ice climbing Exit Glacier | Seward, Alaska

I never envisioned that one day I would wake up and say, “Today I am going to go ice climb into a glacier crevasse.” Yet, here I was gathering my winter hat, gloves, jacket and rain pants for an afternoon of ice climbing Exit Glacier.

Ice climbing on exit glacier

ICE CLIMBING EXIT GLACIER? Yes, PLEASE!

Our summer in Alaska has been a special series of unique events. We’ve experienced frequent wildlife sightings, the Summer Solstice Midnight Sun Run (click here to see a short TV interview that we were featured in for the run), time in Denali National Park, and bountiful salmon fishing.

midnight sun run
Midnight Sun Run (photo taken at 12:45 AM)

The idea of ice climbing on Exit Glacier is not something I even consider as an option until a friend mentions it. As I search online for Exit Glacier Guides and watch “ice climbing on Exit Glacier” YouTube videos displaying the deep cobalt crevasses, my interest quickly grows from mild interest to strong desire. Trent turns out to be an easy sell and soon we are counting down the days until our ice climbing adventure begins.

I CAN DO THIS

The morning of our ice climb begins with a fitting of gear—helmets, boots, crampons and a backpack. I quickly realize that when I’d assessed the 4.5-mile strenuous hike as doable, I’d failed to factor in a backpack filled with water, boots, winter clothing and my lunch. I give myself the first of several, “I can do this” pep talks that day. We head out to the van and take our places like excited school children on the first day of school.

ice climbing exit glacier

MOOSE, MORAINES, AND BRAIDED RIVERS

After stopping to admire a moose on the side of the road, our afternoon playground comes into view in the distance. Exit Glacier stands, silently entreating us to enter her chambers. We pass signposts along the roadside indicating where she once stood in years past. Like a strange reverse timeline, moraines* mark her history as she slowly fades from the foreground. Pouring out from her depths, a braided river weaves its way through the glacial valley floor. I learn that these unique rivers build up rather than erode the land, because of the large amount of glacial sediment that they carry.

BUSHES, BERRIES, AND BLUE SKIES

Stopping at the Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center, we set out on foot. For two hours we hike through forest and bush. Our guides teach us about the local landscape, pointing out edible salmon and watermelon berries as well as poisonous monkshood flowers. For the first time in over a month, I’m sweaty on this balmy 66 degree day which has revealed a rare view of a blue sky.

FLUID FORCE OF BEAUTY

As we close in on Exit Glacier, the temperature shifts drastically downward. Wind is cascading down the glacier’s face bringing with it a winter weather front.

-Hiking shoes off
-Climbing boots on
-Backpack off
-Rain pants on
-Winter gear on
-Helmet and harness on

My first step off the solid ground and onto the glacier is thrilling. I’m making my own “moon landing” moment. My feet traverse a landscape unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

Something like crushed diamonds sparkle in the sunlight beneath my boots. Bits of gravel debris pepper the surface, proof that this mountain of ice is not stationary but maintaining an unrelenting path of forward motion. We step through shallow rivers and over pools of placid blue water. From this vantage point, the glacier is a fluid force of beauty.

LEAN IN, TRUST FULLY

As our guides begin the process of anchoring the climbing ropes, we enjoy our lunch. The view around me creates a scene unparallel to any previous picnic.

Ropes securely in place, our guides proceed to instruct us on how to properly descend into the crevasse—backward, one step at a time, leaning fully into our harness, trusting the ropes, trusting them. Emphasis is placed on those last three points and I begin to focus all my attention on that singular aim—lean in, trust fully.

ICY BLUE CHAMBERS

Once my harness is clipped into the rope, my moment of truth arrives. I’ve never done this before. I have nothing to offer except my obedient, yielded trust. I step back to the edge of the precipice and lean into my harness. This action goes against every ounce of my self-preserving logic but instinctively I know it’s best.

ice climbing exit glacier

My guide begins her careful coaching, offering short, understandable tips seasoned with solid encouragement. My descent into the crevasse is slow and deliberate. As I pause in the depths of her icy blue chambers, I marvel. What I could not have done on my own has just unfolded before my eyes.

ice climbing exit glacier

Waterfalls from melting ice surround me. Bright blue envelops every angle of my view. Sounds from above are muffled and distant. For this moment, I am aware of nothing else.

