I distinctly remember the last time we did crevasse rescue for Boealps. It was 2015, I was a student and I was totally terrified out of my mind. I couldn’t imagine why in the world we would choose to go hang out on a glacier, surrounded by bottomless slits in the icy skin of the mountain. Ludicrous. Insane. Completely bonkers.
Since then I have willing walked across enough glaciers to make me feel marginally more comfortable with them. I still understand the risks, but I have come to trust the systems we have practiced that are meant to keep us safe in such a changeable and unpredictable world.
So the Sunday after rafting the Green River we found ourselves leaving Paradise once again, heading toward the giant hulking pass of Mount Rainier. We were navigating towards the Nisqually Glacier, located on its southern slopes. The Park had been closed for most of the week thanks to new layers of snow that had been falling out of the sky. There were plenty of footsteps leading away from Paradise but when we crested a ridge and got our first glimpse of the glacier it was perfectly smooth with snow except for a couple of footprint trails leading across its smooth sloping surface. Those were the footprints of the Boealps teams from the day before. We could only see a couple of open crevasses from our perch on the ridge, a huge departure from the year I had been a student. That year the glacier had resembled the wrinkled face of a wise old grandmother, this year the smooth skin of a baby’s bottom.
We made it down to the moraine, the students practicing walking in crampons for the first time. At the edge of the glacier we roped up and struck out onto the eerily silky snow. The snow was so fresh and undisturbed it was like satin sheets. We followed the teams from the day before, their markings leading us upward across the creamy soft pillows of glacier. It rolled gently like a knoll in Scotland or a dune in the Sahara, but it was a sheet of ice in Washington.
Finally we reached a tiny crack in the serene eggshell, just big enough to squeeze a student into. We filed in, creating a fixed line with two of the ropes and attaching ourselves to our island of safety in a world of hidden dangers. Then ensued extremely high tension communication between students and instructors. Running two different ropes, both with students dangling off the ends into a tight crevasse, while other students struggle to remember the steps to pull them out, takes delicate and precise conversation. I thought our team did shockingly well under the intense sun, with a couple of small outbursts here and there, as we attempted to circulate everyone through rapidly and efficiently. Our team finished up quickly compared to the other groups around us, electing to get off the glacier as fast as possible.
I felt shockingly calm the entire time. It was the perfect test of my new calibration towards fear, towards mountaineering. I didn’t feel paranoid or nervous, I didn’t snap around and gape in fear whenever something would crack higher up on the mountain. I felt somewhat at ease, at home in the forbidding landscape. I felt like I could actually support the needs and concerns of the students because I no longer needed others to support me. It was one of those times when I was acutely aware of how much I have grown over the past couple of years. The steps I take might not be as big as the steps others take, and I may not have started in the same spot but when I look back at my path that I have traveled I am impressed to see I have come a very long way.