Living on a Glacier


As we settled into the cozy hut situated at the top of a ridge overlooking the Ruth Glacier in Denali National Park, Alaska, our first chore was to find the outhouse.  There was a little brown colored shed perched on the edge of a steep, narrow ridge located about 100 yards from the cabin.  A skinny trail carved into the ice with a safety rope stretched alongside ran from the building to the shed.  We grabbed the rope and used a hand over hand method to gingerly inch our way toward the brown shack.  The trail was bordered by a steep drop on one side and a deep, deep crevice on the other.  This surely couldn’t be the path to the outhouse, I thought.  But it was.  I made up my mind that I’d use a bucket or coffee can in the night, because there was no way I was going down that treacherous route in the dark!  I had to admit, the view from the privy was world class.  It amazed me at how fast we became comfortable with the unfamiliar terrain of a glacier.  Once we’d hiked the trail to the potty a few times it didn’t seem scary at all, and soon we quit using the safety rope.

The scenery was so stunningly beautiful it took your breath away, with ever changing shadows and light, the landscape looked different every hour of the day.  I could sit forever staring at the patterns and shapes of rocks and snow.  The Mountain House itself was an octagon shaped building with windows all around, and a wood burning stove in the center.  The walls were ringed by a long bench that served as seats during the day and a platform for sleeping bags at night.  The building wasn’t very big, I’d guess it was about 12 or 14 feet in diameter, with the stove filling the center it was impossible to get cold unless you let the wood burn down.  Along one section of the wall there were shelves holding a few pans and utensils and a flat surface for our propane cook stove.  A web of ropes were stretched from one side of the ceiling to the other, where something was always hung to dry.  It was simple, ingenious, and rough, and contained everything necessary to survive.  By dark we were settled, cozy, fed, dry, warm, and snuggled into our sleeping bags for the night.  We watched the alpen glow disappear on the distant peaks and darkness slowly filled the amphitheater, once the singular glow from our propane lamp was extinguished, the sky filled with dancing, sparkling stars.

More tomorrow,

Gail Niebrugge, Alaska artist

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  1. Noella Ross says:

    Ohhhhhhh! Sigh!

  2. Yes, you got it! Gail

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