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Alaska: The Climb

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Originally published on 27 December 2007. I went to Alaska for a week after my college graduation. Alaska in December? You bet!

This morning we got up and ate a hearty breakfast, packed all our climbing and survival gear (enough for a day or two’s survival, just in case), and left the house about 10:15am or so, just before daylight, to go to Shannon’s plane and go ice climbing. Once we got to the plane, we discovered we’d forgotten the engine warmer for the plane, so we had to go back to the house and get it. No big deal. All part of the adventure! Once we got the covers off the plane and warmed it up so we could start it, Shannon had me drive the big truck around to the side of the plane so he could take off. I’m a helper!

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Ready for take-off!

So Shannon and Kristie went first. His is a two-person plane, so I stayed behind in the truck (with the heater!) and waited for him to drop Kristie off and come back or me, which took a little less than an hour. And guess who got to fly the plane on the way to the glacier… me! Once we landed, we started the hike out to the glacier we’d be climbing. Shannon and Kristie told me some neat stuff to look out for, such as overflow, which is water that runs down and on top of the frozen ice, turning it to slush. But then it freezes on top of the already frozen ice–this can be dangerous because it can be 5 or 6 inches deep sometimes!

On the way to the climbing site we put on our crampons, which are like ice picks attached to your feet to keep you from falling–think of them as ice cleets. The glaciers are so pretty. They’re the most beautiful shade of aqua blue I’ve ever seen, and they look like ocean waves that froze in midair. And we were so close to them! We touched them! We climbed one! Look at the pictures!

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Check out the cramp-ons.
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Glacier field!

Shannon hiked up the back side of a big one to set up the climbing mechanisms while Kristie and I hiked around to explore and take fun pictures. We found a cave in the big glacier and explored it for a little while. Shannon finished setting up pretty quickly (he put ice screw in the top and hooked the rope up to it), then rappelled down so we could start climbing. I went first! In some ways it’s easier than rock climbing, but I had a tough time getting my crampons to stay put because I’m just not used to them. You get to make your own hold holes with the ice axes and crampons, so that makes it easier than trying to find one in a rock face or trying to reach for one. But I kept coming out of the ice, so that was more difficult! I had a blast, though! And Shannon was right there to keep me from falling. Check out the climb. Thanks to Kristie for the pictures!

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Starting out.
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Going up.
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At the top!
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I made it!

I made it up and took a look around. It was gorgeous. The sky was white, the mountains were white, the icy glaciers were that beautiful aqua-blue and white with snow, and I couldn’t help but thank God for making such an incredible sight. The glaciers are always shifting position and changing shape. They melt, but never completely, then refreeze. You  can even can climb on ice in 70-degree weather up here in the summer because they never melt completely! It just amazes me. Everything up here is amazingly, beautifully, wonderfully different from anything else I’ve ever seen. Everywhere you go–Japan, Alaska, Tennessee, etc.–God has made something amazing and unique to that place. That’s one of the many reasons why I love to travel!

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Glacial Blue

After gawking at all the over-sized ice cubes and snow-capped mountains around me from way up there, Shannon belayed me so I could rappel down, and Kristie started her climb. She’s been doing this several years, since she’s lived up here most of her life, so she was much faster and more efficient than I was! Shannon went next with Kristie belaying him, and he went up quickly, all the way up to the top, and started taking everything down. We were going to lose daylight soon (it was almost 3:00 pm by then), so we needed to start heading back. We broke down and packed up everything, then hiked back out to the plane. Shannon took me back first (we did some “roller coaster” dips, which are SO fun!), then he went back for Kristie, who waited graciously and patiently back at the glacier site with survival gear just in case.

That’s it for now! Stay tuned for more. Next up: hiking in the snow!

 

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