To coldly go where few have gone before
By Amanda Friendshuh
Clink. Clink. The sounds of old town Kennecott echo in my mind. Smoke billows out from sixty foot smoke stacks that loom over the mine. The red and white stripes that cover Kennecott draw my attention. The colors seem symbolic to me. They represent a time of suffering, pain, and hardship. Yet, under all that loss, these brave workers discovered a love for Alaska, and the beauty that has captured so many hearts.
The van jerks and I switch back to present tense. Trying to tell my imaginative mind to take a break is hard. Yet, I had almost imagined that we were taking a field trip of sorts to Root Glacier. Wait, that was happening.
The red and white strips of Kennecott wait around the next corner. The van veers into a parking space that overlooks mounds of silt and residue that the glacier's receding had left in its wake. The seemingly tall mounds look minuscule compared to the majestic mountains overlooking the glacier. Mount Blackburn, Regal Mountain, and Donaho Peak stand tall in the distance; their strange silhouettes casting interesting shapes across Kennecott. Hence the nickname “Ghost town.” For the first time I notice the people around me. Some students from Kenny Lake school stand looking over the residue. I wonder if they are thinking the same thing I am. It seemed like a sullen graveyard, left, abandoned to represent the icy past.
The entire class is shaken out of our sleep-like trance and we all head toward an office marked “Kennecott Wilderness Guides.” The class walks up to the building and our teacher goes inside. After coming back out he motions us to the side of the building where there are benches to set our packs on. Two guides come out and introduce themselves. After making sure we all have the proper gear, one guide brings out the crampons. One look at the equipment, and I know that this is not going to be easy.
The crampons are in the shape of a foot, with rugged metal spikes attached to the bottom. Imagine wearing platform boots with spikes jutting out the soles.
Once everybody had crampons that fit packed in their gear, we started out toward the glacier. On the trail you have to figure out how to take pictures of bear scat, glacier residue, and scenic mountains, while avoiding mud puddles and juggling crampons. Let me tell you, it is quite a task.
My feet are wearing down and I take off another coat. This isn’t going to be as simple as I had thought. Every time I see the glacier, I think we are almost there. Unfortunately there is always a next hill. My pack is getting heavier by the minute. I feel as if the passing breezes are dumping rocks in my pack, one step at a time.
The group stumbles across a waterfall and I wish I could take a small drink. The water looks so refreshing, compared to my grimy water bottle.
The water is cascading down the mountain rocks and at the bottom, it begins to dance, confined to its path. Walking over the bridge, I can sense how close we are to the glacier. Soon we are hiking over the mounds of glacier residue. The sun glistens above our heads and everyone hopes that the hike will be over soon. I catch glimpses of our destination and I am almost sick with anticipation.
Thankfully, we reach the edge of the glacier and we sit down to rest and to put our crampons on. My shaking fingers eagerly tie my crampons to my hiking boots.
After everyone is fitted to their equipment correctly, the guides tell us to stand. I stand, a little too fast and I almost keel over. The crampons cut into the rocks under me, leaving marks that resemble sidewalk chalk.
Our troupe begins to hike up the glacier edge. Walking with crampons is different from walking without. You have to be sure that you don’t step on your pant legs or you trip and begin to slide on the ice. As I walk, I see tiny pools of ice with sand on the bottom. I am told they are called moulins. They resemble enlarged raindrops that froze to the ice.
Soon we arrive to our first stopping point. A crevasse cuts into our path. The giant split in the ice seems to have no end.
The next stop is my favorite. We make our way down an icy hill and end up standing on a moving glacier stream. The water reminds me of blue raspberry snow cone syrup. The guides tell us the water is safe to drink. Thankfully I open my water bottle and dump its contents. Then, I dipped the bottle into the stream ad let it fill up to the very top.
You would expect that the water would have dirt in it, considering the silt at the bottom of the stream, but surprisingly, the water is crystal clear. But, there is more to the area besides the stream. There is a pool enclosed by ice; a moulin. There is also a waterfall, even more impressive than the one on the hike. It rushes down the ice, as if something were chasing it.
After more than a dozen pictures, it was time for lunch. We hiked up a hill, and set out styrofoam mats to keep our equipment and bodies from getting wet. The wind picked up, and soon the entire class had jumped up to run after sandwich bags or mats. We finish lunch, and head back toward the trail. This time we take a different route so that we can see more glacier characteristics.
We see another crevasse, and a few more big moulins, but we have one more stop. A large moulin awaits our arrival. The glacier can be a very dangerous place, and this is perfect example. The moulin is very large and water flows down in all directions. It reminds me of a fountain, except it is very large. Toward the bottom of the moulin, the ice twists and turns to form interesting shapes. The guides keep us at a safe distance so we won’t fall. My mind wanders again; it chills you to the bone to think of people who couldn’t play it safe.
As it turns out, the barren Alaskan Desert has life. Bears constantly visit, and there are also permanent residents: fleas. They actually live under rocks.
Going down the last hill leading off the glacier, I feel a sense of accomplishment. I have been on a glacier. Something I can definitely put on my future resume.
As we make the tiring trip back to Kennecott, we encounter all the familiar bear scat piles, large puddles, and it is here we return our crampons. As I sit down to write, my thoughts overwhelm me with good descriptions of the glacier. I came to this conclusion:
There is absolutely no way someone can give a perfect description of a glacier. It is just too mysterious and unexplainable. It seems as if that giant mass of ice is holding a tiny secret; a secret that will be remembered, but never known.
I am an elementary teacher in Shawnee, Kansas. I know your teacher as I met him when he was Alaska's Teacher of the Year. I LOVE your descriptive language...when you describe the passing breeze as feeling like rocks dumped into your backpack. Would it be okay for me to use your writing as a mentor text for my students? They need to see excellent examples of writing and yours is definitely that!
-- Jeri Powers
-- Amanda Friendshuh
Amazing!!! I love your descriptive writing!
-- Sandy Friendshuh
Amanda's glacier story ... "To Coldly Go Where Few Have Gone Before" .. even though she says it's difficult to give a perfect description of the experience of visiting a glacier, she certainly painted a good picture for me. From where I am, in the middle of New York City, one couldn't juxtapose such drastic contrasts than that I would think. Wonderful writing! And Amanda is in Middle School? Wow! Nice work Amanda.
-- Brian Burnett, New York
Nicely done Amanda!
-- Steve Judd
I really enjoyed reading your writing. I felt like I was on an adventure with you. I want to be back on a glacier now! Great job!
-- Sarah Dolge
Great story with lots of details. We learned a lot about glaciers from reading your descriptions. Sorry it took so long to grt back to you. Our computer just got hooked up with service so we could read your wonderful adventure. Excellent job.
-- Lynn Friendshuh
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