A climber looks into a crevasse, or deep crack, on Denver Glacier.
Exploring the Ice
In Skagway, I worked as an outdoor guide and showed people the area’s glaciers. If people ever got lost outside, it was my job to help find them. To do that, I had a lot of training.
One day, I was on the Denver Glacier near Skagway with my team. We were practicing what to do if a person fell into a crevasse. A crevasse is a crack in the surface of the glacier.
After working all day long, we took a break to have some fun. We went over to an area of the glacier that had large seracs. A serac is a ridge of ice on the surface of a glacier. These stick up like shark fins. We decided to climb them.
Now, at the base of one of those seracs was a crevasse. It was full of the clearest blue water you’ve ever seen. To get a better view, I stood right on the edge of that crevasse wearing all my heavy gear. I was connected by rope to a person who was climbing above me.
Suddenly, that person slipped. I was yanked off my feet by the rope. I flew through the air and fell right into that deep, icy gap. My heavy gear and I sank like stones to the bottom.
Chunks of ice known as seracs break off from glaciers. For glaciologists, it’s hard to resist climbing them!
But who was I out on the glacier with? My search and rescue team. We had just practiced what to do if someone fell into a crevasse. They were so excited! Quicker than lightning, they had me fished out of the deep, icy crack. They helped me remove my wet gear, and I was soon warming up in a sleeping bag. I was completely safe.
I capture an image of rock that has been scraped smooth by a glacier.
The fact that I fell isn’t the important part of the story, though. What’s important is what happened after. When I helicoptered back to Skagway, everyone in town wanted to hear my glacier story. So, I told them. And then they told me their glacier stories.
They told me stories of glaciers growing, retreating, and calving. They told me stories about glaciers with trees growing on them. They told me stories of strange glacier behavior. Their stories showed me that the people of my town interact with glaciers in all sorts of ways. Glaciers gave people a sense of identity, of place, of home. Ice told them who they were and where they had been.
These stories changed my life. For me, listening to those stories helped me realize that there was so much we didn’t know about glaciers, or glaciers and people, or glaciers worldwide. I also realized that I had found a career for myself. So, I set out to study glaciers and how glaciers shape human societies.