Trip to the Northwest Branch of Taku Glacier

By Eric Keenan, U. Washington, and Christoph Suhr, Whitman College

One method that scientists use to evaluate the health of glaciers is by digging holes into the glacier surface. On the Juneau Icefield Research Program, students and scientists use this method - known as mass balance - to determine the total amount of water in the form of ice and snow that has accumulated at pre-determined points on the Juneau Icefield in the past year. These measures have been collected since 1948, forming the second longest lasting mass balance record in the world. Recently, fifteen students, faculty, and staff embarked on a three day expedition to the Northwest Branch of Taku Glacier to carry on a part of this long-term survey.

Part of the mass balance group skiing to their pit located behind Emperor Peak. Photo credit: Julian Cross.

Part of the mass balance group skiing to their pit located behind Emperor Peak. Photo credit: Julian Cross.

To reach the pits on the NW Branch of Taku Glacier, our group skied approximately thirteen kilometers from Camp 10, and established an overnight basecamp complete with dug-out tent platforms, latrines, sheltered gear trenches, and a cook tent. The second day of the expedition consisted of digging the mass balance pits higher up the NW Branch of Taku Glacier, too far afield to access in a day trip from any permanent JIRP camp. On the third and final day of the expedition we awoke to sunny skies, packed up our camp, and enjoyed the beautiful weather for our ski back to Camp 10.

To conduct the mass balance research, on each day of the expedition the fifteen participants would split into three groups, and head from basecamp to different locations to dig their mass balance pits. To document the health of the glacier, the students and scientists dug tirelessly down to the previous summer’s surface, sometimes having to dig over four meters into the glacier! By reaching the previous summer’s surface, the students could sample the snow that fell in the past year, weigh it, and from those data calculate the total mass of ice and snow that was added to that part of Taku Glacier by snowfall. With this information, total mass of snow and ice added in the winter can be compared with the mass of ice lost to summer melt. This comparison can be thought of as ‘balancing the glaciers checkbook,’ and can be used to evaluate the glacier’s health.

Basecamp for the NW Branch trip, consisting of four sleeping tents, and gear, cook, and dining tents. Photo credit: Julian Cross.

Basecamp for the NW Branch trip, consisting of four sleeping tents, and gear, cook, and dining tents. Photo credit: Julian Cross.

On the Dot: A Day on Cook Crew*†

By Molly Wieringa, Harvard University

*Here on the icefield, roughly sixty people need to be fed at least three times each day. To meet this demand, students pull duty as cooks from our first camp to the final days of the program. Each crew consists of three students who will band together and support one another through some of the longest, busiest days of the summer. I have here attempted to capture some of the insanity inherent to being a cook at a JIRP camp.
†all times are approximate

06:00- You’ve been awake for at least 15 minutes, and depending on where you sleep, you’ve picked your way across camp to the cook-shack. If you weren’t caffeine dependent before JIRP, you definitely are now, so you down your first coffee of the day and shuffle into the pantry, where you spend five minutes pretending that you have an actual choice about what breakfast will be.

07:00- The water for the oatmeal you will inevitably make is still not boiling. On the other hand, the coffee percolating on the stove has bubbled over twice.

08:00- Turns out that breakfast will be slightly late. There aren’t yet enough pancakes (or fried diced Spam; to each their own) to accompany the oatmeal. You rocket around the boundaries of the kitchen, pushing oatmeal toppings onto the serving counter, collecting the knives and bowls and crumpled towels lying haphazardly on every surface, flipping off the burners in response to a query about why the cook-shack smells like gas.

08:13- The most enthusiastic (or awake) member of the crew trumpets the vuvuzela, both indoors and out, and breakfast is served.

09:00- During the camp manager’s announcements, you call seconds, promptly distracting every student and instigating a stampede, through which navigation to any place other than the serving counter is impossible.

