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Into the Belly of a Glacier

a snow covered mountain

When you fly over the Matanuska Glacier in a helicopter it can be a bit overwhelming. It may be your first time in the passenger seat. You might even be at the ready with your camera to capture the sights. And somehow, nothing can prepare you for the immensity of splendor that you can take in from the sky here. You get to soar into the rarely seen areas of the Matanuska Valley that a majority of people don’t get to.

Flying by Helicopter

It’s inevitable that you notice the skills your pilot has to navigate the everchanging air currents. Seamlessly steering the dragonfly-like transportation system into the nooks and crannies of mountains nearby. Some pockets showcase the entrances to giant canyons draped with overgrowth and gnarled cliffs. Others help you peer over the outpours of ice coming from the nearby mountains. And finally, you’re hovering over the confluence of all these ice tributaries, the glacier itself.

And today, the pilot is flying us into one of our favorite discreet backcountry locations. This feature we are headed to is just about a half hour away by helicopter. And soon, after taking in the epic

a man riding a snowboard down a snow covered mountain

A small team traverses over the white ice and moraine far back on the Matanuska Glacier

scenery, we land onto a flat section of ice. Four of us unload with all our gear and gain a safe distance for the helicopter to take off. Then we set out for our feature of choice. As there is no shortage of exploration to be creative with out here.

Descending into the Depths

We each have ropes and bags to carry our personal and group gear. And then we are off to crunch across white ice with our crampons, far away from anyone else. As we navigate through winding ice we see bright blue hues of thicker ice around the next corner. Getting closer we can see a giant crevasse open up before us. We throw a rock from nearby into the gaping blue abyss. There is no noise to indicate the bottom is anywhere below.

It is easy to see that this will be our first adventure of the day. We set anchors quickly and shove some quick bites of food into our mouths. The first of our team drops into the crevasse, soon proclaiming to find a shelf below, strong enough to hold two people. The next climber descends, and they set up another anchor, about 60 ft. below. With head lamps at the ready the rest of us follow.

Once is Never Enough

After about 150 ft. and four different shelves, we find ourselves in the belly of the glacier. It is pitch dark with water quietly streaming and dripping along the sides. We call out to see just how far it echoes and are surrounded with our own howls for a handful of seconds. It is soon decided that it is

a view of a snow covered mountain

A peak at the sky from inside a moulin on the Matanuska Glacier

time to start ascending. The cold and dark being the motivating factor. Plus, after that long the dankness of an ice chasm, the bone chilling cold starts to set in. We were all ready for some warm food back at base in Glacier View.

Four hours later, we have ourselves and all of our gear out of the crevasse. Not much longer and the helicopter is on it’s way with a simple radio call. Soon, we load in and quickly arrive back at base. We are already discussing making a mini mission to explore the endless crevasse again. Over dinner we solidify a plan that begins with an early start the next morning.

A Logistical Limbo

The next day we find ourselves yet again headed toward the crevasse, hungry for more. As we walk, we talk about the different possibilities to add to the course we set just the day before. And all of a sudden, the person in front just stops. After we peer around their shoulder we can all see the writing on the wall. The crevasse that was once our climbing mansion has now turned into a swimming pool. Meltwater had filled the crevasse almost all the way to the top overnight.

At first you are taken aback. Slowly remembering that the glacier is always subject to change, no matter how excited you are. We all take a seat for a second and discuss the obvious elephant in the

a snow covered mountain

An ice guide takes a moment to enjoy the seclusion of the backcountry on the glacier

room, the need to adapt to new plans. At first, when you come to the glacier having to change plans is a seeming annoyance. And then slowly but surely you begin to see the pattern of constant change out here. The naturalness and necessity of the glacier’s movement, steady and inevitable. I guess it is what draws us back in every time.

And with this new found sense of gratitude we are off to the next adventure, which happened to be just around the corner. It only took us a few hundred yards before we were ready to leave behind our sorrows and take on the adventure of a nearby giant moulin. The ultimate helicopter adventure provides every time and for that we are continue on.