Ethan wakes as soon as we spot the toe of Root Glacier, a sticky mile and a half hike along the lateral moraine of Kennicott Glacier. Eyebrows furrowed, he peeks at the glacier suspiciously from behind his sun, rain, and mosquito protection screen. Kyra bounces excitedly ahead of our guide, Kate, who reminds me of the care free life I had before having kids.
Kyra orders, “Come on guys, let’s go.”
I wink at Thomas, relieved that we can finally hike this distance without carrying both kids.
Kate points at the moat running along Kennicott Glacier and says, “There are all these caves and under ice pathways people can explore at the end of the summer. And once the deeper ones open up the surface water disappears and you can walk through the tunnels.”
The photo I had hoped to capture of the four of us encircled by swirls of blue ice is not going to happen. I try not to display any disappointment on my face. Tomorrow, we are driving back to Eagle River and this “Alaskan adventure,” which took us several years to plan, will be over. Since we had kids, “Alaskan adventures” seem expensive, brief, and unpredictable. With every step I take on this trail, I worry that things might go horribly wrong like the snowmachine trip we took in March where our truck slid on a patch of ice resulting in damages we are still paying for today. See Love + eMotion: Hike, not Mush.
When Kate announces that it’s time to put on our crampons, Kyra starts to dance, “Oh yeah! Oh yeah!”
I did too when Gaia first told me over the phone that they could outfit young kids with crampons. Gaia, who rode in a bail bucket at the front of a raft at age two, understood my frustration that my kids are too young for adventure travel. St. Elias Alpine Guides does not have an age limit for their glacier hikes, simply a guideline that young children can either hike for at least five miles or be carried by sure-footed parents.
Fortunately, Gaia had also paired us with Kate who believes that helping kids connect with nature is her job. “Having kid-sized crampons is a way to help kids do this. The earlier a person can experience nature and enjoy being in the wild, the more they will value all of the things that nature teaches: serenity, self-reliance, finding personal limits, recognizing the finite nature of life and the infinite cycle of nature. Showing kids how to use crampons also increases their responsibility and sense of autonomy.”
But the doubt that trickled into my belly early this morning had drowned my wild side. I tighten my crampons nervously as Kate arms my children’s feet with steel daggers.
Kyra gets 10 spikes, because she had on Kahtoolas with extra short bars. Ethan gets 4 because he had in-step crampons, designed to sit in the middle of an adult-sized foot.
Eyeing her crampons mischievously, Kyra asks, “Can I go anywhere I want?”
“Yes, there are no trails,” Kate says, “But you have to be careful. Walk slowly. Step up higher and step down harder. More spikes in the ice, the safer you are. Also, walk like a cowboy or cowgirl. And that’s all there is to it. A little higher, stronger, and wider.”
“Follow me!” Kyra commands, then steps onto the glacier. Grabbing her hand, Kate says to me, “I love her bold attitude.”
Together, they march up the glacier. Ethan, seeing how easy his sister handled her crampons, waves off our anxious hands and runs up the glacier.
“Ethan’s pretty fast on those crampons, huh?” I say to Thomas.
Ethan corrects me, “I’m Superman!”
“No, I’m Superman. You’re Buz Lightyear!” Kyra yells from the ridge.
When we all get to the top, Kate says, “Wow, Ethan, you’re the youngest person I have ever seen walk on a glacier!”
Kyra complains, “Hey, what about me?” She starts to do a dance routine, a bit of popping, a glide, and a swivel.
“You are so awesome!” Kate laughs.
“Kyra, please don’t kick yourself or your brother.”
“I won’t!” Kyra sighs. Her dark sunglasses shield her eyes from me, but her tone suggests that she is doing a teenage “no duh Mom” eye roll.
After exploring blue pools and moulins, we had lunch beside a developing crevasse, where glacier melt shoots down like a water slide.
Kate hands us each a red Twizzler and explains that if we bit the ends off we could use them like straws. Kyra sticks her head in the ravine and after a while complains, “It’s not working.”
Ethan demands a Twizzler too, but simply stands in the same spot sucking air. After a few minutes, he says, “Mine’s not working either.”
The glacier water cools my insides and I down a whole pint before eating lunch. I wish I could just lie down and take a nap and admire the view of Stairway Icefalls (according to Kate it’s the “second largest one in the world”) but the kids are rapidly adapting their jean ripping, dirt digging, rock throwing techniques to the melting glacier surface.
They stomp around with their crampons as if they are barefoot in a tub of grapes, making wine. They seem completely at ease, balancing on their spikes, and stepping into blue icy pools of water which they measure with Kate’s ice pick.
Keeping a firm hold on her ice pick, Kate shakes her head in disbelief and says almost to herself, “I love this family.”