Adventure Unlimited: Cold comfort

by • May 15, 2014 • FeatureComments (0)189

Heed the glacier’s siren song with caution

My friends think I’m a hopeless eccentric because I’m in love with Alaska’s glaciers. Indeed, there’s much to love.

Climbing ice walls and rappelling down them is a skill taught on a glacier trek/climb. Clients below are waiting their turn to climb an ice wall on this day trek/climb on Matanuska Glacier. CHRIS BATIN

Climbing ice walls and rappelling down them is a skill taught on a glacier trek/climb. Clients below are waiting their turn to climb an ice wall on this day trek/climb on Matanuska Glacier.         CHRIS BATIN

An Alaska glacier exudes sophisticated charm. Expect an icy mistress with a mind of her own, and the size and weight to do what she pleases. For instance, Matanuska’s quirky personality and massive moraines can be a turn-off for some, but such features make me swoon with delight.
Reclined on the bedrock, she stretches out for miles, her icy curves conforming exquisitely around each mountain bend.
Because glaciers let me walk all over them, I strut my assuredness at times. But it’s an illusion.
An Alaska glacier oozes with power. These Amazonian-like daughters of Mother Earth are not shy about committing Alaska matricide each year, gouging out the lifeblood of canyons and fiords before burying them under miles of icy oppression for millennium.
You’ll experience these delights on a glacier trek. Yet some sing their siren song louder than others.
While a glacier’s features are gorgeous, beware of getting too close. The eyes of a glacier are moulins; sapphire orbs as mesmerizing as they are treacherous. They’ll tempt me closer to see the deepest secrets of her heart and soul.  For the inexperienced, look from afar, and proceed with caution.  One careless moment and you could fall down the well-like shaft and splash into an underground river, where your remains will remain entombed for the next 700 years or more.
Such infatuation is like a black widow’s embrace of her mate, whom she eventually devours. An admonition: Keep the flirting focused while romancing the ice.
Her harsh femininity aside, a glacier also has nurturing side. Look closely and there’s always a soft spot of scoured bedrock with a tiny crack filled with silt and moistened by a trickle of ice melt.  Struggling to gain root, a runt of a fireweed blossom spreads its petals feebly, yet proudly.  It is a paradox of sort, but such is the yin and yang of glaciers; the destruction and the creation of life.

Crampons, boots and gaiters are provided on Mica Guides glacier treks and climbs. CHRIS BATIN

Crampons, boots and gaiters are provided on Mica Guides glacier treks and climbs. CHRIS BATIN

Still ambivalent? Then make your first date with temptation ice a glacier trek.
One of my most memorable glacier dates began years ago when a Northstar Trekking helicopter dropped me off with a guide on Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier. My crampons squeaked like a rusty accordion as I pressed their points into jagged firn that tumbled off the crevasse like crumbs of crusted bread falling to the floor.
I took my first steps downhill before my guide and I indulged in this frozen equivalent of an adult sandbox. For the next few hours, we played as adults do on a glacier, checking out moulins, hanging from ice spires, and discovering a geyser that was shooting out gallons of ice melt a second from a fissure.

The scenery high on a glacial wall, like this one on Matanuska Glacier, is often spectacular, with jagged columns of ice called seracs jutting out in all directions, like this one near the icefall on Matanuska Glacier. CHRIS BATIN

The scenery high on a glacial wall, like this one on Matanuska Glacier, is often spectacular,
with jagged columns of ice called seracs jutting out in all directions, like this one near the
icefall on Matanuska Glacier. CHRIS BATIN

I filled my water bottle and drank deeply. The water was brain-freeze cold, an elixir that empowered my imagination as only Mendenhall can do. Mendenhall made the explorer within me seemingly invincible, at least until my guide spoke the words that were kryptonite to my fantasy: It was time to head back.
It didn’t matter. I was already in love, and so will you once you sample temptation ice for yourself.

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