Ice Hiking in British Columbia 16
In the Zone
(This is a photo story of a trip into the Waddington Ice Massif in 1952.)
It was on this trip that I grew to hate the snowline zone, and I hated it from then on, even on the small, almost moribund glaciers in California.
The Zone is where you find a thin layer of last year’s snow on the glacial ice, hiding the crevasses.
On a mountain, the Zone is pretty narrow; you can usually cross it carefully and quickly. Here on Corridor Glacier it was a mile across. The best way to deal with it would be to ski across it smoothly and fast, distributing your weight over the length of your skis. But we had traveled on a shoestring, hitchhiking. We decided not to bring our skis. Now here we were, in a vast flat unstable Zone, on foot.
Larry led...Lord knows I didn't want to...and I walked a calculated distance behind him on the rope, trying to keep my ice axe ready for a quick belay, worrying.
I visualized all sorts of scenarios. What if he fell and was hurt and I had no way to tie the rope off and get out of the belay? If he did climb from the bottom of the crevasse, what if the rope cut deep into the old snow bridge that he fell through, and he couldn’t break back up through it? And on and on.
Meanwhile Larry, who was a typical 22 year old male, moved cheerfully ahead, sure that he could handle anything.
Finally he walked down into a wide glacial gully, stepped on a soft hidden snow bridge and instantly went in up to his chest. He gave a quick furtive glance back up at me and then called in the jolliest of voices, “Look, all I had to do was spread my arms, and I didn't go through."
I had driven my ice axe in quickly. It turned out to be a good solid belay. It was easy to hold him because of the extra friction on the rope caused by the snow surface between us.
Struggling to retrieve with one arm the second rope from the top of my pack, I said nothing... I just let him stay down there for a bit with his arms outstretched, waggling his legs around in the large empty space under the snow.
Then I called back, in a voice that even I didn't recognize. "We are done with this," I said. "We are off this ice. Get out of there. We’ll spend the rest of our time climbing the side peaks … or something…”
Except for the necessary climbing commands, he didn't say another word.
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