Typical cook crew swagger on display during lunch prep, when energy is at an all-time high. Left to right: Eric, Gavin, and Bryn. Photo credit: Molly Wieringa

Typical cook crew swagger on display during lunch prep, when energy is at an all-time high. Left to right: Eric, Gavin, and Bryn. Photo credit: Molly Wieringa

09:30- Welcome to Round 1 of dishes. Wash, hot rinse, bleach rinse, dry, repeat. You’ll be here for at least an hour and a half.

11:00- Break? What break? Better get started with lunch. You wander back through the pantry before deciding that making anything from scratch isn’t worth the effort, especially because at least half of the camp’s population is usually out in the field during lunch. Out the door to the refrigerators (read: snow filled coolers) you go.

13:00- The horn blows again; you’ve managed to reconstitute some combination of leftover rice, oatmeal, or soup, perhaps accompanied by canned meat or fresh-ish veggies. Hopefully, no one complains.

14:00- Maybe there are seconds, maybe there aren’t. Either way, Round 2 of dishes begins. If you’re lucky or experienced, you’ve used fewer dishes than breakfast and finish by 15:30.

15:30- Barring any major disasters, you take a nap, if you know what’s good for you. Feeding sixty people is hard work.

17:00- You’ve just woken up from what was going to be a 30 minute nap, having kissed your aspirations of academic productivity for the day goodbye. You meet the rest of the crew back in the cook-shack, theoretically “on the dot.” Regardless, it’s now time to test your mettle- dinner is when you either pass the high bar set by previous crews or tumble into culinary insignificance. The pantry awaits and your adventure fully begins. Playtime is over.

17:15- You’ve doctored a real recipe from an actual cookbook, possible only through many potentially sketchy ingredient substitutions and a (not that you’ll ever admit it) totally bogus scaling ratio. The number of pots on the stove has been increasing alarmingly.

18:00- Panic sets in briefly when you realize you’ve forgotten the vegetarian option. Another pot hits the stovetop.

18:55- Dirty dishes cover every surface- they seem to have multiplied on their own. Surely you didn’t actually use that bowl, but then why is it covered in sauce?

18:56- You scramble to move the various scattered kitchen implements to a designated area away from the serving counter, slap an ever-so-slightly snarky menu on the whiteboard, and then rush the pots and pans containing dinner onto serving trivets.

19:00- The vuvuzela sounds and the hovering hordes descend.

19:02- Realizing that the vultures previously known as your campmates are consuming food at an unheard-of rate, you panic all over again, before imposing serving sizes on each dish in the loudest voice you can manage in such a frazzled condition.

19:55- The camp assistant (a fellow student charged with helping the cook crew and the camp manager) gets up and gives a personal reflection. You then call seconds, again resulting in an impassable cook-shack.

20:10- If you’ve overestimated the amount of food, you beg your comrades to take thirds on their way to evening lecture.

20:15- The cook-shack, so hectic just moments before, now seems quiet as the grave. You sigh, blink at the mess in front of you, and steel yourself for the third, final, and most gnarly round of dishes. In order to win the favor of the masses, you’ve prepped a dessert already, and slide it into the oven before breaking out the dish soap.

21:30- Said masses, fresh from lecture, breeze through the door, carefree and laughing, as you push the dessert trays to the counter with achy muscles and prune-y hands. In a gravelly, strained voice, you urge them away from the newly clean camp bowls in favor of personal mugs. You’ve had it up to here with doing dishes.

Julian the Kitchen Troll: a representation of every cook at the end of the day. Photo credit: Molly Wieringa

Julian the Kitchen Troll: a representation of every cook at the end of the day. Photo credit: Molly Wieringa

22:00- During the post-dessert daze, you somehow managed to put everything away, dump the dirty dish water, and wipe down the kitchen surfaces. If you’re like this cook, you ignore the rationale of going to bed early and seek out Avery, Benjy, or Max, one of whom is probably playing guitar. Wiser cooks take this opportunity to pass out. It’s been a full 16 hour day, but one of the most gratifying in camp. As your head hits your sleeping bag, you pray for the souls of tomorrow’s cook crew, and bless the stars you don’t have to wake up early.**

**Disclaimer: despite having used a tone to the contrary, being on cook crew is usually enormous fun, and a wonderful opportunity to get to know your two fellow cooks. Ten out of ten, would recommend.*

