USA Icy landscape, warm welcomes on glacier tour By Mary Pemberton / February 09, 2017 Share 1 Ascending Path leads tours where travelers can hike on Spencer Glacier. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ascending Path -- Hiking on Spencer Glacier in Alaska feels otherworldly, but it actually isn't that far away.Even though it takes a train ride, a van ride, a short hike and paddling in a kayak to get to the glacier in the 6.9-million-acre Chugach National Forest, the journey is worth it. During my hosted visit I felt transported to another world and then ended up back in my element dining at an elegant, mountaintop restaurant.I was enthralled when I stepped on the train to go to the glacier south of Anchorage, captivated by an ever-changing landscape of glaciers and snow-covered peaks, with the train slowing for the occasional moose or bear sighting. The glacier is away from the roads, but the railroad has partnered with guide service Ascending Path to bring people there, making Spencer one of the most accessible glaciers for a hike. The Alaska Railroad's stop at Spencer Glacier is a whistle-stop, almost unheard of anymore, where people can flag down the train to get a ride."Half of the fun is getting to these places," said Matt Szundy, Ascending Path president.Where else in America would you be able to flag down a train and be welcomed aboard like an old friend? After arriving at the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop and being greeted by our Ascending Path guides, we boarded a van for a short ride up a gravel road and to the iceberg-filled lake at the glacier's edge. We were outfitted with gear and soon were paddling Necky Looksha tandem sea kayaks, chosen for their stability, past towering blue icebergs and toward the glacier about a mile away. I am an experienced kayaker but was thankful my paddling partner was one of the guides, especially when I considered the temperature of the glacier lake water.Once at the glacier, we were provided with helmets and mountaineering crampons and given a quick safety lesson on how to best explore the glacier's many amazing features. Our guides were never far away and quickly stepped in to help if anyone in our small group was having difficulty navigating the glacier.Walking with crampons felt awkward at first, but our group soon got the hang of it and went skittering around like crabs before lining up behind the lead guide in proper hiking fashion. Another guide took up the rear and carried a rope and harness for anyone needing extra help.While Ascending Path recommends that people have kayaking and hiking experience and are capable of several hours of strenuous activity, Szundy said his company will work with individuals to make a visit to the glacier possible. "This is a really accessible thing for almost everybody," he said.The Seven Glaciers Restaurant is on a mountain perch 2,300 feet above sea level. Photo Credit: Ralph Kristopher Szundy founded Ascending Path in 1995. His guide operation is the only one allowed to take groups on the glacier. Ascending Path takes small groups, with a ratio of one guide for each five hikers, onto the glacier. For about two hours, the experienced guides led groups safely onto the glacier and past the deep, blue crevasses and melt holes, while pointing out the glacier's most spectacular features.One of those features was a large, blue-ice cave. I was drawn in by the color, an out-of-this-world turquoise blue. When I was fully in the cave and surrounded by the blue ice, I had one thought: Let me burn this color into my memory so that I can recall it this winter when I am faced here in Alaska with a monochromatic landscape of white and gray.While paddling back, my guide collected bergy bits, small pieces of glacier ice, which he stuffed in a dry bag. Once on land, we caught the Coastal Classic train at 8:15 p.m. and headed to the Alyeska Resort for dinner. The AAA Four Diamond resort about 35 miles south of Anchorage is tucked away in a valley surrounded by mountain peaks and hanging glaciers. The luxury resort's impressive gray-and-burgundy facade is complemented by an interior rich with cherry accents. Upon arrival at the 303-room hotel, we threw down our hiking gear, donned our dinner clothes and ran for the last tram to take us to the Seven Glaciers Restaurant. The restaurant sits atop its mountain perch at 2,300 feet. As I stepped off the slightly swaying tram and looked up at the restaurant's neon blue sign, I again had that feeling of arriving someplace special.Once seated, our group was asked if they would like a cocktail and if so, would we want it made with bergy bits? I ordered a gin and tonic and marveled at the clarity of the 15,000-year-old ice, so dense that it did not appear to melt. The dinner began with an artisan cheese plate, Alaskan king crab legs and Alaska oysters on the half shell. I chose a flavorful New York steak for my entree, which was served with a perfectly paired red wine. As expected, the service at the chateau-style hotel was superb. After getting a comfortable night's sleep and a hearty breakfast at the Pond Cafe, I spent an hour with a friend hiking a trail and exploring the dense forest that surrounds the resort. The exterior of the Alyeska Resort, located 35 miles south of Anchorage. Photo Credit: Courtesy of HagePhoto While Alyeska is known as one of the country's premier ski resorts — it gets about 665 inches of snow annually — the resort is open year-round. In the summer, there are hiking and biking and festivals almost every month."We are Alaska's only year-round destination ski and summer resort," said marketing director Eric Fullerton.Ascending Path will be working even more closely this summer with the resort to take advantage of its dual helipad. That means guests can be sharing their photos of their glacier adventure over dinner at Alyeska while the guides are still packing up their gear, Szundy said. Alyeska also has a concierge team to help make arrangements."The entire journey I think is what makes it unique," Szundy said of the Spencer Glacier hike. "It is an experience that I think is really different from anything else out there."Ascending Path's glacier tours are from noon to 9 p.m. Ascending Path also has arranged with the Alaska Railroad for morning train service several times a week this summer. That will enable Ascending Path to bring more visitors to the glacier from Anchorage. Ascending Path clients can choose to travel on either the Glacier Discovery train, which will slow or stop for animal sightings such as bear or moose, or the faster Coastal Classic. Bar and food service is available on both trains.Visitors wishing to go it alone can board the Glacier Discovery train in Anchorage. After reaching the whistle-stop, passengers are greeted by a National Forest Service ranger and offered a complimentary interpretive nature walk. Passengers also are free to explore on their own. For those wanting to overnight, there are campsites as well as a public-use cabin.