Mendenhall 1972
Mom, Dad and I at Mendenhall Glacier – 1972

The Mendenhall Glacier used to dump large amounts of ice directly into the water at the end of its long fjord. Our family was staying near the water not too far from the glacier. The year was 1972 and we were camping our way from Missouri through Alaska and all states between.  The stay at the edge of the Mendenhall Glacier was wet, cold and foggy the entire time.

Cold drizzle. While the setting was beautiful, the conditions were not. The shore of the lake was made up of rounded and polished granite rocks much like you would see in a bin at a gem store. Slowly floating by, was a small iceberg the size of a pig, minus the legs. It had probably calved off of the glacier in the weeks prior. My father was explaining to me that this ice used to be snow in the mountains thousands of years ago.  As a young boy of about eight, this excited me. A grand idea popped into my head. “If we capture this iceberg, we could make iced tea with 1000 year old ice.” The trouble was, the iceberg was about 50 feet off shore. In the continuing progression of grand ideas, we took our camping hatchet and tied a small laundry rope to the handle. I held the coil of rope, ready for release, as dad threw the hatchet to spear the iceberg. Just as dad threw the axe, the end of the rope that was tied to the hatchet slid off the handle and fell to my feet. We waited breathlessly, staring silently and dumbfounded, knowing that things were now out of our control. Low and behold, dad made a direct hit! So there we stood, staring at an iceberg with our camp hatchet buried in it with nothing else to do. Each of us boys, dad included, made an attempt to wade out to it. Being that the water was 32 degrees, none of us made it past ankle-deep. After a while, it didn’t take too long for dad to proclaim “Oh well, we’ll buy a new hatchet at the next town.”  

Upon returning to the campsite, we regaled mom with our story. Mom, having grown up during the Great Depression, was annoyed at the waste of money and the loss of our hatchet. She went to the shore, surveyed the situation, rolled up her pants and waded out waist deep to the iceberg to retrieve the hatchet. Her lips were blue, her teeth were chattering and her words were not completely pleasant. After handing us the hatchet, she returned to the campsite, leaving us with a little shame in silent contemplation of our failure. After some time had passed, we thought to ourselves “Hey, we’re rugged Alaskan men. We’re not going to let a little hardship stop us from attaining our goals.” So we tied the laundry rope to the hatchet once again, only better this time. We took up our positions, learning from our past mistake, and dad once again threw the hatchet at the iceberg. Another direct hit, this time with rope still attached. We slowly pulled our bounty in from the lake, chopped off some loot and hiked back to the campsite. Mom was sitting in the light drizzle, still with blue lips, wrapped in a blanket. I tried to lift her spirits by making her iced tea with 1000 year old ice. I could sense that she was torn between “thank you” and “the last thing I want is iced tea” but she took the cup, feigned a blue-lipped smile, and drank her 1000 year old tea.  Mendenhall 2018

Frei Family return to Mendenhall Glacier – same waterfall 46 years later. The glacier that surrounded this waterfall then is  now very far in the distance

Related Stories:

Frei Family Adventures

Frei Family Adventures, Continued

Frances Helen Eckert Frei