Ice Climbing on the Matanuska

The morning time and start of the day is consistently changing in Alaska. Especially near a glacier. They create sort of a microcosm of their own weather systems. And so each day the gear and the plans change when it comes to climbing glacier ice.

Ice Climbing on Glaciers

Glaciers, like the Matanuska, are known for their

person in front of ice and mountains

Kendall in front of the ice fall on the Matanuska Glacier with her ice tools.

dreamy stable and thick ice walls. It makes learning and practicing rope and anchor systems a bit easier to focus on for ice climbing. This helps one to find a rhythm when setting up and enjoying climbs. Water ice, like frozen waterfalls, can be more dangerous due to a variety of micro and macro hazards that comes with their formation. And, abilities to destabilize.

Kendall, a first year intern assistant ice climbing guide, shared with me just what sent them to an ice climbers dream. Normally, people start with prior climbing experience, like sport climbing on rock. This was Kendall’s first step into climbing glacier ice.

From Rock to Ice

In her youth she started with sport climbing with friends and colleges on solid rock. Gaining skills in the technical aspects, rooted with the strength of enjoyment in learning the sport and systems. And as her interest in climbing grew and seeing the accessibility to glaciers in Alaska became more apparent so did her belief in getting there to explore the ice.

This is an urge that is not exclusive to guides, it also is striking those who climb recreationally. The notion for that glacier ice climbing motion. Climbing interest has been on a rise since the 70’s. Starting with sport and traditional climbing on rock. And now, many are feeling the pull to progress to ice. Specifically, glacier ice.

Maybe it is the loss of ice that has surged this niche sport. And yet, more often than not, it seems to be in the joy in the act of climbing itself.  Kendall explains that she felt her direction in climbing start to turn after years of personal climbs with friends on rock. The catalyst, a college class on glaciers. The deal was sealed from there with the blessings of her love for alpine environments.

Gifts of the Glacier

Ice climbing on a glacier can bring you to some of the most remote places on the ice. Many roads to exploration start with development and a little guidance. Some folks know how important it can be to have this exposure. They may book a guided experience on the ice to encourage those positive experiences necessary for growth.

Kendall was ready to take on the next step and landed herself in Alaska, right at the foot of the Matanuska. Dedicating herself to the top tier of exposure, getting on the ice whenever possible. After we talked for a bit, it seemed that to the secret to ice climbing success was lots of continual

ice wall with climber

An ice climber ascends an ice wall with their gear in action.

practice and exposure. So that is just what she did, whether she worked or not, she was going to be on the ice.

She started with her hard skills; learning systems, building ice anchor skills, improving rope management, and communication. And then there is the overwhelming beauty and grandeur that Alaska surrounds you with. There is a lot to take in. In addition to these ‘hard’ skills, Kendall found herself being challenged with the ‘soft’ skills; Building rapport with teams and guests and consistently assessing the teams needs.

Talking the Talk

Going out on the ice and being able to concentrate on mechanics and ropes systems was something should could put her hands on. Could see the progress of her diligence in front of her. Building skills to better adapt to constantly changing dynamics on the ice was something that took more time to learn.

As the summer moved along, Kendall was out everyday on the ice, practicing. And as her skills grew so did her knowledge. As her confidence grew in her personal world, her professional life started to mirror the same. As time and effort went in, leading each new group and challenge seemed to have a flow to it now.

Kendall is not alone when it comes to loving and learning the glacier ice. Many other interns and guides at the company spend as much time as possible on the ice. This gives way to many different overlaps in the learning and teaching cycle within the community. So as the season continued, Kendall was able to enjoy the interdependence of an equally motivated community. This team soon gave practice to speaking in front of groups and as a leader. Encouraging decision making voices to better improve systems.

What the Glacier Garden Grows

Kendall is now winding down her first season with this ice climbing company. And, processing all the wonders that the midnight sun brings to the glacier. When asked what motivates her to keep guiding she reflects on how important it is to see people connecting and learning. She is especially inspired when she works with the youth groups on the ice. Getting to see the learning progress and influence an exposure like that can have on kids and young adults. And reminiscing on how important that was for her too.

Her next moves? To keeping exploring the seemingly endless Alaska terrain first and foremost. And staying connected to a community that encourages and supports growth and development. Simultaneously, feeding the need to get onto the ice and explore the glacial world, by crampon and ice axe.