During a brief period of nice weather last weekend, four of us on the station decided to go over to the bottom of the local glacier and do some ice climbing. Two of us including myself, were first time climbers and personally I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d done a bit of rock climbing before in my life, and wasn’t a big fan of it. I never got into the shoes that were supposed to be too tight, and the jamming your fingers into tiny cracks so that you can support your body weight with them. Luckily, ice climbing turned out to be an absolute blast, and had only a superficial relationship to climbing on rock.
The week or so before we went out it had been snowing pretty constantly, so we had to traipse out through hip deep snow to get out to the ice face. Ted and James set up the safety ropes at the top of the glacier and then rappelled down to where Joe and I were waiting to get started. Gearing up was pretty easy. We all had harnesses and boots with crampons, so all I had to do was just tie into the rope, grab the two ice axes, and walk over to the glacier.
Looking up at the huge vertical wall of ice in front of me I kicked my boot into the ice at the base. It took me a few tries to get the hang of the technique…if you don’t kick in hard enough or at the right angle, you’ll just blow right off of the ice face. Once I got the hang of it, I was surprised at how easy it became. Next I picked a target on the ice above me and aimed one of the axes at that spot. My first few swings were perfect…if I had been trying to chip ice for a drink. For actually sticking into the glacier, they didn’t really do much. After a few more experimental swings I finally got into a rhythm and started heading on up. I noticed pretty quickly that my calves were the muscles that were taking most of the strain, and started enjoying the workout. Listening to the “chink” of the axes as they impacted the ice, and feeling the burn in my legs as I ascended was a fantastic experience. Before I realized it I was up at the top looking down at the guys below, and checking out the scenery all around us. After a couple of minutes I rappelled back down, doing pretty good until near the bottom when my crampons got caught up in my pants, and I tumbled down head over heels much to the amusement of the guys with me.
We’d all done about three or four ascents when the wind started blowing harder from the ocean. We figured it was just a freak gust and ignore it for about another 20 minutes. It quickly became pretty apparent that this wasn’t just a little gust, but that a full storm was on the way. We broke down the climbing equipment, and started to head back. By the time James got everything unbolted from the top, the winds were howling at around 30 miles an hour, gusting up to 40. Heading back was absolutely miserable! It was like swimming through cotton candy, if cotton candy was cold and coarse enough to sting your eyes when you looked up. It took about half an hour to hike a quarter of a mile back to station, and another hour to get warm and dry again. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed the fireplace in the galley as much as I did when we finally got inside!