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PUBLISHED: 5:19 PM on Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Pursuing a place for practice
Wilderness Wanderings
A calm strength moved through my arms, slowly lifting the rest of my body, I tucked my knees up on the back of my shoulders. Strong breaths issued in and out, pushing the cool air through my lungs, into my bloodstream, moving me. Then I began to tremble, my wrists suddenly felt my entire weight and the loud racket from the apartment below cut in through the floor, touching my fingers, carrying a distraction to my knees, my calves, my face. My body collapsed in an awkward heap on my yoga mat.


Photo by Tim Farr
  Author Naomi Judd in triangle pose, during a yoga sequence on the Mendenhall glacier.
Yoga has been a large part of my life in the last year, and when I am on the mat I feel an energy move through me like none else. Yoga is an endeavor of its own but also complements all other things I pursue: climbing, hiking, running, kayaking, skiing - you name it - even writing. My indoor yoga room is great, but lately I have been feeling I need to take my practice to the next level- outside.

Southeast Alaska has places enough for thousands of yogis to practice in the outdoors, the hard part is choosing. For me the blue ice of the glacier is a serene realm of shifting magnitude. Having spent hundreds of days on glacier ice over the past two years, the glacier and I have become familiar friends.

A large male mountain goat steadied himself as he laid down for a morning snooze on a ledge on the high cliffs at the end of the west glacier trail. He too had chosen the area to relax. A cluster of vibrant Purple Mountain Saxifrage caught my eye against the brown of the muddy rocks. A rare sight as this beauty only blooms for a short time in early spring. Climbing off the rock scrambles at the toe of the shimmering blue ice, I put on my crampons and re-shouldered my bag, the purple yoga mat sticking out of the top.

The sun beamed in and out of fast rolling clouds, dark skies lay over Mt. McGuiness, warning me to find a spot before the sky shook out another layer of snow. I scanned the array of boulders in the medial moraine when I came to it - a nice big flat-topped slab of granite is what I needed - and that is precisely what I found. As if waiting for me to hop on and stretch my legs, my shoulders, my soul, it was just the right size.

Just before the first icefall, the rock leant a sturdy platform and a view of turquoise seracs behind me, the lake below. I sat my mountaineering boots at the base of the rock and climbed up. Bare feet on a glacier are something rarely experienced and strangely freeing.

I started into a routine of sun salutations and bent my ears to the soft flowing millstream a few feet away. The glacier slowly melting, shifting, and transforming below me, I breathed in the deep air rising from the ancient ice.

The rock was cool on my feet, but it connected me directly to the earth. Whether one is on a sand bar, a grassy path, or a glacier rock, this connection can build energy in ones body. The slight slope of the rock focused my balance much more than a flat-built floor. My legs balanced strong through Warrior I and II, and back into Downward dog.

As I sat breathing long and steady in Half lord of the Fishes, I felt snow tickle my neck. My vision was blurred by billions of thick snowflakes by the time I had gotten my boots back on. I thanked the rock for the time it had given me and set off to find a crevasse I had spotted earlier. A trip on the glacier after all, is not complete without a bit of climbing.

My partner chopped away through the first eight inches of rotten surface ice, to drill in ice screws for an anchor. I flaked out our blue rope. I was first to rappel over the edge of the crevasse, the peaceful state of yoga almost leaving me as the more than vertical, 50 foot chasm seemed to pull me in. As I descended, the blue ice grew more intense. I was nearly at the bottom, before I realized I should shout to stop. It was surreal down there, but now I had to climb all the way out and the ice at that depth was almost as hard as metal.

My crampons did not want to stick, my axes inclined to bounce off instead of sink in. I could see more than a foot into the ice, but I could not sink an ax more than an inch deep. I began to shake, my hands grew tight and sore, my hamstrings turned to butter. Gaining a solid foothold, I shook out one hand at a time and connected myself to the ice with the same solid breathing I had used when on the yoga rock. I pulled myself up and out of the crevasse, reconfirming the glacier as my peaceful place of strength, in part because it can remind us of how weak we are. A perfect place for practice.

Naomi Judd grew up hiking in the White Mountains of N.H. and continues her outdoor pursuits in Southeast, Alaska. Email her at writer@naomimahalajudd.com or naomi.judd@capweek.com


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