Day Ten: Root Glacier, Kennicott, Alaska

July 6, 2008

Kennicott Glacier Lodge.jpgWe got ourselves organized and down for breakfast by 8:15 a.m.  We have to confess we’ve been impressed with the Kennicott Glacier Lodge.  Breakfast was scrambled eggs, French toast, pancakes, fresh fruit, sausage, bacon, sweet breads and homemade cinnamon rolls.  There were also 3 or 4 kinds of juice and hot coffee.   Everything was very tasty.  At the end of our breakfast the waitress brought us our lunches that we had ordered the night before.  The lodge does up a great sack lunch for guests who plan to be off on a hike for the day.

Root Glacier6.jpgWe were checked out of the lodge and ready for our Half-Day Root Glacier Hike by 9:00 a.m.  As people were gathering at the office of St. Elias Guides, the receptionist told me that they usually wait until everyone arrives before they decide who goes on the group with the “grandmas and grandpas”, and who goes with the younger folks.  Mistake.  I then had to ask her if she considered Bill and I the “grandmas and grandpas”?  We were then (of course) placed in the group with the youngins’.  We were fitted with crampons (like strap-on ice teeth) that we would use once we were actually on the glacier and introduced to our guide, Collin (later to be known as Collin the Goat Man).flowers rocks glacier.jpg

The hike to the glacier itself was hearty; several miles sometimes over fairly narrow trails.  We did not reach Root Glacier itself until nearly 10:30 a.m.  Our next tasks were to add another layer of clothing (it got real chilly fast) and to strap on the crampons.  Collin did give us a quick demonstration on how to move in crampons but it’s really one of those things that must be experienced to be understood.  We didn’t exactly start off on a flat and easy section of glacier.  We immediately had to head up the glacier at about a 45 degree angle.  Bill in crampons.jpgFor those of us who did not yet have a “trust relationship” with our crampons this was a leap of faith.  We actually were headed to the crest of this flowing mound of ice.  We all did manage to get to the top, some with less grace than others.  Eventually we all became a bit more confident with the conviction that if used correctly, the crampons would keep us on the ice and intact.Kelly at Root Glacier.jpg 

It was an overcast day and at times there was even a drizzle.  I’m not sure that this detracted from the experience though.  In fact, it may have afforded us more contrast in views of the glacial ice and surrounding mountains.  Our young guide Collin would often sprint ahead, sometimes oblivious to the fact that folks were straggling behind.  There were six of us in his group; a young couple from Austria, another young Indian couple who reside in California, and “Grandma and Grandpa!”  Bill and I were not the stragglers however.  The young Indian woman (Millie) was extremely cautious.  Sometimes her husband (K.D.) would even leave her behind.  She was an absolutely adorable young woman though and not annoying in the least.  I thought to myself that perhaps a more mature guide would be a bit more attentive to his charges.  This was not a nature walk.  It was at times both difficult and dangerous.   Yet our guide would sometimes be far ahead trotting and traveling as sure footed as a mountain goat.  Goat Man Collin.jpgAt one point I referred to him as “Goat Man” to which he replied, “I’ve been called that before.”

We scrambled around the Root Glacier and came upon glacial pools and streams.  By noon we had made our way to a large glacial pool with water unbelievable shades of blue.  Collin unrolled a couple mats for those ready to sit down and eat their lunch.  Bill and lunchers.jpgWhile Millie’s husband was off exploring and she advised the rest of us that it was his 32 birthday.  She had brought two Nutri-grain bars and asked for a lighter so she could have him blow it out.  When he returned to the lunch group she gave him his card, his “birthday bars” and we all sang happy birthday.  These two were quite madly happy together and the joy rubbed off.  From our lunch spot we could adventure around to see a fast moving glacial stream sweeping away water from our pool.  Another lunch pool view.jpgIt cut large canyons through the ice reminiscent of the Grand Canyon, with different layer of the glacial ice being slightly different colors.canyon cut by lunch pool.jpg

Collin’s goal after lunchtime was to take us to the site of a glacial moulin.  A moulin is a nearly vertical shaft worn in a glacier by surface water falling through a crack in the ice.  The water churns around and around until it eventually drills its way to the underneath of the glacier.  According to Goat Man the moulins are extremely dangerous and if you fall into one you are “toast”.  He explained that when we got there only two people at a time would be allowed to approach.  Winding our way to the moulin meant traversing a narrow, pointed ice bridge with glacial stream about a foot wide winding around it.  Bill was the first non-guide to try the route and wisely lowered himself almost to the ground.  The dangerous moulin.jpgIt was a steeply sloping grade and a bit intimidating.  Millie and I were the last two to go.  She looked terrified and said to me, “I don’t think I can do this!” 

