Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Learning glacier stuff on St Mary's Glacier

St Mary's Glacier may not be a particularly big or awesome glacier -- in fact I think it's probably smaller than Sólheimajökull, the most tourist-friendly tongue of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in Iceland -- but it's our (Denver's) glacier by god and so this past Saturday I headed out there with four (eventually five) guys to learn some stuff about glacier climbing and rescue. 

Standing at the base of the glacier, looking south towards Mt Evans, it was a beautiful Colorado day.

We roped up and started hiking across the face of the glacier, split into two teams. 

Here I am all roped up! One of the most interesting things I learned was how to tie various knots for various activities.

Here is S, my team leader. He would later warn me he was going to fall and I needed to save him, but I still would struggle to get us stopped as we fell down the glacier. I need to practice those ice axe self-arrests.

Here's B and R, B is trying to warm his hands up in R's hat after a long struggle up a glacier face.

N took this picture as he was dangling off our "crevasse" -- just the steep, corniced side of the glacier -- waiting to be rescued by R and me.

Another view looking towards Mt Evans from higher up on the glacier.

Where the cornice was cleaving off from the glacial face, it formed these deep holes which were surprisingly solid. I saw N stagger over the side of one and flump down into the hole with no noticeable problems. It was also hilarious.

Here our fifth man has joined the team. He spent the morning running 14 miles (one way) up and down Mt Evans and then came to join us. His core is hard.

We were at this point practicing belaying people over the side of the glacier, so everyone is huddled around as one person does the belaying. This is also hard work, as was demonstrated when I was belaying people who weigh significantly more than I do.

Finally, here's a picture of N peeking over the side of the glacier. At this point he had been struggling for about a half hour to get himself over the side using just rope and an ice axe. He eventually did make it after a second try -- the only person to be able to do so! However, in this picture, he looks like a pesky marmot come to beg for food.

I'm really looking forward to more learning about glacier climbing techniques!

We also saw some people having classic St Mary's glacier fun -- lots of kids sliding down it, people skiing down it, a guy who said he had taken some friends visiting from Hawaii out for the day to show them snow/skiing... and one guy who we got to watch... and watch and watch... as he debated jumping off the side of the glacier and sliding down. He eventually did so, after many false starts and much cheering from us. Then he came back for more. 

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