30 July, 2000
July 30, 2000
Matanuska Glacier, Alaska
Tonight I feel as tired as can be and yet full of energy. It was a very long day and I’ve never started
a journal so late in the evening. The early part of the day was spent helping out here and there with a variety of things. At around three o’clock I sat down in a chair on the deck to relax in a very warm and bright sun. Today has been perhaps the most beautiful day since I’ve been here. It felt really good and I came close to dozing off a few times. I probably would have had it not been for the heat of the sun. Then I heard a familiar sound. It was Ben Cashman sorting out his ice climbing gear. I turned his way and asked if he was going for a climb again. He said yes and asked if I wanted to join him. I had been wanting to do this with him for some time now and immediately accepted his kind invitation.
Climbing, whether on ice or rock, has always been something that I wanted to do. I was a regular monkey when I was a kid and heights never bothered me and risk was always a rush. But to live in Indiana pretty much means your opportunities for such adventure is extremely limited. Realistically about all you can do is leave the state for climbing opportunities. It’s not a cheap sport and it would never be worthwhile to invest in the equipment without having the playground in your back yard. And so it seems that on many vacation trips I would be in areas where climbing is popular and I’d always say to myself, “I’d love to do that!” Finally my time to “do that” was here.
I didn’t know what to expect on the ice. Ben was extremely good at instructing us on the basics we’d need this day. We had hiked back to the glacial lake and he chose an ice wall that was somewhat gradual at first but then became perfectly vertical before reaching the top. It looked like a great place to take a couple novices. Staci Ensminger was also going to climb for the first time. Stacy is a researcher from Northwest Missouri State and has been to the Matanuska Glacier several times in the past. Staci was the first one to go up and she did a wonderful job (putting the pressure on me!) We were soon joined by a couple others from camp, Jane Casteline and Teryn Ebert.
When my turn came I was really excited and ready to go. After a few easy steps forward it was necessary to begin using the ice axes. We had practiced using them at the base to make sure we could get secure holds on the ice. The ice axes and crampons were all that was needed to propel one’s self up the wall. A climbing rope gave a lot of security and safety to the climb. I was amazed at how easy it was to just move right up the ice. The ice axes worked remarkably well and I never had any concerns about losing a grip with them. The only thing that seemed tricky was getting the point of ice axe out of its hold in the ice and that seemed to be the only thing that prevented me from just climbing the ice like a ladder. The crampons dug in very well to give secure footing.
After arriving at the top and enjoying the experience it was time to make the trip back down. Now going down is a whole different experience than going up, believe me. Your hands are not involved at all. Ben asked that I spread my feet out to shoulders width and lean back....hands free! This was the point where trust became a real factor in whether or not I would go down the same way I went up. I’ve been around Ben a lot here and have developed a lot of respect for his intelligence, ability and character. I had absolutely no problem at all with placing my trust in him as he let out the rope allowing me to basically walked backwards.....hands free.....down this vertical ice wall. It was quite exciting.
At the bottom he greeted me with a big smile and congratulations and commented that I looked like a natural climber. Maybe he always says that, I don’t know, but for the moment I sure felt like it. He then asked if I’d like to move on to something more challenging. It was already 7:00 pm and I was thinking about how I’d find time to get this journal done. I then realized that I do live in Indiana and how many chances will I get to climb ice on a glacier anyway? So he set another course which was more challenging but I still felt very comfortable with it and scooted right up the face. And once again walked down backward with the aid of the climbing rope. It’s an experience that I will never forget and for that I will forever be grateful to Ben.
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