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Ice Hiking in British Columbia 10

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Playing on the Ice.

(About a 1952 journey that I will always remember)

It was delightful once we were up on the ice. The crowd of mosquitos that had followed us through the bush rose like a dark balloon and wafted downstream, never to be seen again. At that point, the surface of the Franklin Glacier was clear ice, relatively flat and granular, not slippery, very easy to walk on.

There were iceworms. I was familiar with Robert Service's poem, The Iceworm Cocktail. I believed old Robert's implication that there were no real ice worms, that they were merely bits of spaghetti tossed in the drinks of cheechakos in Alaskan bars.

In the late afternoon just before we stopped to camp, I saw black inch-long worms crawling about in a basin of water in the solid ice, water so perfectly clear it looked like it was distilled. What could they be eating? They were there in the early morning too. The rest of the day and night, they totally disappeared. I couldn’t see outlets or hiding places in those surface basins.

Below is the best photo I have of an iceworm, so if you want to know more about them, you'll have to look in Wikipedia.

Streams of cold clear water flowed here and there on the surface of the big glacier, eventually swirling into glassy, polished moulins and whirling down to lubricate the bedrock under the slowly sliding ice. Some of the moulins were big enough to swallow anyone foolish enough to slip and fall into them.

We kept an eye on the medial moraine, that dark stripe of rocks that runs down the middle of many glaciers. About 10 miles up we began to find copper cobbles in the medial moraine, pure metal, the same color as a penny. A few of the cobbles were as big as my fist. Somewhere above us, deep under the ice, Franklin Glacier was mining native copper.

Of course, our progress wasn't direct. There were plenty of crevassed areas, giant cracks in the ice that had to be zigged-zagged around. Sometimes you'd walk a quarter mile south to find a place to jump across a crevasse, then you'd walk a quarter mile north on a narrow ice ramp to make the next jump only a few impassable yards from where you'd started.

It was perhaps 18 miles up the glacier from the snout to the great ice fall, where we planned to put our base camp. A lot more distance when you included all the walking around crevasses. Relaying our four packs, we did it in 2 1/2 days.


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