 

Ecological Survey of Avalanche Canyon

By Susannah Cooley, Davidson College

The Ecology research group woke early on a windy and overcast morning to begin our 13-mile trip to Avalanche Canyon. Avalanche Canyon begins at the terminus of Echo Glacier, is the home of abandoned JIRP Camp 21, and was our intended study site for the next three days. Our trail party left Camp 10 in high spirits and with much excitement. Avalanche Canyon, known for its beauty and lush vegetation, had not been visited by JIRP in many years; much of the terrain and conditions of our destination were unknown. The maps available in Camp 10 are several years old. Given the likelihood that the terminus of Echo Glacier had receded a great deal since the maps were made, we knew very little about what the area would look like when we arrived – How far would the glacier have receded? Would we have to cross blue ice? Would we be able to reach our destination at all? We were unsure of the hazards that lay before us, so we took the necessary precautions: we brought our glacier safety gear and our crampons and, as we approached the terminus of Echo Glacier, roped up into teams and probed for crevasses as we traveled. To our great pleasure the route we chose was safe. Under the guidance of our supportive and knowledgeable staff Evan and Annika, we arrived at Avalanche Canyon with ease.

Staffer Annika Ord pointing out a snow swamp during the trip to Avalanche Canyon. Photo credit: Susannah Cooley.

Staffer Annika Ord pointing out a snow swamp during the trip to Avalanche Canyon. Photo credit: Susannah Cooley.

The trail party was all in good spirits as we came around the final ridge of the trip and the amazing view of Avalanche Canyon came into sight.  We made camp on a rocky outcrop next to the margin of the Echo Glacier ablation zone. Our camp overlooked several icefalls, the terminus of the Gilkey Glacier, a wonderfully vegetated refugio called Paradise Valley and Avalanche Canyon itself. The dynamism, the movement and flow of the dramatic landscape was overwhelmingly beautiful. The power of the ice and rocks were humbling; it is an area devoid of apparent human influence, in which geologic forces served as a reminder of the comparable weakness of the human form.  As we sat in awe eating our lunch and looking out over this view, I pondered how amazing it is that we, through our actions, are in the process of destroying a landscape that seems so far above the elements of daily human life.

Looking out at the view on the first day. Avalanche Canyon, in the middle ground, is vegetated. In the background the Bucher and Gilkey glaciers flow through the Gilkey Trench and out the left side of the frame. Photo credit: Kara Vogler.

Looking out at the view on the first day. Avalanche Canyon, in the middle ground, is vegetated. In the background the Bucher and Gilkey glaciers flow through the Gilkey Trench and out the left side of the frame. Photo credit: Kara Vogler.

The Ecology group spent a wonderful three days exploring Avalanche Canyon. We studied the diversity and abundance of plants and lichens, and compared them to the level of development of the soils in each survey plot. We found a strong gradient in vegetation from the highest elevation near our campsite, which was predominantly rocky with few plants, down through the canyon to about 400 ft. below. Here we found a greater diversity and abundance of vegetation including some much larger species such as mountain hemlock and alder trees.

Collecting data at the study site at highest elevation with very little vegetation. Photo credit: Catharine White.

Collecting data at the study site at highest elevation with very little vegetation. Photo credit: Catharine White.

High diversity of plants found at mid-elevation in a transition zone between the rocky top and highly vegetated valley. Some species in this photo include: Rose Root, White Mountain Heather, Yellow Mountain Heather, Mosses, Grasses, and Fireweed. Photo credit: Susannah Cooley.

High diversity of plants found at mid-elevation in a transition zone between the rocky top and highly vegetated valley. Some species in this photo include: Rose Root, White Mountain Heather, Yellow Mountain Heather, Mosses, Grasses, and Fireweed. Photo credit: Susannah Cooley.

Alder Tree – found at lower elevation in a highly vegetated zone. Photo credit: Susannah Cooley.

Alder Tree – found at lower elevation in a highly vegetated zone. Photo credit: Susannah Cooley.

