How to Travel Safely on a Glacier | Mastering Outdoor Skills

Noble Horvath

Two climbers ascending Mt. Rainier Mitch Barrie “OK, now pretend I’ve fallen into a crevasse,” Wes said. I did my best to picture it. And I started to cry.  Wes, my partner, was sitting on the floor of our local climbing gym with a loop of climbing rope clipped to […]

Two climbers ascending Mt. Rainier

“OK, now pretend I’ve fallen into a crevasse,” Wes said. I did my best to picture it. And I started to cry. 

Wes, my partner, was sitting on the floor of our local climbing gym with a loop of climbing rope clipped to his harness. I was clipped to the other end. We were practicing techniques for crevasse rescue—basically, creating a pulley system to haul someone out in case of a fall—to prepare for an upcoming trip to the Pacific Northwest. 

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We hoped to round-out our adventure resumes by tagging a few dream summits, including Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier. But glaciated peaks were something neither of us had encountered before.

Wes stared at me. “It’s just a drill—it’s not real,” he said.

“But it could be,” I sniffled. “We’re going to fall into a crevasse and die.”

The blubbering was new for me. I’d skied 14,000-foot peaks, climbed towering rock faces, scaled vertical waterfalls, and tagged countless summits in my home state of Colorado and beyond. Mountains didn’t scare me. But glaciers did. 

To me, glacier travel was the key to unlocking mountains I’d wanted to visit for years—but it was also a walk through a mine field. I pictured dozens of unseen, hundred-foot-deep rifts just waiting to open beneath our feet. And if Wes was the one to fall, I’d have to pull him out—60-pound weight difference and all.

“It’s so late in the season, all the snow will have melted,” Wes reassured me for the umpteenth time. “If there are open crevasses, we’ll be able to see them from far away.” I knew he was right. Besides, Wes was the more experienced climber. The likelihood of him being the one to fall was low.

I swallowed and nodded. I could do this.

On July 3, we loaded up the car. During the drive, I closed my eyes and pictured every step of the crevasse rescue drill over and over. I pictured myself kicking steps, building dead-man anchors, and self-arresting. But most of all, I turned up the music to drown out the nervous chatter in my head. 

Our first objective was 11,250-foot Mt. Hood. We woke up at 3 a.m. to give ourselves plenty of time. Despite accidentally walking up the ski area’s half pipe in the dark, and encountering smoking fumaroles that stank worse than a 3-man tent post-Zatarains, the hike was casual; the only open crevasse was about six inches wide. 

“That wasn’t scary at all,” I said back at the base. Wes tried really hard not to say, “I told you so,” but he did anyway.

Next up: Mt. Sahale in North Cascades National Park. After huffing up the steep bushwhack to the Boston Basin cirque, we set up camp and looked around. A papier-mâché halo of mist hung over our summit, but I could see exactly what I needed to: its glaciated base, jagged and creased with the gray and electric teal of crevasses. I took a deep breath.

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