By Dawn Glanc
Waterfall Ice is such a unique and majestic medium. It is in a state of constant flux. The ice is alive, proving this with the eerie creeks, pops and other sounds it produces throughout the day. Depending on your luck, you may even feel the ice move and shift. The temperature changes, wind directions and speed, and precipitation all reek havoc on the stability and quality of ice. Due to the constant influences of change, ice becomes less dependable and predictable. Rarely does waterfall ice freeze and form the same way twice. However, this beautiful dynamic and fickle behavior is only noticed if waterfall ice is the medium you insistently wish to climb.
In 1996, I started ice climbing while living in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I was instantly hooked by the medium of ice, and tried to climb as much as possible. I quickly gained confidence in my skills, and I began to lead climb. The combination of psych and basic grasp of ability pushed me to travel outside of the hills and explore places like Cody Wyoming and Bozeman Montana. I sought out the bigger and challenging terrain to push my limits as a climber. The more I climbed, the more my eyes would open up to possibilities of what I could do. My passion for ice, and the confidence in my ability grew.
The more I climbed, the more my eyes would open up to possibilities of what I could do.
Some time during my early years of ice climbing, I traveled back to Ohio to see my family. Excited about my new found passion, I shared photos and stories of ice climbing with my family and anyone who would listen to me. I stopped to in to see My Grandpa Kono to share with him my tales. He listened briefly, and then he would discount what I did as insane and pointless. Nothing anyone would say could curb my passion.
During our visit, I wanted to pry some stories of adventure from my Grandpa. I was curious about his life because of my new epiphany on the world. My Grandpa and I talked about his past and places he had been. He disclosed that he had been stationed in Iceland during WWII. Iceland was the only foreign country he had ever visited. I asked him many questions about his experience. His memory of the landscape, the people and the culture was stuck in the 1940’s. He spoke of a desolate landscape that had nothing desirable to offer. He mentioned Reykjavik as if it was a tiny fishing port. As odd as it seemed, his story intrigued me.
Later that night, I could not stop thinking about Grandpa Kono. More so, I could not stop thinking about Iceland and the possibility of going there myself. I have to admit that when I heard the word “Iceland” and I envisioned a fairytale land of endless ice. It was the name that leads me to believe this. My dream vision definitely did not match what my Grandpa described. I simply could not believe his statements. How could a place called Iceland be the land of nothingness? It was then that I came up with the idea to travel to Iceland to simply see for myself what was there. I had the plan to go to the country, explore and photograph my findings. I would then return with my own stories and photos to share with my Grandpa to show him how things had changed over the years. Somehow I thought this endeavor would honor my Grandfather as well. I felt I had to do this before he got too old.
The seed of exploration was planted.
As the years passed, the seed was nurtured. I became more of an ice climber, pushing myself and going for bigger, technical routes. The medium of ice was intoxicating to me, and I wanted more all the time. I kept dreaming of going to climb in Iceland. I wanted to go to the Island and explore. As the years passed, my grandpa was getting older and approaching the age of 90. I knew that if I wanted to complete this self appointed mission that I would have to act sooner than later.
I became more of an ice climber, pushing myself and going for bigger, technical routes. The medium of ice was intoxicating to me, and I wanted more all the time.
In 2011, I assembled a trip with Kitty Calhoun to travel to Iceland in late February. The weather had been fickle that year, and the ice was nonexistent. After watching the weather for quite some time, we pulled the plug on the trip at the last minute. We bailed after friends returned from Iceland and claimed that they found zero climbable ice. I was bummed to bail, but more driven than ever to make the trip a reality.
In February of 2012, I reassembled a team and made my dream to travel to Iceland to explore and look for unclimbed ice a reality. The team consisted of Jay Smith, Kitty Calhoun, Patrick Ormond and I. We landed in Reykjavik, and met with the Icelandic Alpine Club to get beta as to where to go to find new ice lines. Loaded with beta and stoke, we drove 10 hours across the island to the western fjords. There we met a local climber named Runar Karlsson who gave us further beta on unclimbed ice lines. As we circled the multiple possibilities on the map, I felt I had found my fairytale Mecca of ice.
The mountains rose right out of the fjords, and the ice hung high on the cliff bands that overlooked the water.
As we drove around the fjords and saw the abundance of unclimbed ice lines, I knew that this was the place I had been dreaming of. The landscape was spectacular. The mountains rose right out of the fjords, and the ice hung high on the cliff bands that overlooked the water. I had never before climbed on ice with seagulls circling overhead. The ice was also very surreal. The strong north winds shaped the ice like I had never seen before. Huge umbrella features formed, creating massive scooped roofs with twisted tentacle like icicles. The crazy winds also created horizontal icicles, overhanging curtains and bending pillars. The abnormal ice formations and the driving cold wind made for very challenging climbing conditions. We had to approach each day with a solid strategy so that we would be successful as a team.
On my first trip to Iceland, I was totally captivated and enamored by the landscapes, the people and the culture. We had ten climbing days on my first trip and the team completed twelve first ascents. I knew that we did not even come close to completing all the ice lines that we saw. I new that the western fjords still held amazing potential for new ice lines and the possibility of mixed lines. I could not rest with this knowledge, I new I had to return to the western fjords to complete some unfinished business.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Dawn’s article “To Return.”