The ecology group was also lucky to have JIRP’s artist in residence, Hannah Perrine Mode, along with us. While surveying the area Hannah contributed drawings of some of the survey plots, a beautiful way to represent the diversity of the area and the unique plants we were able to see.  

Overall, the trip to Avalanche Canyon was a huge success. We were able to survey plants and soils, see a wonderful view, and return to Camp 10 safely. The opportunity to see such a unique area, full of vegetation in an area otherwise dominated by rock and ice, to study plants and soil profiles that I had never seen before, and to return to Camp 10 with information on the current conditions of the terrain surrounding the terminus of the Echo Glacier was a truly unique experience. I’m sure I can speak for all the other students, staff, and faculty who were lucky enough to make the trip over to Avalanche Canyon, that we would definitely return to that beautiful spot if ever given the opportunity.

 

Morning Routine at Camp 10

Izzy Boettcher, Dartmouth University

“Good morning, beautiful nerds.” Allen’s voice rings clear, and full of excitement. The clatter of eating utensils, the hum of sleepy conversation, and the overall organized chaos that is each morning on the Icefield quickly fades and is replaced with an attentive silence. We sluggishly turn in our seats towards the back wall. A room of mildly caffeinated eyes focus on Allen, the academic lead, and the “Plan of the Day” white board that (tentatively) organizes each day. I’ve come to learn that life on the Icefield is highly dependent upon factors that we can’t always foresee — weather, snowmobile functionality, a Pilot Bread famine, etc.  — and thus our “plans” are always subject to change.

“07:30 wake up — check,” Allen begins, ticking off the tasks we have already completed. “08:00 breakfast — check.” He continues down the list, asking for daily chore volunteers, summarizing the day’s fieldwork outings, and concluding with the routine, “20:15 lecture” and “23:00 lights out.” At this point, the morning lull diminishes — fast replaced by the characteristic buzz of curious students energized by the day’s possible adventures. Will we test the skills we learned during safety training and practice crevasse rescue?  Will we snowmobile across the Taku marking a new GPS profile? Or will we strap a shovel to our pack and dig a mass balance snow pit? Our minds race as we eagerly consider our options. We all ultimately know that we can’t really go wrong, no matter our final decision. Each option guarantees unparalleled scenery, good company, and new accomplishments, calamities, and understandings that will soon be relayed when we reconvene for dinner. On this day, I decide to tag along with mass balance, and quickly finish my breakfast as others continue to brainstorm.

Cooks prepare for the morning breakfast rush. Four-person student cook crews are in the kitchen by 6:00 am to serve hot breakfast at 8:00 am for upwards of 60 people. Here, Camp Manager Annika Ord (left) and Artist in Residence Hannah Mode (at the stove) assist students Susannah Cooley and Benjy Getraer. Photo credit: Jay Ach.

Cooks prepare for the morning breakfast rush. Four-person student cook crews are in the kitchen by 6:00 am to serve hot breakfast at 8:00 am for upwards of 60 people. Here, Camp Manager Annika Ord (left) and Artist in Residence Hannah Mode (at the stove) assist students Susannah Cooley and Benjy Getraer. Photo credit: Jay Ach.

“Hey, hey.” Mike, our camp manager’s voice cuts through the building volume. We pause our planning efforts to refocus our attention. “You ready?” he asks us. We grin, and nod our heads — we all know what’s coming. This moment is perhaps the last truly predictable part of each day. For although each morning begins with the same routine, each day holds something different. “Okay,” Mike says, bringing his hands in front of him and hovering his palms a few inches apart. We mimic his motions and anticipate the countdown. “3, 2, 1” he starts. And on “break,” 54 pairs of hands clap in unison, queuing both the mad rush of hungry JIRPers hoping for a second helping of oatmeal and SPAM, and the start of another day at Camp 10.

Hungry JIRPers waiting in line for food. With a full camp it takes about 30 minutes for everyone to wind through the breakfast line. The mark of a truly great cook crew is keeping the coffee flowing for the whole process. Photo credit: Jay Ach.

