Party: Felix, Anna and James Ossig-Bonanno

Sun 15th July:
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The knock at my window came too early. I’ve never been much of a morning lark, but on top of that, I hadn’t slept overly well last night – maybe because we’d packed the day before and my sleeping bag was buried at the bottom of my pack so I’d used a couple of thin blankets instead. Anyway, we soon piled into Emily’s car – she’d be driving us out to the TH. We stopped at Walmart on the way to grab a prepaid (Trac) phone and I downloaded some maps in case we’d have a need. Soon we were continuing on to Eklutna Lake. We popped in to visit Glen and Sonja who’d helped us out on our last attempt, giving them a bag of cherries as a way of saying thanks.

The ATV had new tires, and Glen was thinking to give us a lift out to the end of the rd, but didn’t have a trip scheduled. Regrouping in the ATV parking lot, Glen was already talking to a group of 6(?) who were soon to head out. I don’t know what yarns were spun, but he managed to secure us all rides out to the public use cabin! That’d save us a full day! and having already walked the rd twice, we were happy not to walk it again… the only downside was that Emily wouldn’t be able to hike with us (if she came out to the hut, it’d be too far back). I wasn’t sure if she was upset as the weather wasn’t amazing and I don’t think she was prepared with wet weather gear.

I rode with a lady named Colleen who happened to be slightly more lead-footed than the others in the group – especially through the deeper puddles… for these I’d grab on with my legs, pulling my feet up to keep them a little drier. The deepest of these sent a brown wave up and over both of our heads splashing me in the part of my face not hidden behind her. It was super fun, and now and then I caught myself looking like a grinning dog with its head out the window.
On the other side of the lake, we rounded a blind corner, with two cyclists on the other side. One pulled to the side to wait for us to pass, the other continued around the corner staying far too close to the centre of the rd. I kept my head turned to see what would happen… it wasn’t the ATV behind us, but the one behind them that zoomed around the bend, and veered to the side to avoid the cyclist on the road. They collided with a branch protruding from the side. We waited on the bridge not much further on… and waited… we were close to heading back to investigate when the others pulled into view. It had been a much closer call than I had realised… the branch had been cut with an axe making it quite pointy. It had gone through the front of the ATV (knocking the light out), just missed the riders leg and wedged itself between the body and rack on the back of the vehicle. My mum’s bag was on the back. If she too had been, it may well have been the end of the trip.

The rest of the way was made without incident, and we all went inside to check out the cabin and take a group photo. We exchanged some contact details, and went our different ways. After a quick bite to eat, we continued up the valley.

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Group photo with the ATVers.

Having already hiked back and forwards to the glacier several times on the last attempt, we knew the route well and made good time. We passed Jimmy’s Crossing, Marmot Rock (which again had a marmot) and the now familiar awkward traverse above the glacial stream. The water level had had dropped so much that the  fan waterfall down valley was no more 😦
Our crampons were stashed at the toe where we left them and we were soon cramponing up the glacier. As we climbed, the weather cleared a little and we picked the best way yet through the crevasse fields soon manoeuvring through the final convexity to scramble our way up to the (very) familiar hut.

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Mon 16th July:
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The weather forecast held and we woke to a clearing day; high cirrus with blue already visible. We had talked the previous afternoon about which route we should take and decided to walk along the lateral moraine until a spot where it touched the glacier without any snow cover. (The other option would have been to head on the ice below the hut, but we’d loose altitude and have to cross a scary looking crevasse field). There was a lot of wire as we walked along (including where we dropped down onto the glacier). Apparently this might be from some of the military training that happened in the past.

On the last trip the glacier had been quite snow covered, but during the storm we had weathered in the hut, we had watched the snow slowly retreating up the valley. This made going a little easier for us though it meant weaving around the exposed crevasses. As we climbed the patches of snow became more numerous and then larger in size. After a couple of hours we ran out of ice. It was time to rope up. I had put a lot of thought into the order in which we should rope up. In the end I decided I should lead since had the most experience with glacier travel and would hopefully pick the safest path. Dad would be in the middle as he had the least rope experience, whilst Mum would trail. Mum and I tied in with re-threaded 8’s whilst Dad clipped into a butterfly. We also tied butterfly’s between us to help arrest one’s fall should we fall into a crevasse (the downside being that the knot might need to be bypassed during a rescue – but we’d practised this!).

The ends donning their Kiwi coils, the progression started. We tried to leave as little slack in the rope as possible so we would be as effective as possible if a snow bridge should collapse. Still, it took a long time to get the kinks out of our system, after all this was my parents first time roped up on a glacier.

As we continued we developed a call system for passing possible crevasses. I would yell out “Crossing!” signalling everyone to get their axe ready in a fall arrest position, and then “Safe!” once we had crossed. The main reason for this was that the fall arrest position was quite alien, especially for Dad. This way we got lots of practice in, and there was one less thing to think about should something happen.

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Mum and Dad on the upper Eklutna.

We did a small detour to visit what turned out to be a weather station. This probably has something to do with the glacier being the primary source of water for Anchorage. And seeing as the glacier has retreated over a mile, in the last 10? years; they probably want to keep tabs on it.

The vastness of the glacier made the distance to the pass deceiving. The melting snow making each step that much harder. Mum was tiring. We began taking short periodic breaks. Pushing lunch back until we reached the pass (something to look forward to). Part of the issue was that I was the only one with snow shoes. We had hired two extra sets from REI on our last attempt, but had elected to go without this time (we’d met some people he said it wasn’t too bad).

When we finally crested the pass, Whiteout greeted us. The name was appropriate. Snow covered everything. Just to our left was a large moat. Whilst my parents ate I set up my camera and grabbed a quick photo of myself.

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Just on the other side of the pass.

You could pretty much see where the hut was located. We were about half way… but being tired and considering the increased snow depth we were in for a long day – at least we had all the light we needed. Pushing on we were surprised to find animal tracks running along the glacier. We followed them for a time but eventually went our own way. 

With the weather closed. The 5 hours it took to get to the hut from the pass where grueling. Mum in particular was running out of steam, and we had to have frequent breaks. Counting 200 steps each time before a short rest.  Eventually the hut looked closer. Many more heavy footsteps and there it loomed. Here is the entry Mum left in the log book:

Arrived yesterday totally stuffed. Guess we are not the youngest anymore. James decided that this is a trip for under 50’s (years of age). Today he is talking about how smart his daughter is to be in the Philippines and his brother being in Greece, how how he can’t trust his son anymore since he chooses this difficult trip for him! Well, I am sure he’ll be ‘right after his “bones” have recovered after a rest day today. I am actually the weakest link but have to admit that the beauty of the Eklutna & Whiteout are making up for my physical exhaustion. Felix (son) certainly takes care of us – teaching us about safe glacier travel and pointing out lots of the special features they have to offer. Tonight is quarter moon and we might attempt night travel to Rosies if the weather forecast is right. Tomorrow morning is supposed to be super weather as well. Although James thinks (after the sun went behind the clouds and it snowed for about 90 seconds) that we are doomed (he calls it a “survival trip”)!

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After a well deserved sleep in and rest the day before we rose early – around 2am – and got ready to leave. There had been a good reset overnight which would make travel much easier, faster and safer. Crampon teeth biting into the frozen surface we glissaded the final bit; practising fall arresting before landing back on the glacier proper.

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