Part 2, Muldrow Icefalls

When the path of a glacier flows over a particularly steep piece of a mountain it forms a feature called an icefall. Typically these areas host many cravasses, huge broken chunks of ice, and terrain that makes travel both difficult and scary. The standard Muldrow route includes travel directly through 3 major icefalls, and based on my recent cravasse fall experience, these were somewhat the mental crux of the route for me. Icefalls tend to change from year to year, storm to storm, and temperature when traveling in them.
The Lower Icefall of the Muldrow was the first of the three icefalls, and the one in which we had the heaviest loads to carry. For a variety of reasons, I elected to use tele skis and skins for floatation on this trip partially because they do a better job of keeping people out of cravasses than snowshoes. Unfortunately, they make traveling throughout the dense broken terrain of icefalls much more difficult, especially while pulling a sled. We found a partial trail left by previous parties but it still took quite some work to navigate. Due to the difficult terrain and size of our loads we started double carrying, spending one day carrying a cache higher on the route (through the icefall), then returning to camp the night and moving our tents and other gear the next day- if it sounds like it makes the climb twice as much work, you’re right, it does. It also makes the experience workable rather than unbearable, and I found it allowed me to enjoy the incredible place we were in. This is a typically strategy for most teams and most of the route until reaching the Harper glacier at 16,000′, so we had lots of work to do. The Lower Icefall went smoothly, no falls or other surprises, but we ended up caching our gear earlier, below the hill of cracks, rather than the base of the Great Icefall as is typical. When we moved camp from below the Lower Icefall we decided to move past our cache and through the Great Icefall with lighter packs and hopefully finding better camping at approximately 10,000′.
The Great Icefall of the Muldrow also went smoothly and without surprises, but was a pretty spooky place to be none the less. Home to some of the wildest and gnarliest ice formations I have ever seen, it is a feature to respect and move through (and yes we double carried through it). Again previous tracks help point us in the right direction, and we were stoked to dig into flat, safe camping once we got uphill of the Icefall. Travel and weather conditions through both of these Icefalls varied from perfect to terrible, but being on a night travel schedule helped make them somewhat more predictable. If doing the route, expect anything from brutal cold to uncomfortably warm temps, sticky/gloppy to styrofoam snow, rain and snow precipitation, whiteout to clear visibility- the full gambit, during this portion. We got it all in four days. Night schedule is recommended as it makes snow bridges over cravasses more stable and temperatures easier to predict. Skinning throughout the Icefalls was some of the most difficult and frustrating time I have ever spent on skis- I would actually recommend snowshoes for the route because of their lighter weight and better mobility. As we had passed our cache in a big push to camp above the Great Icefall, we returned the next night to retrieve it, I led our team back up the track pulling amsled and heavy pack into a cold down glacier wind. I don’t think my hip flexors have ever worked so hard and it seemed like this last carry through the most difficult of the 3 Icefalls provided our team with the first opportunity to truly suffer together. Suffice to say I was very grateful for the mental training provided in my sessions at Crossfit Fort Vancouver, and mental strength of my teammates. We earned our hot drinks that night.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s