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Thursday, 31 August 2006

On the Ice: Exit Glacier, Alaska - Page 3

Written by Alison Drucker
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The adventure began with a phone call to the tour office asking whether we should bring lunch along on the five-hour hike, and a nonchalant response: “we advise against that because of bear danger” – a statement that made me decidedly nervous.



After donning helmets and crampons, it was time to hit the ice.  The steep hike to the glacier’s edge had warmed us up quite a bit in the brisk but pleasant 60-degree weather, but on the ice, it’d be substantially colder and very windy, so on went the fleeces, windbreakers, and gloves.  Taking my first few steps on the glacier felt like learning to walk all over again, but pretty soon I cultivated a trusting relationship with my crampons, which reliably gripped the ice no matter how steep the incline.  That fact gave me the freedom to confidently follow our guide across the undulating ice formations.crampons

It was spectacular.  In the muted light of the overcast day, brilliant blues emerged from the whites and grays of the glacier in nooks and cracks and waterfalls.  The ice rose up and down all around us in an unruly mess, punctuated by the peaks and chasms that inspired awe with their towering height or bottomless depth, respectively.  At the same time, the glacier felt like it had a sort of deliberate order to it, deliberate in the sense that it was created over eternities of geological processes, so that walking around on its surface made me feel incredibly small, and incredibly young.  It also made me feel cold.

Eventually we took a break, hiding from the wind at a place where a tower of ice wrapped around in a semi-circle like half of an igloo without the roof.  To our left was the wall of ice that shielded us from the wind, to our right was a perilous ledge leading to a bottomless pond of melted glacier, and in front of us was the source of the pond – a cool blue waterfall tumbling down from the ice above. ice

Warmed up and recharged, we proceeded to our next stop – a peak Brendan and Ryan call the Taj Mahal, the highest point on the ice we climbed to, from which you can see the vastness of the park in front of you and the vastness of the glacier behind you (desperately afraid of heights, I chose to scramble back down hastily instead).

The landscape of a glacier is always changing as ice melts, accumulates, or shifts – Brendan was constantly pointing out gaping holes in the ice that a week earlier had been mere cracks – but the Taj Mahal has been a constant presence on the landscape for a long time.  It’s the point of reference the guides use to pinpoint their position on the ice and navigate its daunting terrain.  So help us if one day global warming does away with the Taj Mahal, too.

Another thing being on a glacier made me feel was alone – not in an empty, desolate sort of way, but in a triumphant, at-one-with-nature, Henry-Thoreau’s-Walden sort of way.  And we were quite literally alone out there, except for the bears and marmots out in the distance.  Not seeing another human being anywhere in the distance was thrilling and practically spiritual, particularly for a city girl like me (who’s unfortunately acutely accustomed to things like metro area rush hour traffic and 90-minute waits for restaurant tables).


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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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