GROWING CONFIDENCE

My climb out requires a focused sequence of carefully choreographed movements. Right pick, stand, left pick, stand—each movement forced into the ice with decisive action. My first accent is wobbly and full of mistakes but again, my guide is there coaxing, correcting and encouraging.

This process is repeated three additional times down different crevasses. Although my body grows more fatigued from this unique physical exertion, my confidence grows with each successful turn. As I reach the top and pull myself out onto the windy glacier for the last time, my heart is warm.

Ice Climbing Exit Glacier

ice climbing exit glacier

LINGERING LESSONS

As we hike back, my mind lingers over the recent moments that have slipped into my memory. This microcosm of life experience has not escaped my notice. While we will not all ice climb into a glacier, every one of us can think of a time when we have been brought, inexperienced, to the edge of ourselves, facing unfamiliar territory.

Marriage

Parenting

Death

Moving

New Job

New friends

Disease

Injury

Debt

The rules are very much the same: one step at a time, leaning fully into our harness, trusting the ropes, and trusting our Guide. He is there all the time, longing to show us the way, to give His guidance through the dark. Why do we resist, stubbornly sure we can do it our own way? Which of us came into this world with more knowledge than the Creator of it? Which of us secured the lines and hold the safety rope to our very life? What makes us think that anything other than complete yielding will do?

Lord, forgive our self-assured hearts. In our desire to gain confident independence, we crowd You out. We often look away until our situation seems peril, yet You have never left our side. Give us the wisdom to lean fully into You. Help us to listen to Your still, small voice. Remind us who we are in You and be the saving God we so desperately need.

“Those who know your name trust in You, for You, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek You.”Psalm 9:10


*moraine |məˈrān|
noun Geology

A mass of rocks and sediment carried down and deposited by a glacier, typically as ridges at its edges or extremity.


TRAVEL NOTES:

-We used Exit Glacier Guides based in Seward, Alaska. They were knowledgeable, informative and professional and I’d gladly go with them again.

-This glacier ice climb is for anyone 15 and up who is in good physical condition. No experience is necessary.

-Exit Glacier Guides provide all your necessary equipment as well as a yummy lunch and a snack. We brought our own winter clothing however, a few people didn’t have the gloves needed and Exit Glacier Guides was able to supply these as well.

-Rain pants are suggested. I’ll confess I had never even heard of rain pants until I came to Alaska! Thankfully, I was able to find a pair at a local thrift store but Trent did not have any. It was nice to have them but he felt it worked fine without so don’t let that be a deal breaker for you.

So I’m curious, would an ice climb on a glacier be something that you would ever want to do?

the value of being uncomfortable, homeless and alone

Denali is special,” the Park Ranger explains.

She is smartly dressed in her khaki green uniform and bubbling forth with information.

Not only is Denali a National Park but it is also a Wildlife Preserve. This means that aside from a handful of maintained trails and the one main road that leads 92 miles into the park, the remaining 6 million acres is untouched wilderness. No motorized vehicles or even power tools are allowed off of the main road. A recent suspension bridge repair was completed with the use of sled dogs and hand tools.

Photo: Triple Lakes Trail Suspension Bridge

When people choose to hike the backcountry here we don’t offer much in the way of route advice. We want each person to have their own experience, their own interaction with the wilderness and as a result, their impact is varied and leaves minimal damage to the vegetation and to the wildlife. To be honest, it can be a very humbling experience to be dropped off by a park bus and set out on a hike without a path to guide you. Being uncomfortable is a good thing. We want you to be reminded that as humans we are the visitors, Denali does not belong to any one of us.”

