Capital City Fire/Rescue launches their rescue boat to rescue David Hill, of Dallas, Texas, after he capsized in kayak in front of the Mendenhall Glacier on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Capital City Fire/Rescue launches their rescue boat to rescue David Hill, of Dallas, Texas, after he capsized in kayak in front of the Mendenhall Glacier on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Tourist cold but unharmed after tumble into Mendenhall Lake

Incident underscores fact that warm weather can result in windy conditions at glacier

On their first full day in Alaska, David Hill and his family wanted to take advantage of the warm weather.

The Dallas resident, his wife and his son boarded their kayaks and paddled out toward the Mendenhall Glacier on Tuesday afternoon. They stayed fairly close to the shore as they drifted across Mendenhall Lake, Hill said, and suddenly, the waves started getting choppy.

Then, in an instant, Hill’s kayak flipped and he fell into the frigid water.

“I’m not going to say it was cold,” Hill said. “That’s an understatement. It was scary. I was fine until my left boot came off and then my foot started going numb.”

Hill, 49, tried to push the panic out of his mind as he searched for a solution. Fortunately, a canoe from Liquid Alaska Tours had just reached the nearby shore. Hill and his family members called out to the canoers, who sprang into action and paddled out to them.

Hill said he probably was only in the water for five minutes by the time the canoe pulled him to shore. They called Capital City Fire/Rescue, who then sent its own rescue boat out to track Hill down. By the time CCFR brought him back to the boat launch near the West Glacier Trailhead, Hill was warmed up and in good spirits. He didn’t receive any medical care on shore, and CCFR responders went on their way.

His wife and son were paddling their way to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, he said, and his plan was to drive over and pick them up. Still, he was baffled at how quickly his kayak had flipped.

“I don’t know what happened,” Hill said. “I could probably do that 100 times. It was just a fluke thing.”

Micah Melueg, the tour manager for Liquid Alaska, stood on the shore as CCFR brought Hill back and warned that oftentimes, the nicest days are the most treacherous on the water near the glacier. Melueg explained that cold air comes off the glacier to replace the hot air that’s rising — a phenomenon called katabatic winds.

Melueg pointed out that while the temperature and waves seem pleasant from the boat launch, it all changes as you get close to the glacier.

“A lot of people don’t even think about it because they’re not used to a glacier making its own weather pattern,” Melueg said. “People come out here, it’s a nice day, it’s sunny out, 70 degrees is when we usually get the really bad winds … you don’t really get into the strongest wind until you round that corner and you’re closer to the glacier and then it just hits you and it is freezing cold air coming off the glacier.”

The water temperature, Melueg said, always stays cold even as the air temperature is high.

Hill was in good spirits after getting out of the water, and said he hopes the rest of his family’s Alaska visit goes more smoothly.

“We flew in Monday and we’re here for the rest of the week,” Hill said, “so we’re starting out good.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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