-off towards a tented area for lunch. The deli-style lunch was nothing to rave about, but the setting at the base of Spencer Lake was spectacular. You know you are out in the last frontier when they tell the males of the group to stay within 10 feet of camp in order to relieve themselves. There could be bears out there…
They grouped us in boats (rafts) of about 5-7 people with the guide sitting in the middle. They provided us with life jackets and boots. We were dressed warmly even though it was the first few days of August. Our guide rowed a close (yet safe) distance from the icebergs floating in the lake before getting us on the river. We got close enough to the icebergs to touch a few. Some of the ice was so clean and blue. It was truly magical. After letting us feel the much colder air close to the glacier, they guided us through the iceberg-choked Spencer Lake and down the Placer River.
The Placer River section that you go through is only Class I or II. You’ll even pass longest freestanding trestle bridge in the USA. The sun came out while we were on the river and our rowing river guide was down to a sleeveless shirt. Then you pull out of the river and catch the train as it comes back by. There was no station or anything. We just stayed clear of the tracks and the train stopped long enough for all of us to get back on. I was certainly grateful that someone else was in charge of getting the timing right.
We again secured seats on the second level since the views are amazing of the backcountry. It was a great day that felt power packed. Not to be missed. Backcountry, the last frontier, the bush…whatever you want to call it, it’s spectacular.