UNCOMFORTABLE

I discover that she is right. Being here in Denali and stepping out into the wilderness is humbling. I’ve experienced equal parts respect and reverence, discomfort and grand appreciation. On my end, the discomfort is due to my desire to embrace the wilderness, but not necessarily the proximity to animals (mainly grizzlies) which I don’t typically share my space with. It’s not an unusual tradeoff (experiencing something new in exchange for facing a fear), just one where the stakes seem slightly more elevated. Yet the desired effect is achieved—I don’t feel at home here. I am the outsider trespassing on land that is not my own.

Photo: Savage River Loop Trail

As our time in Denali unfolds, I find myself enjoying more and worrying less. My routine now involves grabbing bear spray before heading out the door and my vocabulary has widened to include the ranger suggested, “Hey bear!” alert call as I move through the trees. I venture out to hike the Mount Healy Overlook trail with Ashlyn and three other friends, ascending over 1,600 feet to overlook the park without Trent’s protective presence. It feels like a double victory to return home both alive and successful in our hike. Continue reading “the value of being uncomfortable, homeless and alone”

our Mecca | the Alaska Hwy

Photo credit: Madison Sloan

As our little caravan pushes northward, I am settling into a predictable rhythm:

 

Wake up.

Eat breakfast.

Workout.

Prep the RV for travel.

Hit the road between 10 and 11.

Chat with our traveling friends (the Sloans) via walkie-talkie about road conditions, a joke, riddle or perhaps a verse of the day.

Help the kids with school in the car.

Watch for animals.

Pause for breathtaking vistas, overlooks, lakes and towering mountain ranges.

Call out animal sightings (black bear, moose, wood buffalo, and rock sheep) over the walkies.

Stop for a potty and lunch break.

Spy additional animals.

See more spectacular views.

Discuss where to stop for the night.

Find a pullout and set up house.

Cook dinner.

Prep lunches for the next day.

Pull down the shades to block out the sun.

Head to bed.

Wake up.

((Repeat))

 

We are currently on day six of this routine. Our hair is greasy. My laundry basket is plump and we are ready for a solid 24 hours without movement. Yet, despite the fervent pace of our travels, we’ve been blessed by several beautiful pauses:

Continue reading “our Mecca | the Alaska Hwy”

something strange, something new, something big, something blue

Back in January, we attended a Fulltime Families Retreat in Southern California. One evening, we invited the Sloan family over to get to know them better. Part of our conversation included upcoming summer destinations. They planned to visit the East Coast and our plans included Alaska.

SOMETHING FUNNY

The next morning the Sloan’s informed us that their summer plans had changed during the night—they now planned to go to Alaska with us! Surprisingly, this isn’t that unusual in our lifestyle. You meet people. You like them. You travel with them. But it is funny to take myself out of the fulltime travel mindset and try to picture a scenario like this happening. You invite someone new to the area over for lunch after church. You talk about your upcoming plans for a family vacation to Florida. The following Sunday they announce surprise: they’ve booked the same flight and plan to tag along! I can’t imagine that ever happening, yet it does when you live your life on the road and get the freedom to choose your neighbors and travel companions.

Photo: Our Alaska travel buddies

We couldn’t be more thrilled to be traveling to Alaska with the Sloans. Besides the fact that we all get along great, Jeff has been to Alaska on several occasions. He has a wealth of knowledge and handy skills in case we run into any trouble with our RV. Continue reading “something strange, something new, something big, something blue”

toward Alaska | Banff National Park

I thought I knew what beauty was. We are just days into our trip to Alaska and already I’ve had to rewrite that page in my mind.

Photo: Dry Gulch Campground just South of Banff

COMPLETELY CONFIDENT

Banff is dripping with the dignity of royalty, wrapped in her glacial blanket of majestic wonder and completely confident. With each turn of the road, we are surprised by her splendor and sure that we have now seen the best she has to offer. Yet, each outing outdoes the one before and the auspicious* adventure continues in an unabashed fashion.

Water filled with glacial runoff permits lake colors too vibrant to accurately describe.

Photo: Lake Louise, Alberta
Photo: Moraine Lake, Alberta

Placid pools reflect snow-cloaked mountaintops.

Photo: Bow Lake, Alberta

Continue reading “toward Alaska | Banff National Park”