Have you ever landed on a glacier? I have and it was the most amazing experience of my life. A two and a half hour drive West of Whitehorse on the banks of Kluane Lake is the abandoned town of Silver City and a dirt airfield that is home to Icefield Discovery. This is where one of the most awe inspiring adventures of your life will start. A glacier flightseeing adventure that is only rivalled by the Grand Canyon and the Amazon River in size and scope. The largest non-polar glacier in the world is in Kluane National Park and the best way to experience it is 1000 feet up in the air With Icefield Discovery. This a glacier flightseeing adventure is more than just a plane ride over ice, this is your chance to land on ice 700 meters thick and walk in snow that no man has walked on before. Welcome to the Yukon and one of the best adventures of my LIFE!
If you have never been to Kluane National Park and Reserve before it is absolutely gorgeous and almost untouched by man. Here is a map showing you where it is located on the Alaskan Highway and why Whitehorse is a great base camp if this is an adventure you are up for.
We arrive at the Icefield Discovery airfield excited and anxious. I have to be honest I don’t know what to expect. The four of us have signed up for the Ultimate Experience. We have cameras, warm boots and a sense of adventure. We are ready.
(1.5 hours) Fly over the St. Elias Mountains in a ski plane and land on the icefield. Our landing site is just across from Mt. Logan at the Icefield Discovery Base Camp. This is the opportunity to get out on the snow, take some great photos and absorb the vastness and silence of the largest non-polar icefield in the world. $325 per person (max 4 passengers)
It is such a tiny office for what promises to be an epic adventure. After the waivers are signed we get to know our pilot and our plane. Our pilot’s name is Tom Bradley and we will be flying in on a turbo charged Helio Courier on wheel-skis.
We are strapped in and ready to fly.
The approximately 1.5-hour trip starts out with us flying high over the river that drains into Kluane Lake from the glaciers. Within this past year, the river flow changed and it no longer feeds into the lake which means that water levels have dropped almost 30%. We can see the effect as we fly over. What was once covered in water is now alive with grass and other flora. Can you say climate change?
As we are flying our pilot Tom is talking to us. Filling us in on what we are seeing and what we can expect to see. He has probably forgotten more about glaciers than I have ever known.
This portion of the flight has us taking the high road. By that I mean we are flying fairly high up so that we get a bird’s eye view of the mountains, rivers and glaciers below us. We keep our eyes focused on the mountain slopes as we may be lucky enough to see mountain sheep. No luck so far, just these beautiful and majestic mountains carved by glaciers and water.
We are now entering the land of glaciers. From this high up it looks surreal and so smooth. The ice looks just like a river flow with dark bands which we are told is rock and debris picked up by the moving ice. These debris bands are created when two flows meet and continue on. The debris which was once at the edge of the flow becomes the centre of the combined flow. It is quite awe inspiring to imagine the pure force of nature that is taking place beneath us.
As we fly deeper into the ice fields the mountains seem to get smaller. This is not the case. The mountains are just buried in snow. 600 to 700 metres of snow to be exact.
There is a base camp which in better weather conditions we would have landed at, but our pilot has decided not to chance it as the weather is changing rapidly. Instead, he finds us an ice field that is safe and untouched by man. With our plane outfitted with skis, we can land with no trouble at all.
With the engine still running we are allowed to get out and walk in snow no one has walked on before.
After 20 minutes it is time for us to reboard our plane and head back to Silver City. We will take a similar route back, however, this time we will fly much lower to the ground so we can get a different perspective of the glacier and the topography.
What looked relatively smooth on the flight up has a much different look on the way back. Here we can see how the glacier is cracked and riddled with rivers from the melting ice. There are even small pools easily seen at this distance. They are a bright turquoise blue. Shining like gems on the surface of the glacier. Tom tells us that this colour indicates these pools of glacier water are rich in oxygen. It hasn’t had the chance to “escape” as it has been trapped in ice for thousands of years.
It only seems like we were gone for 20 minutes but in fact, it was over 1.5 hours. Our approach to the air strip in Silver City takes us over Kluane Lake and the reflection of our plane in the lake is how I am feeling after this experience. I feel very small on this planet.
This glacier flightseeing adventure has left me speechless, which is a rare thing for me to be. If you only do one thing when you are in the Yukon this has to be it. Hands down one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done.