Alaska Glacier Climbing Experience
We walk one by one in a single file line. Each of our steps is deliberate and sets firmly. The morning sun softens the ice, simultaneously providing good grip for our feet. A crunching chorus follows along with our group of four.
Beneath us the ice is white and we chase the blue crevasse lines in the distance. We have been walking for hours now. First, traversing over the uneven and rocky terrain of the glaciers’ lateral moraine. Once beyond the moon-like landscape we suit up in gear for the days’ event, ice climbing.
Our lead guide is strapped with multiple ropes, ice tools, and has thrown any extra necessities to anyone willing to carry more weight. The lead stops us as they continue to a summit of ice ahead so as to navigate and scout for any dicey spots. That is when we receive the words we have been waiting for, ‘there it is’.
With a hand wave signal to move along, we toe point up the steeper slope. Cresting over the icy horizon, the lead guides’ face meets us, plastered with a wide smile. Just beyond him lies a giant crevasse, radiating hues of blue, the largest one we have seen today by far.
We stand on flattened terrain far from the edge so as to create a safe area. Our eyes scan the length of the crevasse that splits open down the glacier, taking in the immensity. The gap from wall to wall is about five feet wide.
The urge to know just how deep it is grinds at our curiosity. We each grab a rock and throw it into the void, attempting to find out how far the bottom is. But there is no noise to indicate an end, no smack on the bottom. It seems we have found ourselves at an endless portal into the glacier.
With this knowledge the energy of the group becomes palpable with excitement. Some express their nerves with lowering into the unknown, others hunger for the chance at Alaska Glacier Climbing. The lead instructs us to start building anchors into the ice.
After a quick handful of minutes, the anchors are set and a rope system in place. Safety checks go on, meanwhile, the lead guide asks who is ready to go first. Fear scratches at the sides of my mind but I find myself raising my hand into the air quickly.
My breath quickens as the amount of adrenaline rushing through me teeters on an uneasy stomach. Roped up and ready for a safety check, I indulge in a deep breathe. The person on lower reminds me of our systems in place and that this is a challenge by choice. This is enough to step me over the edge and tools at ready.
Once the crampons capture the wall, from a seated position, I take the chance to look below. Trying to take in the seemingly infinite depth sends a new wave of adrenaline. I bring my mind back to focus.
Light blues touch the edge above, gradually moving down into darker hues. The sun shines over the gap between the towering ice walls. My eyes swim over the perfectly smooth, water-carved, curvatures of the ice. Because the blue color is reflective, I find myself doused in an indigo tint.
My feet walk down the wall, matching the rate of the rope lowering . Finding the cold becoming more noticeable as I drop further into the glacier. After about 30 meters I give the word that I would like to start climbing as I gaze up into the distance.
I bring my arm back so as to make a quick flicking movement with my wrist to strike into the ice. The tool locks in and a slam my toe points in one foot at a time. The small linear movements take me through the dreamlike state. As I take a deliberate swing with my left tool, my right foot loses contact.
I fall, and for a moment my body sends into fight or flight in the short moments before the belayer’s mechanism catches me. My confidence is withered by the moment but quickly regrows as the motto of upward and onward rolls through me in the face of imperfection. I slam my toes in again.
Soon I find myself looking into the sunlight as crystals of ice erupt with every swing at the ice, grateful for the sunglasses protecting my eyes. The rush of energy that has been surging through me leaves way to exhaustion as I close in on the top. I clamber over the side, smiling faces greeting me.
One by one we each get a turn, then we double dip on another climb, some of us even thrice. By this time we each have our own bag of stories from the experience. As we sit on our backpacks far from the edge, we share tales of uncertainty, perseverance, and grace for the support of the team.We walk back with tired legs but hold close to awareness of our surroundings. The golden hour lingers over our summer day of Alaska Glacier Climbing on the Matanuska Glacier.