Edit Blog Post
Published: October 14th 2008
Walking on ice, the big ice, a glacier. You know it is different... this is the stuff that's usually floating around in your soda on a hot summer day, but no, there is so much of it you are standing on it. At the ocean you get in it. Here it supports your weight. I use to go on snorkeling vacations and I'd tell folks it was the closest to off planet travel I'd ever get - it's a different world underwater. But really, a glacier walk is just as close, maybe closer.
From camp we scrambled down the mountain slope, across a snow bank and onto the moraine. In some areas of the Lituya Glacier the ice to solid ground interface is very clear, but here the moraine rocks where thick and it was hard to know exactly where the ice under foot started. But quickly the moraine rock thinned out and white ice lay in front. We sat down and put on the crampons. Despite having lived within sight of glaciers for the last 20 years, Nate's first adventure on crampons had been a few minutes the the day before - this was to be his first time
Looking up the Lituya Glacier
We walked to the left, across the moraines then back towards center right.
in a crevasse field. He got up slowly and made the few first tentative steps. Everyone I've watched does the same... I did the same...the first careful steps, slow, looking at your feet to ensure they are still there, and wondering... 'Do I really trust this??? Did I lace these things on correctly??? Will they stick??? Can I really walk on ice???'
My formal glacier travel training is none. I know from first hand experience and a little reading. I pay attention to articles in the newspapers with headlines like, “Mountaineer falls to death in crevasse.” My instructions to new glacier hikers are minimal but I try to emphasize that crampons are pointy and if the points catch on something, you'll fall, and if you fall your day won't be so joyful. No baggy pants. Tie up the loose ends of the crampon straps. Don't step close to your feet. Use your trekking poles always. Check your crampons often to make sure they stay tight. Go slow. Don't cross a serac if the fall would be more than you'd like to experience.
We don't rope up. Roping up is a mountaineering technique used to cross glaciers covered with
snow. We don't step on snow on a glacier. We go glacier hiking in the later part of the summer and early fall when the lower part of the glaciers is snow free and we can see the crevasses. We don't 'climb' on the ice, if it is not flat enough to walk on, we don't go there. Folks ask me “Aren't you afraid you'll fall in a crevasse?” Could happen. But I think my most dangerous moments
There is definitely a comfort level that develops with time. At first crampons feel a bit awkward. But quickly you realize that the points are digging in with every step and you are actually firmly 'rooted'. You start to walk up steeper and steeper slopes of ice. Going down steep slopes takes practice - you know you are on ice and should be slipping backward, you have to learn to accept a new angle of non-slippage. With practice the confidence you develop is itself a hazard - you start to cross seracs with deeper and deeper crevasses on either side and attempt steeper and steeper side slopes. It becomes natural to walk on steeper ice slopes with crampons than you would walk
in a steep, wet forest in hiking boots. But ice is hard and the little surface crystals are sharp. Even a short fall would have much greater impact than a short fall in the forest. But it's like I say to folks, “ The safest thing to do is stay at home, in your room and do yoga, for the rest of your life.” There is always risk, we try to minimize it, and to think about it always and try to make good decisions.
I took us straight into the heart of the crevasse field and Nate jumped right in. And I tried to keep our seracs crossings to nice broad flat ones, at first. It was the part of the Lituya were the ice flow splits, some goes north and some goes south to Lituya Bay. The ice was very crevassy and we were trying to go 'against the grain' - zig zagging back and forth unable to make a straight line for more than a twenty or thirty meters. Nate got a lot of practice, quickly. On the Brady when Craig and I had the same experience, he'd commented, tired and frustrated, “I feel like a
rat in a maze.” We went slowly and carefully and started to cross narrower and narrower seracs.
Eventually we crossed through the crevasse field and onto the main ice channel descending from the Fairweather Range. The ice became less broken by crevasses and the crevasses became oriented in the direction we were traveling. We made a lot of progress quickly, compared to the crevasse field it felt like running... Eventually we climbed a moraine and ate lunch.
The route back was a very different experience. We dropped down on to flat ice paralleling two moraines. But the white ice narrowed we ended up in a boulder and ice labyrinth. We worked our way up and down mini-ice valleys covered with loose boulders on ice. Then up on to another moraine. Nate led the way while I tried to document the landscape... Some of the boulders were the size of a small house. We got back to camp tired but happy.... a blue sky day on the ice.
Tot: 0.116s; Tpl: 0.017s; cc: 22; qc: 115; dbt: 0.0278s; 1; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.5mb