For some experiences it takes years to process. Some of them, you have to forget and then remember again.
This unplanned descent into the glacier was not my idea. I found the idea reckless, stupid and terrifying. My two colleagues, far way more adventurous than I was, were unstoppable. I remember clearly my single thought “No one will ever find our bodies, if something goes wrong”.
I went down into Renard Glacier.
The temperature dropped from comfortable +5 to around -5 Celsius degree. The arched vestibule was completely still, the impression was so overwhelming, it made us stand still. And I am quite sure, the time has stopped too.
There was a frozen riverbed and a sand bank created by the river in summer and fall the previous year, but now, all quiet and…frozen.
The eyes could not adjust to the hue. The white balance of the camera had no point of reference. The glacier cave even though there was a 10-meters thick ice ceiling above us was lit blue. Glacier ice thanks to its qualities (dense, with very small compressed air bubbles) filters day light, absorbing red and yellow light. Deep in this cave, the only source of light was turquoise.
As simple as it is, only frozen water, there are not many things in the world that fascinating. Rocks suspended in ice for thousands of years, few more years at least before they melt away. Air bubbles heavily compressed – so when they melt their way out (in your whisky glass, for example) they make popping sound, just like a popping candy.
The ceiling was covered with thin hexagonal ice plates. I have read, those are a result of a very low temperature (-20 to -30 Celsius deg) and low water saturation of air (basically, very dry air).
I was completely mesmerized and the fear let go a little. Enough, to use some black (or turquoise?) humour: “This would be actually quite a fancy place to die in”. In this blue hue our skin did not look very much alive after all.
Closer to the entrance, where daylight was available, I put my hand on the wall. Eerie connection between inanimate blue ice and my body was electrifying. I stayed with my hand on the glacier until I could not feel my hand anymore. A memento from the glacier – a wet, cold hand.
Then slowly I came back to my senses and pure pragmatism of a will to survive has won over the beauty of the Renard’s guts. I climbed out, back to a daylight.
The visit to Renard Glacier was done during my year-long expedition to the Polish Polar Station in Hornsund (Spitsbergen) in 2011/2012. All participants survived.