I Shouldn’t Have Survived the Glacier Crossing

I shouldn’t have survived the mile-wide Kahiltna Glacier crossing. Our small group of three was traveling fast to avoid being caught on the ice field in the developing twilight and thickening ground fog. I had stopped to rest and now my two companions were out of earshot. I yelled for them to help orient me, but they’d been swallowed up in the vast Alaskan landscape. I walked on, but was soon stopped by a blue-black crack in the ice that was 30-feet across and 150-feet deep. I searched for a ¼ mile both left and right, but the only way across the chasm was a 2-foot wide slick-smooth ice bridge that started about thirty inches below the glacier rim.

I put crampons on my boots for my very first time, hoping the buckles were done right. The step down was tricky, but doable by going slowly. Once I was standing on the ice bridge, there was no turning around and no second try. I was now irrevocably committed to this tenuous crossing. My 60-lb backpack was top-heavy and the littlest slip meant an instant deathfall into the dark abyss. A too-sudden movement or simple weight shift would equal quick death. Retrieval of my body would be impossible. I could not afford to look down as I had mild vertigo happening already. I was keenly aware I had to balance perfectly and place each step correctly or die. There was simply no margin for error. I began to move as deliberately as I could.

In a few minutes I reached the other side, but the last move up and off the ice bridge was the crux effort. I extended my hands onto the glacier surface and leaned forward to transfer weight. The more I leaned, the more chance that my feet would slip from under me. Once my torso was over my hands I let my chest down onto the flat ice surface. There was nothing to pull against or push off of. I rested like that for several minutes as my heartrate slowed down. I occupied a stillness that was between the supreme concentration now past and the effort that remained. I actually don’t know how I accomplished getting off that ice bridge and onto the glacier surface. I do know that connecting to my inner stillness was key and that I had escaped death by the narrowest of margins.

Soon after this expedition I learned that my newlywed bride had been pregnant with our first child. What a loss that would have been for me to perish at the cusp of fatherhood! Years later I read John Muir’s account of being lost on an Alaskan glacier and having to negotiate a very similar ice bridge. He wrote more eloquently than I of the dilemma and danger. Thankfully, the world didn’t lose him or me to the blue-black ice.

Truth is at your center. The lock and the key to big expression is hidden there. Fear of depth is just fear. It is normal and natural. If it were easy to push past fear then we would all be living like royalty. Bigger is possible. A bigger you is a gift to yourself and to the world.