Hungry JIRPers waiting in line for food. With a full camp it takes about 30 minutes for everyone to wind through the breakfast line. The mark of a truly great cook crew is keeping the coffee flowing for the whole process. Photo credit: Jay Ach.

 

 

Windows of JIRP

By Crystal Yong, Yale-NUS College

Camp 17 is infamous for its cold, wet, rainy weather. After the treacherous traverse there from Juneau, we got one rest day before jumping right into safety training, slogging it out in the rain for five days in a row to become proficient in the skills required to cross the glaciers. I was beginning to feel a little down because of the non-stop routine and horrible weather, so when I was assigned cook duty on the sixth day, I was overjoyed at the thought of being able to stay indoors all day.

It was just my luck that this happened to be the first day the rain stopped and the sun came out. It didn’t make me feel any better to see everyone wash their hair and do their laundry under the sunny weather, while I had to cook, wash dishes and crush cans in the cook shack.

Yearning for a glimpse of the outside, I found a window above the stove and was immediately captivated by the view. It wasn’t solely the scenery that intrigued me, but the combination of the odd-shaped opening, the way the frame caught the sunlight, and the mix of items carelessly placed on the sill.

Window above stove of cook shack, Camp 17. Photo credit: Crystal Yong

Window above stove of cook shack, Camp 17. Photo credit: Crystal Yong

This combination of objects captured the glow and warmth of the outside even better than the scenery itself. It felt like JIRP’s presence on the Juneau Icefield was reflected here, where people lived side-by-side with big nature, coexisting at a comfortable distance for both the people and the wilderness. This was when I began to develop a fondness for the windows around JIRP’s camps.

Back window of The Institute, Camp 10 Photo credit: Crystal Yong

Back window of The Institute, Camp 10 Photo credit: Crystal Yong

The fact that there are so many windows makes it impossible to escape being with the outdoors, even if you’re in. At Camp 10, where there are many more sunny days, the light flooding through the many windows around camp reminds me of Dr. Maynard Miller’s famous words, “Nature is screaming at you”.

While every angle of the Icefield is beautiful, I somehow got the sense that each window was intentionally built to frame a certain scenic view. This intentionality really gives the sense that these JIRP camps are lived spaces. They aren’t just shacks for people to take a pit stop, or caches to store gear. They are places for explorers to live and be with nature.

Photographing these windows, I found that every one has its own unique character, with its special mix of objects placed around it. Just like the individuals in camp, they each have their own history and personality, and all carry beauty within them.

Quietly, these windows invite you to look up and out. And I think this sense of intrigue captures the spirit of many of the JIRPers I’ve met – they are all constantly looking, seeking for different ways to view the world, with eyes filled with fascination and hearts filled with both admiration and curiosity for the beauty around them.

Double Wide outhouse window, Camp 17. Photo credit: Crystal Yong

Double Wide outhouse window, Camp 17. Photo credit: Crystal Yong

I have yet to see camps 18 and 26, but I’m excited to see what windows I’ll find there - I’m sure they won’t disappoint.

 

Adventures in Isotopes

By Jane Hamel, Middlebury College

This year, my research group is planning to take snow samples from the same snowpit multiple times. We want to study how the snow changes over time as we experience different weather patterns such as rain and sunshine.  We are hoping that this will help us answer our big picture question for the summer: what affects the ratios of water isotopes on the Juneau Icefield.  

Now to explain a bit about isotopes and how we can use them in our project this summer!  Not all water molecules are the same.  Most are the same weight, but there are some that can be heavier.  By comparing the ratio of heavier to lighter water molecules in the snow, we can learn about the snow and the conditions in which it formed and fell.  We will give a more thorough explanation of isotopes in a later blog post.

We were excited to start this project and kick off our summer research.  We planned the pit location to be adjacent to our ski hill for easy access, as we would be coming back multiple times to hopefully get new samples.  The process of probing and digging went well; we had an idea that the pit would end up being about 160 cm deep.  After some digging and snacking we were more than halfway through our pit, at about 100 cm when the snow started getting slushy.  Confused, we dug a bit deeper and wider to see if the slush layer continued throughout the snowpit.  Not only was the slush layer continuous, but it was 60 cm deep in some places, continuing all the way to the bottom of the pit. After shoveling out some of the slush, we saw that digging further would not be possible; the slush turned to water after a few centimeters, and even if we could somehow remove all of the water, it would just fill in again.  We were all surprised to find out that glaciers can have water layers in them, and we definitely could not have predicted it or known that our location had this.  

