I was invited by my friends Barb Williams and Eddy Cartaya to accompany an expedition of newly discovered glacier caves on Mt. Hood’s Sandy Glacier; the trail head is about 3 hours drive from my home in Central Oregon. The expedition was organized to document the dazzling underbelly of this ancient glacier, as it forms, melts, reforms and changes. The team included cavers, climbers, geologists, and scientists. I don’t fit any of those descriptions, just a tourist hanging out with people who have one foot firmly rooted in this reality, and one that’s dangling over the lunatic fringe.
The climb to the glacier was arduous, as I expected. Once at higher elevation and after the trail ended, I became acutely aware that everything below, above and around me was moving. This sensation was amped by the fact that life on a mountain exists at a vertical pitch, and the relentless gravitational drag is merciless. Slippery undergrowth led to shifting and sliding boulder fields, followed by ice flows covered by oozing mud flows, all the while I danced from purchase to foothold not wanting to linger too long on the perpetually shifting crush of this warming season. As I took a moment to steady my body, I became aware of boulder bouncing crashes echoing in the massif amphitheater. Finally reaching the sloping glacier anchored my appreciation of solid ground, if you can call standing on a mass of ice secure. I kicked my boot into the sun softened surface finding the sense of stability that had eluded me for hours.
Upon seeing the ice cave entrance I swallowed a giddy-up nervous chuckle as I grasped the defiance of gravity these explorers were excavating. To be the first to enter the frozen tombs must have been chilling, on all levels, knowing that at any moment the sense of security the hard ice conveyed could give way in a crushing collapse of this inner world, a phenomenon that is occurring with regularity during this warmer time of the year.
With my guides Brent and Carra McGregor we climbed our way through a broken ice field. To enter the icy mouth of the Pure Imagination Cave, I skidded down a frozen shoot to avoid randomly falling rocks drip-dropping from the cave’s open lips. Once inside my eyes began adjusting to darkness as they fixed on the boulder floor, and then gazed up at the cup patterned concave icy dome above. Using my head-lamp to survey the ceiling immediately above me, I looked for rocks of all sizes that over years had bore their way from the top of the glacier 150 feet above to the bottom of the inner ice ceiling of the cave. These rocks would periodically free fall 30 feet to the boulder-ed riverbed below. Car sized ice masses that we climbed over and around had until recently been side walls or cave ceiling. Brent pointed out that there was a Moulin, or opening up-mountain at the top of the cave as well as the opening we entered at the bottom.
In many ways the feeling of being deep under the glacier was akin to crystal caves I have been in. Only instead of hot, dense South American oxygen there was a constant high elevation chill blowing through this wind tunnel.
I observed that the glacial ceiling was composed of different kinds of ice, most was milky and translucent, with pockets of large boulder sized formations that were harder looking and transparent. They contained a few floating wispy veils comprised of air bubbles. It looked like large blocks of transparent quartz, triggering my creative lobes to leap into action as I began to carve these crystalline blocks with my imagination.
And I was reminded of the scientist of Europe in the 1800’s who conclude, with the scientific certainty of their time, that quartz crystals found in the Swiss Alps were super-frozen ice, frozen so rock-hard as to permanently retain their solid crystalline structure.
Modern science has since confirmed crystal mineral growth occurs in a fundamentally opposite fashion: they form as a result of intense heat, pressure and exotic chemical combinations.
Like the scientist of the 1800’s it is a human proclivity to invent beliefs to fill the void of logic, to provide meaning to our limited understanding of the enormities of life.
Standing beneath the massive melting glacier I took a moment to wonder how solid is the footing of my current beliefs? How much of what I think I know is merely a sheet of ice providing a temporary slippery footing of logic on which to justify a fragile existence? And I realized that understanding the glacier, like understanding the complexities of life, gives a fleeting sense of permanence and knowing that inevitably melts into the realization that life is perpetual change. Nothing is really solid the quantum physicist explains. The illusion of solid matter is in fact made up of sub-atomic particles, composed primarily of space, that resonate at different frequencies. The difference in the frequency of resonance is what produces the myriad forms of what we refer to as physical matter. Makes sense, I think…
Ice melts, new ice forms to melt again. Beliefs gel, become solid, and eventually melt and change so that new more fruitful beliefs can gel and solidify.
We ascended deeper up the vertical throat of the cave, found comfortable rock seats, turned off our headlamps, straddling the suspended silence. Within seconds the mystery of blackness grasped me like an impassioned dream, as I became part of the fabric of a devic underworld, no longer able to rely on my patterned senses. The absolute darkness illuminated my imagination. I peered into the vacuous visual void, asking my eyes to identify something within the solid blackness. After my eyes began to recalibrate to the pitch, I could see a light shadow creeping towards me from below; I turned 180 degrees pointing my gaze up-mountain to see a descending light slithering towards me from the moulin above. As my eyes adjusted to the purity of darkness, the shadows of light danced towards me projected along the ice walls, spirits of a parallel reality. As I surrendered to the fleeting moments of relentless change I became grounded in the Eternal.