“Of course you can!  I know you can!” I encouraged her.  She wanted me to go first so I did.  And within seconds I had lost my footing and started to slide down the ridge toward the water.  It was pretty dramatic in my heart, but I only slipped for maybe a half a second before the toe of one of my crampons stopped my descent.  At least I hoped I’d provided some entertainment for those already on the other side.  beginning ice climber.jpgI had certainly convinced Millie that she was not going down that ridge.  Goat Man had to go back for her and help her across.

The moulin was a pretty incredible site.  The water just rushed around and around this hole like a whirlpool.  The color was a deep saffire blue and I was thankful I hadn’t slipped there.  After a few minutes for each couple to take pictures, or just absorb the site, we moved on and toward the edge of the glacier.  We all sat on rocks and removed our crampons at about 1:15 p.m.  The hike back to town would take us another hour and a half and frankly, this was an exhausting trip.  Enormous ice waterfall in back.jpgThe loose rocky trail was much more difficult on the way back and of course climbing up expended more energy than going down.  At one point at the top of an incline, we all stood to rest and remove more layers of clothing.  I remarked that Bill and I were old enough to be the parents of all the people on this trek.  Yep.  KD, who was celebrating his 32nd birthday, asked Bill when he was born and then exclaimed, “That’s when my dad was born!”  Yes.  Didn’t we tell you?Castle Rock2.jpg

We did have a good time though.  Had I known how physically challenging this trek would be we probably would not have done it.  As it was, we fared quite well and did not hold the youngin’s back at all.  We really came to enjoy KD and Millie and ended up spending some time with them before catching the shuttle back to the airstrip together.

Once more we had the opportunity to fly in a smaller plane back to Chitina so we jumped on the chance.  This time however, it was the scariest flight I’ve ever been on.  By the time we left, around 5:00 p.m., the weather had gotten a little uglier and hard winds were blowing between the mountain passes.  Almost back to Kennicott.jpgAt more than one time, had I not been wearing my seat belt I would have been tossed enough to have hit my head on the ceiling of the airplane.  I sat quietly in the back of the plane and at one point it occurred to me that I had not screamed, “Holy SHIT!” once but I had thought it numerous times.  About then, our pilot Martin turned all the way around to look at me and asked if I was alright.  Alright?!  All I could say was, “Martin, if you’re happy, I’m happy.”  I figured as long as he was not making the sign of the cross we might be okay.  Another time he reminded me of the barf bag in front of me.  “I am NOT spewing!  I am even saving any expletives until we’re safely on the ground!”  It was not a good time in any stretch of the imagination.  We did land safely after which Martin asked, “Now, in retrospect that was kind of fun, right?”

Bill and I regrouped in our little RV and headed out of Wrangell-St. Elias on the rough Edgerton Highway.  We decided to try to get a little distance up the Richardson Highway before calling it a night.  We are both very exhausted.

The Northern Lights RV park was handily located right off the highway in Glennallen.  With free WiFi this place earned our stay.  We are now well fed (left over spaghetti – the beauty of an RV) and heading off to bed.  Tomorrow – the Denali Highway.


Pictures

Tsunami warning tower.jpg
Natalie from Wrangell Air.jpg
canyon cut by lunch pool.jpg
Almost back to Kennicott.jpg
 
 

6 Comments

July 7, 2008
Okay, crampons or no crampons...you are WAY braver than I EVER would be!!! My toes were literally tingling describing your climb and then your plane ride home--I much prefer the puffin stories! So glad you're having a wonderful adventure!
Mary Ann:
July 7, 2008
You are one tough cookie! I am not worthy.
Dionne:
July 7, 2008
Okay, I not envious of the climbing, but the sights are still beautiful. The adventure looks fun, but I know you like the out doors.
Ellen:
July 7, 2008
I want to see the crampons in action! You'll have to do a demo at our August staff meeting :-)
July 8, 2008
As I was reading your adventures, I was thinking--I bet my buddy Bill will kiss the sofa when he gets back. You guys really have a thing for "DANGER", the plane ride and the water spilling downward like a drain, and you could be swollowed up like and you're not sure if there is a bottom to the whiling waters. Kelly, there is fun, and then there is DANGER. But, it sounds like you guys are living your dream, and having a real blast. You guys are having a lot of bonding time together. Kelly, your descriptions are so colorful and you are truly a writer at heart. Now, I'm going to sound like your mother, don't let your fingers get to cold,or they will freeze like a popcycle and drop off. How cold has it been, and have you encourted any more bears. The pictures of the bears were beautiful,you had some great shots, but you were much too close for comfort. You guys were close enough to be Mr. Bear's lunch special. Have fun, but now you need to start to missing us just a bit about now! Ha-ha
chuck & Judy:
July 9, 2008
We just returned from the great state of Alaska and the adventures of a life time. I enjoyed your travel log, stories and admit you did the whole enchalata!! We tried to in a month but alias, failed miserabily! Your stories, photos etc, definitely get across to the reader, anyone visiting alaska "must" get out off the beaten tracks and experience "first-hand" the wildness and vastness of the most excellent state in the United States. C&J--Casper, Wyoming
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