Alex Ihle floats on his therm-a-rest in the pool while recording data in the group field notebook.  JJ Graham takes a snow sample form the pit while Jane Hamel labels sample bottles and Chelly Johnson organizes the samples. Photo credit: Jay Ach.

Alex Ihle floats on his therm-a-rest in the pool while recording data in the group field notebook.  JJ Graham takes a snow sample form the pit while Jane Hamel labels sample bottles and Chelly Johnson organizes the samples. Photo credit: Jay Ach.

We decided to have some fun with our discovery, converting half of the pit into a pool by clearing out the rest of the snow and slush layer.  Some brave JIRPers went in for the inaugural dip, hot after shoveling in the sun.  On the other side of the pit we prepared the wall for sampling by making it smooth all the way down.  After collecting snow samples from the wall, we decided to also take one from the water in the bottom of the pit to add to our data of the pit.  

Even though the pit didn’t turn out how we had expected, it was still a really interesting discovery that we could learn from and use in our project. We were still able to collect data for our project, just with a bit of tweaking.  Since the construction of the pit, we’ve had two rain storms and after each one we’ve been able to go back and take new samples.  We don’t know yet how the water layer is affecting the pit and our data, but we’re excited to get our results at the end of the summer.  This project taught us that field work often doesn’t go as planned, but that you can make do with what you have and still get good data.

 

Water in a Frozen Land

By Ann Hill, Skidmore College

Ever since high school, I have been very conscious of how water resources vary throughout the world. Of all the water on Earth, three percent is fresh, but two percent is trapped in glaciers, unavailable for human use. The remaining one percent sustains all of humanity, and making sure everyone has access to this resource is a huge global challenge. Growing up, I never struggled to access freshwater, but on the Juneau Icefield, acquiring freshwater requires more strategic planning.

The amount of effort we invest in collecting water is ironic, since we are surrounded by huge stores of it. Everyday we ski over, conduct research on, and live next to the Juneau Icefield, comprised of many interconnected glaciers. Southeast Alaska experiences a high amount of precipitation annually, and yet its frozen form makes it difficult to access. Consequently, each day we spend hours of human labor managing our water supply.

All of our water is sourced from melting snow. At Camp 17, we shoveled water onto blue plastic tarps, which slowly melted into large trash barrels. At Camp 10 the snow melt drains into a tarp-lined pond. However, currently the clean snow supply is dwindling, requiring the additional use of tarps and trash barrels. Once it’s melted, we use buckets to haul large quantities of water into the kitchen where more large trash barrels sit for use while cooking meals. We heat a small amount for warm hand washing water.  

The water supply at Camp 17 is shown above, displaying the tarps onto which we shovel snow from the patch just off the bottom of the photo. A piece of white gutter connects the tarp to the trash barrel, into which the melted water drains. A sauce pan can be seen on the side of the barrel on the right, used to scoop water into buckets for transport. Photo credit: Ann Hill.

The water supply at Camp 17 is shown above, displaying the tarps onto which we shovel snow from the patch just off the bottom of the photo. A piece of white gutter connects the tarp to the trash barrel, into which the melted water drains. A sauce pan can be seen on the side of the barrel on the right, used to scoop water into buckets for transport. Photo credit: Ann Hill.

The water is never filtered or sterilized before consumption, making it imperative that strict measures are taken to keep our water sources clean. Water bottles and cooking pans must never directly touch the water supply. Instead, we use sauce pans to dip into the barrel, and only the handle may be touched so no hands ever come into contact with the water supply. The pan must only be set in its proper place, never on a counter as it will become contaminated. While initially these rules seemed rather overbearing, they are essential in limiting the spread of germs through camp.

