Tied to a String

By Stephanie Streich, Photos by Mira Dutschke and Jeff Kavanaugh

Chrissy McCabe, Alistair Morgan, William Jenkins, Adam Taylor and others practice their knots at Camp 17 on the Juneau Icefield.  Photo:  Mira Dutschke

At Camp 17, students have been roped in and all tied up, becoming familiar with various knots. A critical part of our daily routine has been learning and practicing the knots that are crucial to travel safely on the icefield. The Figure-8, the Butterfly and the Double Fisherman are just some of the knots that will protect us against the dangers of crevasses and ice caves that are hidden within glaciers. The Prussik knot and the climbing harness are sometimes the only lifeline that attach you to the other members of your trail party as you travel across this vast white wilderness of snow and ice. Before we expose ourselves to the real life dangers of the field, we developed our climbing skills in a safer and warmer environment: the kitchen.

Climbing ropes hanging to dry in the cookshack at Camp 17 on the Juneau Icefield.  Photo:  Mira Dutschke

For practice all the students piled into the cookshack to climb up ropes attached to the ceiling. Using the knots we learned, we used two Prussik slings and attached them to the ropes and our harnesses. I have to admit, I was pretty hesitant to get up the rope as I was standing in line waiting for my turn. I was unsure if two skinny strings attached to a rope would actually hold my weight and enable me to elevate myself high into the air. Once I got attached to the rope I realized that the harness did a lot of the work for me, and I started having a blast. The harness loops around our waist and legs, linking us to the main line with a carabiner. With a long Prussik for the legs and a short Prussik from the harness to the rope I was able to hoist myself up the line. It was a great feeling of relief hanging in thin air by a string, gradually climbing up, knowing that I was not going to fall down. It was so easy! Climbing was definitely not as difficult as it seemed watching my fellow JIRPers tackling the rope. Getting down, however, was another story and quite a challenge. It would be rare to need to Prussik down a rope, but I'm going to have to work on that.

Author Stephanie Streich at the top of the rope after practicing with her prussiks in the camp cookshack.  Photo:  Jeff Kavanaugh