When It Gets Tough Don't Give Up
I was breathless. My arms were on fire, my legs had found muscles I didn’t know existed, and my hands were cramping. I was getting frustrated at myself; I don’t like not accomplishing a challenge, but I really don’t like not accomplishing a challenge in front of other people! But I was getting tired, so I began thinking to myself “I know one person in this entire group. And that’s my new husband. I won’t see these other people again, so who cares if I’m the only one who doesn’t make it?!”...
My (very new) husband had surprised me with a honeymoon to Iceland. He had told me to pack my passport and clothes for cold weather but waited until after we had cut the cake at the reception to tell me the destination.
Iceland was as beautiful as you can imagine. Geysers, black sand beaches, rock cliffs, amazing blue-green waterfalls that were partially frozen, and this. This 15-20 foot vertical sheet of ice that turned into a bigger challenge than I expected.
My husband had planned an excursion for us to go glacier hiking and ice climbing. We started the day at about 0800, boarding a van in the pitch black dark (the sun didn’t rise until about 10 am!) and driving a couple of hours to a glacier. When we arrived, we checked in with the company and were fitted with boots, crampons, harnesses, helmets, and ice axes. We walked across the icy parking lot; we were then treated with our first glimpse of the glacier. It was beautiful!! It looked like blue and white marble from a distance, surrounded by volcanic mountains, with a frozen lagoon at its base. We walked a little further, through a rocky area, then we stopped to strap on our crampons. Then we began our hike up the glacier. The further we got into the glacier, the closer look we had at this sheer ice formation. The brilliant blue ice had beautiful black streaks through it from volcanic ash; I had never seen anything like it. We hiked further and further up the glacier until we reached a moraine (a hole in the glacier that acts as the glacier’s drainage system), which is where the vertical ice wall was.
We had reached the point to ice climb. After a quick demonstration from our guide, my husband volunteered to go first in our group. He did an amazing job! He was followed by a guy from Chile, who scrambled up the ice wall like he was Spider-Man (we found out later he’s a rock climber!) Then I was up. Well, the guys had made it look easy! But let me tell you...it was not!! Our guide hooked me via my harness into the belaying system. After that, the first step was to secure one ice axe in the ice wall, as high as your arm could reach. Step two: secure the second ice axe as high as you could reach. The third step was to kick the ice wall with one foot to secure the toe-pick portion of the crampon into the ice wall. (For anyone who has seen the movie Cutting Edge, all I could think of was the scene where the figure skater constantly is telling the hockey player “Toe pick” as she watched him fall repeatedly!) I was able to accomplish steps 1-3. Step four is where I struggled. Step four was to kick your other foot into the ice wall, then push yourself straight up, press against the ice wall, and begin with step one again. You would repeat this series to inchworm your way up the wall. Well, I fell. So I tried again. I fell again. So I tried again. And again. And again. And... I was about to give up. But I had a great husband and entire group cheering me on. I decided I would try one more time and then I would quit. My muscles were burning. I was starting to get embarrassed that I was struggling so much, and quite honestly wanted to be away from the focus of the group’s attention!! So I gave it one final try. And I did it!!! I finally made it off the ground!!! So I started the steps again. I repeated the steps over and over until I made it to the top of the ice wall (granted there were a few more slips and a lot of gratitude I was safe with the harness!). I made it to the top, kissed the carabiner, and repelled my way back down so the next person could have a turn. I was out of breath, my muscles were burning, but I was so proud of myself that I hadn’t quit when it became tough.