Snowmobiling to Spencer Glacier
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Spring in Southcentral Alaska presents amazing outdoor recreational opportunities. Residents and visitors to the Turnagain Arm region have many activities to choose from: alpine and Nordic skiing, fat tire biking, snowshoeing and hiking. Then there is the motorized joy of snowmobiling.
With my brother and 15-year old niece visiting from North Carolina, we asked her if she was interested in any kind of tour or winter activity. After seeing snowmobiles riding at the start of Freddie’s Midnight Run sled dog race on the Kenai Peninsula, she said she wanted to ride one.
With ideal cool and sunny conditions expected over the days ahead, a call was quickly placed to Glacier City Snowmobile Tours to arrange a day and time for our excursion into the wilderness of Spencer Glacier. With 23 years of experience, Glacier City Snowmobile Tours is the oldest and largest outfit of its kind in Alaska, said Co-owner Chris “Twirl” Roberts.
Roberts takes a lot of pride in offering Spencer Glacier Tours, stating, “I never get tired of showing people a day they won’t forget for the rest of their lives. I love seeing the smiles on their faces.”
The tour begins at The Great Alaskan Tourist Trap in Girdwood’s Tesoro Mall. Co-owner Connie Cooley prepares clients by having them sign a waiver form, distributing gear to keep them warm during the ride and answering questions. If needed, clients are able to borrow a snowsuit, bunny boots, gloves and helmet. Then Connie drove us 15 minutes down the Seward Highway to the parking lot to begin the tour.
We met guide Justin Siemens, who had the snowmobiles warmed and ready, including the heated handgrips. After our briefing on safety, snowmobile operation and hand signals, five of us were buzzing our way across the snow with the hum of the four-stroke engines revving, with Siemans leading the way.
The first three miles of the 13-mile trail to Spencer Glacier were slightly rough and entertaining with their many bumps through cut brush. The temperature was crisp, yet the sunshine was warming the air rapidly. After stopping and waiting for a slower client a number of times, Siemens adjusted the riding order to let the Gazette go behind him, with the brother/niece duo together on a snowmobile following behind.
Now were able to open up the snowmobiles a bit to get some sustained speed and a more enjoyable ride. Siemens would periodically stop to check on the clients bringing up the rear and give them a chance to catch up. Then we would zip on up the trail, occasionally catching a little air on the bigger bumps.
Rather than take the most direct route to the glacier, Siemens led us to wildlife sightings that we otherwise may not have seen. The first was a bald eagle perched above its nest near the top of a tall tree overlooking the valley. A cloudless blue sky enhanced the scene’s beauty.
The next sighting on the detour was six trumpeter swans in a small patch of open water. Siemens noted that the swans were here early and were waiting for the valley to thaw out a bit more. Near the swans was a winding trail of footprints through the snow from either a coyote or wolf from a few days after a snowstorm.
After these photo breaks, it was time to head to the glacier. The trail curved and straightened. The terrain dipped and rose repeatedly, with other sections flattening out and allowing for increased speed.
Then there were three short open water crossings to navigate. Siemens coached us to go slowly to avoid excessive splashing and to wait until the rider ahead is halfway through before proceeding. With the flowing water rather shallow, the crossings were an interesting diversion to experience in contrast to the snow.
Heading to the glacier, icebergs calved last summer drew closer into view, revealing unexpected texture and beauty. The icebergs were covered with pocked snow from melting while icicles were dripping rapidly onto still frozen Spencer Lake.
It was Alaska springtime in action.
After we dismounted at Spencer Glacier’s face, Siemens instructed the group to stay out of specific caves while cautioning us about the few we could enter safely. There were so many hues to view, ranging from faded blue of sun-exposed ice to deep, glossy blue inside the ice caves. And the clear sky added another shade into the mix to offer a fascinating contrast of blues.
With so many varied features, the glacier is quite a sight to behold. The group moved from cave to cave at a relaxed pace as Siemens explained the natural features and fielded questions. Snacks and beverages were offered and clients were given time to explore on their own.
After we saddled the snowmobiles again, we headed to the western edge of Spencer Glacier where the melt activity was evidenced by large piles of dark moraine. Heading back, we stopped at a couple of icebergs to check out the views, get a broader perspective of the vast, natural features before us and take more photos.
The ride back flew by as the snowmobile glided across the snow, with rider and machine feeling as one. We slowed down, but did not stop, to view a moose with an injured rear leg walking through snow in the leafless alders. It was a reminder of the harsher aspects of life in the wilderness.
After about five hours and 26 miles of trail, we returned to the parking lot content, tired and full of smiles. We had just viewed amazing sights we had never before experienced but will surely never forget as memories of a lifetime.
Due to the onset of spring, Glacier City Snowmobile Tours will be ending the season soon but will resume at the end of the year as soon as conditions allow.
Glacier City Snowmobile Tours
Phone: (907) 783-5566
Toll Free: 1(877) 783-5566
Please visit our sister website for summer tour information: alyeskatours.com