A climber looks into a crevasse, or deep crack, on Denver Glacier. 

Exploring the Ice

In Skagway, I worked as an outdoor guide. I showed people the area’s glaciers. If people got lost outside, it was my job to help find them. To do that, I had to be trained in rescue techniques.

One day, I was on the Denver Glacier with the search and rescue team. We were practicing what to do if a person fell into a crevasse. A crevasse is a crack in a glacier. Some are very deep. After working all day, we took a break. 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. They stick up like shark fins. We decided to climb them for fun.

Now, at the base of one of those seracs was a crevasse. It was full of clear, blue water. I stood on the edge of the crevasse wearing all my heavy gear. I was connected by rope to the person climbing above me. Suddenly, that person slipped. I was yanked off my feet by the rope. I flew through the air and into that icy gap.

Chunks of ice known as seracs break off from glaciers. It’s hard to resist climbing them!

Ice Rescue!

Faster than lightning, the search and rescue team fished me out of the deep crack. They helped me remove my wet gear. I was soon warming up in a sleeping bag. I was safe.

I capture an image of rock that has been scraped smooth by a glacier.

That I fell is not the important part of the story, however. What’s important is what happened after. When I helicoptered back to Skagway, everyone 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 of glaciers with trees growing on them. They told me stories of strange glacier behavior. I heard stories of local people interacting with glaciers in all sorts of ways. I discovered that ice meant something to people. The glaciers gave people a sense of identity. They gave people a sense of place. Ice told them who they were and where they had been.

These stories changed my life. I realized that I had found a career. So, I set out to study glaciers and how glaciers shape human societies.