Ice climbing: the Kennicott Glacier

Alaska has half of all the glaciers in the world so there are plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with them. Unfortunately they also seem to be melting faster than just about any other glaciers in the world. So the opportunities may be, well, melting away.

There are plenty of places where glaciers simply hang in the background (as glaciers often do), but at Kennecott, the Kennicott Glacier (note the subtle spelling difference) cruises by, parallel to the main street of the old ghost town.

'That's a glacier?' you might wonder when you first sight it. Yes, that hulking mass that looks like a long gravel-covered ridge line on the other side of the valley is in fact a glacier, hidden by the debris it's carried down the valley over the centuries.

Tony at Kennicott-Glacier

Continue further up the valley and the Root Glacier looks more like a glacier should: white and icy. My glacier experience with Kennicott Wilderness Guides kicked off with an introductory visit to an ice cave in the debris-covered lower stretch of the glacier. Kitted out with crampons and ice axes, we headed up to the 'real' glacier the next morning. A day of ice climbing lessons followed: 'be positive but delicate' is perhaps the best way to explain the technique. Whack that ice axe solidly into the ice, balance dexterously on the points of your crampons and then step vertically up the ice wall for four or five paces. Repeat.

Tony in ice caveTony Wheeler travelled to Alaska on assignment for Lonely Planet. You can follow his adventures on Lonely Planet: Roads Less Travelled, screening internationally on National Geographic.