Alaska Shorts: Glacier Bay, 1980, by Harold Brink

Harold Brink

After scouting
around camp I picked out a route I thought would be good to take us farther
into the country. It called for descending White Thunder Ridge onto the Muir
Remnant. The Muir Remnant, a huge piece of ice several miles long and two miles
wide, had once been part of Muir Glacier. The glacier had melted back and left
this piece behind to sit and melt on its own. The remnant was relatively flat
and crevasses presented no danger as the surface was bare ice and crevasses
were exposed. We would go exploring, the reason we came here: cross the remnant
to get to the other side. This plan made perfect sense to Bob, and we agreed.
But Kathy shocked me: “I don’t want to go down there.”  “Why not?” I said. “It’s tough hiking but we
can do it.”
Certainly the
remnant did not look inviting: a huge expanse of dark ice surrounded by darker
mountains. The place loomed dim, dreary, and mysterious.
“I had a bad
dream about a place like that. I don’t want to go down there.”
I could have
asked her about her dream and tried some reassurance, but I didn’t think of it.
I said: “There’s no other place to go unless you want to go back to Wolf Point and wait for the tour boat to pick us
We weren’t going
to do that. Bob and I had already decided what we would do, and I felt Kathy
should push through her fear. We had just begun our travels together and our
cooperation showed serious cracks.
We hiked down
off the ridge onto the remnant and it was not a pleasant day. Annoyed, I hiked
down as fast as I could to get Kathy on the ice and show her she would feel
better once she got there. Bob was upset I’d walked so fast when he wanted a
slower pace to enjoy the views. Kathy felt angry about being forced into
following us. To get onto the remnant we waded through pools of mud around its
edge and up onto the ice. The remnant felt unwelcoming and I could see why
Kathy felt spooked, but I didn’t say anything to console her; I let her work it
through for herself.
Clouds covered
the sky and squalls of rain drifted by. The remnant sat at the bottom of a bowl
of mountains that offered no cheer on a day when we walked in full rain gear
into a cold wind. But the remnant was fantastic, much different from the gray mass
it appeared to be from atop the ridge. It’s surface was a dirty gray, but
looking down into the cracks and crevasses you peered into an ethereal world of
blue shading deeper in color the farther your vision penetrated. And the sound!
The remnant was melting and the sound of melt water swirling down through the
ice to form streams on the rocks below was entrancing. Near the surface the
melt twinkled and teased your ears as a spritely dance across the upper
register of a tiny piano; where it fell through the ice the sound deepened to a
hollow roar, like water falling through a tomb.
We crunched our
way across the remnant, stopping to peer into crevasses, hoping to discover an
ice cave to explore. Blackened cones of ice dotted the remnant: hats on top of wizards’
heads, wizards buried in ice. Rock slides clattered down the mountains and it
was easy to imagine you stood in the bottom of an enormous witch’s caldron. We
pressed on, crossed the upper end of the remnant, and found ground to pitch our
tents. We were all in a somber mood given the spookiness of our surroundings
and the emotional uproar we had brought here. To sit inside a tent and not have
to see everything around you was a relief. A nylon cocoon, roaring cook stove,
and a hot meal made the world comfortable again. Or so it felt to me.
Harold Brink says he has seen a bit of Alaska.
He tried to move there twice but it didn’t work out. He loves
but live in
His passion now is doing wilderness float fishing trips down rivers in
. He doesn’t go with guides, and he builds
small fires. This piece is part of a memoir-in-progress.  
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