Be sure to start with part 1 here.
Finally, I was standing at the base of this beautiful glacier that goes on seemingly forever. I couldn’t wait to play, but first we had these metal things that reminded me of bear traps that we needed to put on our shoes. Brian is about half way through demonstrating how to do this when I burst out into uncontrollable laughter. Everyone is staring at me like I had lost my mind because he didn’t say or do anything to cause this type of outburst. Once I have caught my breath enough to speak, I explained how when I booked the tour, I was told, or thought I was told, to bring my tampons if I had any. And even though I thought this was a strange thing for a male tour operator to tell a female client, I chose to ignore it and not ask any questions. When Brian called the bear-like-trap thingies crampons, I realized that is what I was supposed to have packed.
Once our crampons, not tampons, were properly tied on, which also made them look less like bear traps, Brian give a quick lesson on walking. This may sound silly, but the first few steps were rather challenging. He told to us be sure we kept our feet apart and straight or else the metal points that are designed to give traction on the ice would catch on our pants and rip them or possibly even cut our skin.
At last, I was standing on a glacier! No, not just standing…at last I was walking on glacier, playing on a glacier, and soon would be eating lunch on a glacier! I can’t even begin to put into words how amazing that feeling was. Sometimes I build up something in my head so much that the reality has no choice but to disappoint me. I was worried this would be one of those times, but this was amazing beyond anything my imagination could have ever dreamed up!
We didn’t have to walk far before we reached spots where the glacier was melting. In some places it was slowly flowing down, cutting little cracks and crevices, always finding the path of least resistance and constantly changing the surface of the glacier. In other areas the water was collecting in little pools. I was careful to step over or around the first couple of spots like this. But eventually, we came to a “stream” that was too wide to step over and too long to go around. I watched the guide walk on top of the water without so much as a second thought. And yet, I found myself stopped in front of “steam”. Logically, I understood the ice was dozens of feet thick, if not more, and that it would hold my weight without a problem. But, my eyes were screaming “danger, don’t do it”! The water was trickling along, which caused the ice below to become broken and cracked. After a few seconds, I tentatively put one foot down to test it. Nothing happened, just like my brain knew it wouldn’t, but my eyes still refused to believe it until I was standing on the “broken” ice with both my feet.
About a mile and a half later, we stopped for lunch. The place Brian chose over-looked a huge crater in the glacier that had a pond at the bottom of it! The spot was perfect! Before we ate, we needed to refill our water bottles. Brian gathered up all of our water bottles and took them to one of the faster moving “streams” that were feeding the pond. Take that Brita water filter! You can’t get much purer than drinking water straight from a melting glacier. Yes, I know it probably wasn’t pure or clean because it hadn’t been filtered for micro particles, but it tasted clean. As, crazy as it sounds, I was shocked at how cold the water was. I thought it would be about the temperature of a glass of ice water, but it felt much colder.
After lunch it was time to head back. We took the same route, but because the ice was glistening and shimmering in the light from the overhead sun, the path seemed somewhat different. In what seemed like no time at all, we had to take off our crampons (which I was more than happy to do…it takes a lot of energy to walk in those things). After a hike two miles back to the tour office, an air taxi, and finally a minivan ride, I arrived back to my hotel.
The next time I’m in Alaska I plan to take St. Elias’s glacier cave exploration tour and I’ll know to pack my crampons.