Finding a taste of Alaska freedom during a fall glacier adventure
By Rylee Flint Hawknews Writer My backpack sagging off my shoulders, crampons in hand, I skirt the edge of a puddle while the others stomp through it. The clean, crisp Alaska air energizes me as hike down Root Glacier Trail. Looking back, I am slowly losing sight of Kennecott—the ghost town where men deliberately worked in the mine to provide for their families. That is behind us now; the glacier is still to come. Twelve students, three teachers, two guides—the anxiety of getting there buzzes through us all. We continue to tramp down the dirt path, pushing aside scraggly branches that reach out from the thick forest. Leaves dust nature’s floor and the sun’s slanting rays struggle to peek out from the clouds above me. All of us are chattering away, anticipating what it will be like. The occasional “are we there yet?” and “how much longer?” breaks out among the group. We pass a massive volcanic boulder that towers above us. Some try to climb it but don’t succeed, and we move on. There are so many sights to see, and no one becomes bored; the wilderness entertains us easily. We cross paths with a pile of bear scat, and this is where the cameras come out. The bear had eaten cranberries—this is clearly visible. Everyone gets a good laugh out of the jokes that are made, and we proceed. The trail bends to the right, dips down, and leads us to a peaceful, little waterfall and creek. As I walk across the footbridge, the clear water is so close beneath me. It delicately flows across the pebbles in a rushed rhythm, seeming to say, “Hurry, hurry. You’re almost there.” Another few turns and our surroundings change into rocky hills that descend to the glacier. The excitement is building up at this first glance of the white mass. I get a sudden urge to run the rest of the way there; I’m just so eager to get on the glacier. I stay patient, though and we walk down to the edge of the ice together. As we sit down on the rocks, David and Betsy, our instructors, teach us how to put on our crampons which they had fitted for us earlier. I am quick to learn and I wait for them to give me the “okay” to stand up. Once they tell me I’m good, I jump up off the rock I’m sitting on. These metal spikes on the bottom of my hiking boots make my feet feel very heavy, like I’m in someone else’s shoes. And I guess I kind of am—the crampons aren’t actually mine. The scraping of the metal on the rocks isn’t pleasant. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard or a fork on your teeth; it just makes you cringe. That first step onto the glacier is a relief and a thrill. The crampons crunch and crackle with every unsteady step I take. I can see the smiles on everyone else’s faces and soon realize that one has spread across mine as well. After everyone has practiced walking around a bit, the Writers’ Workshop class is on its way up the glacier. Our equipment is already being put to use. Some students are snapping pictures of the frost’s brilliant colors, while others are recording sounds of the crampons on the ice. And yet others (including me) are catching footage of the class tromping up the steady slope. As I am making my way up the hill, I realize the purpose of the crampons. I find myself having to dig the spikes into the ice with more effort as the incline becomes steeper. They really do support you. If I weren’t wearing them, I wouldn’t have even made it this far; I’d be slipping and sliding down like a penguin. I keep expecting myself to fall, as I see many others have done already. Our teacher, Mr. Voley, tells us to be careful with the equipment. He has already told the class that he’s expecting two devices to break and for Wesley to get hurt in some way. Luckily, nothing of the sort has happened yet, but we have just begun our adventure on Root Glacier. Once we reach the top, we are already on our way down again. The glacier definitely isn’t a flat stretch of ice; it has many dips and curves, nooks and crannies, filled with mysteries, and I want to explore every inch of it. We appear to be in a bowl of ice and are now free to roam around. A small cave catches my attention. We all take turns going inside where enchanting water, illuminated by the sun, trickles down the face of the glacier into a stream. The taste of the water is so pure and refreshing; it is the drink of a true Alaskan. We are capturing as many memories with our devices as we can, which Mr. Voley says will someday be produced into adventure stories. Back up to the higher level and out of the bowl, we are being led around again; there is still much to see on this vast frozen ocean. The waves and ripples of ice gleam under bright, golden rays. This expanse is like a field of diamonds that are glittering and glistening so perfectly; it looks like a million bucks. The guides introduce us to a crevasse—a big crack in the ice—that goes very deep into the heart of the glacier. I want to know what’s inside, where it goes. I can imagine myself falling into it. Down and down I would go, uncovering the mysteries, stories, and history that are hidden within. The glacier would tell me its secrets. I’d be stuck and I would never be able to return. I would stay down there forever. I would become the glacier. Such thoughts remind me of the saying “curiosity killed the cat” and I keep a safe distance. When Wesley nears the crevasse, I can tell he’s making people nervous. He has a history of getting injured almost everywhere he goes. He’s just accident-prone. As lunch rolls around, I notice that the wind has picked up and is howling fiercely, pushing us around. We find a nice open place, and I take a seat by my friends. We pull out our lunches, struggling to keep the wind from blowing our hats and plastic sandwich bags away. It becomes so rough and loud, that it’s peaceful and quiet. Before I know it, we are done eating and are on the move again. Far off to the right, another group of people marches single file in the opposite direction. They are dressed completely in black clothing: black boots, black pants, black coats, black ski masks, black everything. My friend, Amanda, and I make up a story about how they’re Indian spies, following us. But they pass out of our sight and obviously aren’t following us. And by chance, they probably weren’t Indian spies either. The clouds up above are darkening and hang heavy in place, concealing the sun. It seems like the weather won’t get better, but only worse. That doesn’t mean our attitudes have to get worse too, because the new sights we are seeing keeps up our spirits. The next to discover is a moulin, which basically is a hole in the baby blue ice, water flowing in from the surface. It is like a well, the water cleaning and filtering the inside. It’s going the same place as the crevasse: the heart of the glacier. We are nearing the end of our time out here; the guides say so. Although my fingers are getting numb, my face cold, I’m not ready to go back yet. There is still one more thing the guides have to show us. Still on the ice, they lead us to a patch of rocks and tell us to lift one up. What is underneath them, I would never have expected; they are fleas. I can’t see anything at first, but I squint my eyes harder and get closer, and make out the tiny black dots of life. It’s unbelievable that most people wouldn’t normally notice this. Sometimes, all you have to do is look closer, and you will realize that there is much more to everything than you think. This last event draws a close to our glacier adventure. It’s so hard to leave behind this amazing place that so few people get to experience. The openness and freshness just takes away your worries and doubts. You feel like you can do anything you set your mind to. On the glacier, you see a side of your inner child; you get a taste of freedom.
Kenny Lake students climb down into the glacier to see a pool.
Crampons help you maintain control on the glacier.
Mrs. Friendshuh offers some wilderness wisdom to the group.
An exotic, and enchanting glacial moulin.
The glacier holds many surprises and wonders for the Writers' Workshop class.