I never get to axe anything at home in Texas. So, when I booked my trip to Alaska I scoured the internet looking for a way to fit in some ice climbing. Everything I saw was too long or too advanced. Part of my time in Alaska, I toured with REI adventures. I was with them in Valdez, Alaska when our guides offered an optional ice climbing excursion.
The ice climbing guides started us out on a practice ‘wall’ of ice. Ice climbing requires you to kick the ice with your crampon and stand on the front prongs. This entails strength and a lot of faith in your borrowed shoes. While I trusted the top roping equipment to catch me, I worried about hanging mid-air with spikes coming out of my shoes and two axes in my hand. It’s always been a big goal of mine to not die from self-inflicted axe wounds.
After a few trips up and down the practice wall, the ice climbing guides gave us a choice to continue practicing or to allow them to dangle us over an ice cliff into a crevasse. As a group we picked the ice cliff. We trekked over to a bottomless pit in the ice and our guides set up their ropes. We went one by one over the cliff. One guide escorted us from a viewing point to about twenty paces to the edge where we were tied on. There was nothing reassuring about needing to be tied together before we even got anywhere.
The plan was they would drop us down and we would tell them when to stop. Most of us dropped a few feet below where you see me in the picture. One guy got to the edge and decided that he could see just as well from there. I gave my camera to a woman in the group and told her to take as many pictures as possible. I had already achieved my dream of hacking ice for a day. If I was going to risk my life, it was for my new dream of getting a picture that would make my friends jealous. I spent my dangling time yelling, “Hey, are you getting this?” After I was clear that my picture had been taken, I told our guide, J.P., to pull me up. He laughed. He thought I was joking. “I can’t pull you up. You have to climb out,” he told me. What? You can’t pull me out or you won’t? What if I fell? “We would do crevasse rescue which is a big deal, so don’t axe through the rope.” Great plan. I only had a few yards to go, but the ice was harder than our practice wall. Plus, when I get nervous, I start cracking jokes that only I think are funny. I ended up giggling, axing, and kicking my way out of the crevasse. All of this so I could get my picture taken in a glacier. It was well worth it.