LOCATION: Matanuska Glacier, Matanuska Valley, Alaska
This post is part of my Alaska Trip Series. This is the end of the series.
Four words. Ice climbing is amazing! I don’t think I could have picked a more perfect spot to learn how to ice climb. If there is an even better place, I must see it because the Matanuska Glacier is simply heaven. I drove back to the same spot I did my glacier hike at. You can read about that experience HERE. My guide for today was a young man named Chris, from Tucson. Also in the group, I was joined with 3 others from REI travels. Luckily, they were picture hogs too and were gracious enough to take plenty of great pictures for me. For today’s climb, we were outfitted with ski boots, gators, and climbing crampons.
These were different than the hiking crampons in that the spikes on the toe were farther out to allow for better digs in the ice. The techniques were simple enough: throw an axe into the ice and thrust your toe in the glacier as parallel and flat as possible. You should end with each foot next to each other, parallel into the ice. Keeping boots as tight as possible was a major key. Any looseness in the boot and you were sliding off into the ice. It is crazy to know that just a few spikes dug a few inches into ice can hold you up so well, but it does! The first wall we tried was an easy vertical to get us comfortable with climbing. We tried it with one axe first to get used to it. I got up to the top effortlessly by employing the techniques Chris suggested along the way.
I always assumed ice climbing would be hard, especially thinking it would be a lot of upper body strength. In fact, it was much easier than rock climbing. I didn’t have to find a foot or hand hold. I didn’t have to pull up with my arms. I just had to dig with my feet, trust the crampons and push up with my legs. After completing the wall with one axe in our dominate hand, we then tried it in our other hand. It was somewhat harder, but I still felt natural with it in the end. We then moved to a harder wall that was completely vertical. For this, we would need to use two ice axes. Climbing this wall would take slightly different techniques. Pushing your butt out when moving your feet and keeping a straight stance, hips in and shoulders back when not moving your feet and instead moving the axe. This technique made the climb very easy. After playing on that wall a little, we moved to a large wall going into a pristine blue pool of water with a slight waterfall.
It was amazing to see. Chris would lower us to the pool and we would climb out. Stepping over the edge to complete the rappel was a little intense. You had to trust that you wouldn’t face plant into the ice. Once the first few steps were taken, it was completely second nature and the climb up was the easiest of the day since our techniques were so well practiced. I never imagined it would ever be so hot on a glacier, but with white ice all around and a blazing sun overhead, it was scorching out there. I had to sit without a jacket or lay on the ice just to keep cooled off. Definitely did not expect that.
Finally after 6 hours on the ice, we had to end our hike and leave my personal heaven. I’m glad I was able to be here twice because the scenery is just inspiring and unreal. I’m officially in love with ice climbing and can’t wait to try it again somewhere else. Maybe next I’ll try climbing an ice waterfall!
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? Again and again. Incredible
HOW TO DO THIS: Mica Guides Ice Climbing $149 including the $20 park fee. www.micaguides.com