I Have to Cross What?

Prior to my days as a cyclist, I had hopes of climbing Mountains.  I wanted to climb the Big 4 Volcanoes in Washington State.  Rainier 14,410 ft, Adams 12,277 ft, Baker 10,779 ft, and St Helens, 8365 ft.  I made the last 2, Adams I was turned around by a storm and had to tell the guide where camp was (that’s its own story) and Rainier was just too damn.  After 4 attempts I gave up.

I learned a lot when I was on the mountains though, and with the exception of St Helens, I had to be careful of crevasses!  These are gaps in the glacier.  Some are less than a foot across, and some, like this monster

At 11500 ft, the Ingraham Glaicier, this monter was huge and the guide was NOT happy I wanted a picture!
At 11500 ft, the Ingraham glacier, this monster was huge and the guide was NOT happy I wanted a picture!

are just huge!  One problem with crevasses, is sometimes they are covered with a slim crust of snow.  This means you can fall through at any time!  This is one reason we were always roped up while on a glacier, and the reason the guides used long poles to check for glaciers where we camped!

Long probe looking for hidden crevasses
Long probe looking for hidden crevasses 

No one wants to get up to pee in the middle of the night and fall into a huge hole!

Some, like the picture above, the guides plot a route to go around it.  Some that are a little smaller, they bridge with ladders, and boards, to make crossing easier.  And some, you either step across or jump across!  (Yep, jump well!)

Now, most climbs to the summit have an alpine start.  This means you leave in the middle of the night!  This has many advantages for safety, but, a guide once told me, it has an added benefit.  People crossing a glacier when it’d dark outside, can’t see how deep it is!  This means they don’t get scared!  Later, when it’s light out, they can be scared all they want, if they don’t cross, they don’t go home!  As far as I know, everyone has crossed coming down! (if not, I am sure there are NO pizza deliveries that high!)

To stop someone if they fall in, we learn “self-arrest”, throwing ourselves on top of our iceaxes (without impaling ourselves in the process) to keep them from falling too far.

Faceplanting for climbing school!
Faceplanting for climbing school!

I decided I wanted to learn more, so I went on a week-long Glacier mountaineering course in Denali National Park with Alpine Ascents inc.   In this course, surrounded by giant mountains,

Mt Hunter with Foraker shadow

I was given the chance to jump into a crevasse twice (once to be rescued and once to rescue myself) while my rope team stopped me from falling too far.

 The Crevasse

Then I was part of the team to do the rescue.

Let me tell you.  I am honestly not sure which is harder on a guy’s body.  Coming to the abrupt stop when you jump in,

Stephen Hanging

or damn near being pulled into the crevasse by someone else falling in!  I got home, took a shower and my upper thighs were one big bruise!  We won’t even discuss other parts of the male anatomy that feel pain!

We were taught how to tie special knots that allowed us to prussic up the ropes.  These knots slide up a rope, but not down, so you alternate and “walk” up your rope.  In the picture above, the lower guy is someone who fell farther into the crvasse before being stopped by his team.

I made it back up, but LORD that was hard!

Coming over the top!
Coming over the top!

Now people wonder, why the hell I would do this.  Well, I will tell ya, the very next day it came in handy!  We were off to climb a small peak called Control Tower (cuz given it’s proximty to the Denali basecamp landing strip, it could be the tower)

Control tower day of climb

We had no problem on the way up

climbing control tower

And I made it to the top, no problem

 Strohs Summits

However, on the way back to our camp, in what looked to be a flat, easy section, I stepped on the wrong spot at the wrong time, and broke through!  “FALLING” I yelled as soon as I felt it let go, and my rope team threw themselves on the ice axes! I only went as far as my shoulders thanks to them and they popped me right out.  But damn, for a second there it was scary!

This is what I was up there for though. Big mountains, adventure crevasses, avalanches.  Flying by ski plane so close to mountains you could touch them!

Flying in 7



The guy with the arms crossed tumbled 3000 feet on Denali the week before I met him
The guy with the arms crossed tumbled 3000 feet on Denali the week before I met him



In all my climbs and attempts, never once did I balk because of a slope, a rock climb or a crevasse.  I had faith in my skills, and that of the guides.  I completely trusted the rope team and they trusted me.  Pushing 50 is too old to try again, but no one can ever take away my memories!

4 thoughts on “I Have to Cross What?

  1. Great read, and never too old…

    I’m pushing 53 and it isn’t stopping me! I look at it this way..how old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were! 🙂


  2. Wow, stunning pictures, and sounds like an equally stunning experience you had while climbing. Hopefully one day I will get to visit the mountains and climb like you did. It’s on my very long bucket list 🙂

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