We woke up with the sun this morning to go ice-climbing. We discovered soon enough that when they said "All levels welcome," they meant "All levels are welcome to join us on an intense, strenuous, full-day ice-climbing event."
We arrived at the meeting location at 7:45am, and were outfitted from head to toe with new gear: beanies, waterproof jackets and pants, two pairs of (warm) woolen mittens, socks, plastic boots and - the things Jeff had been waiting for - crampons.
We boarded a bus with our 3 guides, two guys from the States, and two girls from Korea, and made our way to the glacier.
It was a long and surprising path even getting onto the glacier - we began our hike in a rainforest, then continued onto a rocky flood plain with a glacial river running through it. We followed the river back to its source - or at least, to the huge wall of ice its source was hidden in. That's where things got intense.
With further instruction, we changed out of our own hiking boots into the heavy-duty boots provided by the company - they doubled the size of my foot, tripled the weight, had two sets of laces, and looked as if they wouldn't be phased a bit if an avalanche came down on top of them (regardless of what happened to their owner...)
Then came the crampons - metal claws we strapped onto our boots that dug their way into the ice at every step. The way the tiny, bent metal claws protruded from all sides of the boot, I felt like a centipede making its way across the hills of ice.
Thus weighed down but with a solid grip beneath our feet, we stepped onto the glacier and into a totally different world.
There was only ice, as far as you could see. Small gravel-like pieces on the ground were transformed into diamonds by the sunlight glinting off of them. Ice hills rose in front of us, a sign of things to come. Sheer walls rose up in some places, and small rivers cut their way through the softer top-layer of the glacier to feed the rushing, larger river gushing beneath. In some places, steps had been carved into the ice for "trampers" like us; these, in addition to the holes in some of the walls that looked like large, rounded windows, and a large tunnel we walked through on our way only added to the feeling that this was some alien world, already inhabited, that we were only visiting.
The famed "blue ice" was all around, adding color to the white landscape. It was especially noticeable in deep cracks and crevices, enhancing the already blued shadows. Several of these deep crevices ran across our path, forcing us to step over them, peering down into the abyss beneath our feet and hoping we wouldn't be swallowed up at the next moment.
Unfortunately, at this point both of us started getting blisters on our heels - with unfamiliar gear and not much time to put it on, we hadn't tied our boot laces tightly enough. We couldn't stop, and just kept following our guide down and down into a large crevasse where we were to begin our first climb.
I absolutely thought our guides had lost their minds as they were leading us down there - in some places there were ropes to hold onto while descending the 2-foot tall "steps" (aka, narrow and unevenly spaced shelves in the walls of ice, sometimes stacked vertically, sometimes on opposing sides of a large gorge)... and in other places, there were no ropes at all to help with our descent into the Earth.
When we reached the bottom of the crevasse and I saw the towering, sheer wall of ice we were supposed to climb, then I knew they were crazy. We were given two axes, strapped onto the safety rope, and off we went, like geckos clinging to a wall.
It is absolutely like nothing else I have ever done, and still seems preposterous when I think that all that was keeping us on that wall was 1/4"- 1" of our axes embedded into the wall, along with about an inch from the crampons on our feet - and just the spikes on our toes, at that!
And in this fashion, with barely any contact with the ice wall, we inched our way up, bit by bit.
It was exhilarating (if not simultaneously terrifying and exhausting), and we got to climb in three different areas. Jeff was such a pro he made it up an inverted climb to the very top, until his 2 axes were hooked over the top of the wall and his feet were dangling in midair below.
All too soon, the sun sank behind the mountains and we had to begin our trek back. It was an incredible day, and an experience we'd recommend to any glacier-visitor!