Living on a glacier

Trip Start May 06, 2010
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Trip End Oct 14, 2010


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Flag of United States  , Alaska
Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I went to the guide company's office for the second day of my six-day mountaineering class.  The weather was clear in the morning so we rushed off to the airport to be flown out to the Pika Glacier in the Little Switzerland area of Denali National Park and Preserve.  Denali is the third largest national parks and is larger than the state of Massachusetts.

We quickly loaded up the ski plane and took off before the weather deteriorated.  I was a little disappointed that we had to leave so soon.  Sarah Palin was due to be coming to the guide company's office.  She was going to be filmed hiking with them in Denali for a reality TV show.  I wouldn't get to ask her to show me where to look to see Russia.

The flight was spectacular.  We got good views of Denali and the other peaks of the Alaska Range on our way to Pika Glacier.  There were a three markers for the "runway" on the glacier.  We slid to a stop and unloaded.  The plane left and we were alone out on the glacier with no signs of civilization anywhere except for the three runway markers.

The Pika Glacier is only a couple miles long.  We were near the upper end.  The lower end flows into the Kahiltna Glacier, which runs from the southwest slope of Denali to the start of the Kahiltna River and which at 36 miles is the longest glacier in the Alaska Range.  There are a series of peaks along both sides of the Pika Glacier with smaller glaciers between the peaks.  The peaks are all very jagged. We frequently heard rocks falling down the sides of the nearby peaks.

We picked a spot near the runway to set up camp.  We leveled an area for two tents, one for the guide and the other for the other student and me, and set them up.  We then dug out an area that would be our kitchen and pitched a third tent over it.  The weather deteriorated as we set up camp and our view of the Alaska Range disappeared.  We had a lesson in setting anchors in the snow.

It was cold and rainy for our third day.  The class normally would have involved some practical application but we spent the day in the kitchen with lessons on knots, avalanche prediction, glaciology and cold weather diseases instead.

The weather improved on the fourth day but visibility was still limited.  We loaded our packs, roped up and snow-shoed up one of the small glaciers that feeds into Pika Glacier for some lessons on crevasse rescue.  The "person" being rescued was a bag of snow that we dropped into a crevasse.  We rescued "Bag" once as a group.  Then the other student and I each got our turn rescuing Bag.

The weather deteriorated on the fifth day.  We hiked up another of the small glaciers feeding into the Pika Glacier to do some climbing.  The peaks along the Pika Glacier are all granite, which you might think would be pretty solid, but the rock has been split up from the freezing and thawing.  Now we got an up close view of the rocks we have been hearing fall.

The guide found a route up the mountain.  After he set an anchor we followed one at a time with me following behind the guide and the other student about 50 feet behind me on the rope.  It was hard to find anything to grab onto that looked like it could be trusted and even the rocks that looked solid frequently weren't.  The slope was a bunch of loose rocks of varying sizes from the size of cars down to sand.  I made it up to the guide and then waited while the other student worked his way up to join us.

We then had to make our way down.  The other student headed down first.  I followed when he had gone the roughly 50 feet of line between us.  Getting down wasn't any easier. 

When I was back on the glacier the guide worked his way down.  We then snow-shoed back to camp.  We went to sleep and hoped the plane would be able to land the next morning.
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Comments

Chuck on

I guess you don't like the "other student" , you never mention a "name"

wheresgordon
wheresgordon on

I didn't mention the guide's name either. Or the names of the guides in Lake Clark or the name of the guide for my Kayaking With the Whales trip or the names of the companies that ran these trips. They didn't agree to be in my blog so I don't name them.

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