Each day a student is assigned the job of Camp Assistant. Their job largely consists of shoveling snow from the source to the tarps, hauling water to the kitchen, and filling the hand washing station. This takes a lot of time, and proves physically demanding. For personal tasks, such as doing laundry or taking a shower, snow must be melted in large metal buckets instead of on a stove because the phase change from solid to liquid requires a lot of energy, and it is expensive to bring fuel to the Icefield.

At home, we also rely on a complex set of processes to obtain this valuable resource, but they take place mostly behind the scenes. People have jobs that involve pumping water up from the ground, or managing treatment facilities to make water available at the turn of a faucet. Today’s infrastructure places distance between us and the technology behind our tap water, but here on the Icefield that distance disappears.

The above photo shows the water supply system set up at Camp 10. The pond acts as the main water source, and additional tarps have been set up to drain water into the pond, as the snow directly surrounding the pond has melted. Photo credit: Ann Hill.

The above photo shows the water supply system set up at Camp 10. The pond acts as the main water source, and additional tarps have been set up to drain water into the pond, as the snow directly surrounding the pond has melted. Photo credit: Ann Hill.

"Anyone Wanna Shred?"

By Max Bond, Dartmouth University

For the first week at Camp 17, we experienced nothing but bone-chilling wind and rain. All our gear was soaked through, we were constantly wet and cold, and the weather was starting to take a toll on the group’s morale. Poems, songs, and jokes about the weather kept us sane. For example, Christoph gave an optimistic speech about how the rain “made us closer,” and Jane re-wrote the Pledge of Allegiance on July 4th to include bits about the poor conditions.   

For me, there was one thing I knew would cheer me up, and that was skiing. I’ve always loved making turns, and despite the weather, I knew the glacier was calling my name. I was tired of the weather deciding our actions for us. If I didn’t ski soon, I was going to lose my mind.

One night after lecture, I decided the time was now. Outside it was cold and misting; poor visibility made the Ptarmigan Glacier (“The Gnarmigan”) look like the inside of a ping-pong ball.  Everybody was huddled around the dinner tables of the warm Cookshack enjoying coffee and hot chocolate, which didn’t make skiing seem very attractive. I knew it was going to be difficult to convince somebody, but I needed a release from the weather.

I started asking everybody I could find if they wanted to shred. First I asked Mike, who looked outside and reluctantly declined. Then I asked Evan, who promised he’d go tomorrow. I asked Allie, who gave me a kind “maybe later.” I asked Lara, who gave a hard-fast “no.” I asked Matt, Erin, Justine, Mo, Dani, and Frank; nobody wanted to ski. Finally, after I thought I had exhausted all the staffers, Annie gave me a stern “Go get your skis. We’re leaving in five.”  

I was more excited than ever! I ran to grab my ski boots (neglecting Annie’s rule of “no running” around camp) and rushed to strap them on. Peer pressure must have convinced everyone else, because I ran back to find Matt, Frank, Chris, Evan, Mike, and others also strapping on their boots, getting ready to shred! There was even a single sliver of blue sky (retrospectively, it was probably more of a lesser-gray patch) above us. Other students grouped outside around Avery, who was jamming on his ukulele and singing songs about the weather. Everybody made a tunnel with their ski poles, and one by one, we all dropped in to the foggy ping-pong ball.

The tunnel of skiers at the top of the Gnarmigan ski hill. Photo credit: Max Bond

The tunnel of skiers at the top of the Gnarmigan ski hill. Photo credit: Max Bond

I’m not a good skier, so while I was busy holding my skis in a “pizza” all the way down the hill, everyone passed by and eventually I was all alone inside the mist. Despite my lack of skill, I was having a blast. When I finally got to the bottom, everybody was cheerful, dancing, laughing, and having a great time, which made me even more stoked. Despite the weather, we were all outside enjoying ourselves and having fun. All it took was a positive attitude and some good skiing. We climbed back up, made another tunnel, and dropped back in for another awesome, misty run.  

Climbing back up the Gnarmigan after skiing down, inside a ping-pong ball. Photo credit: Max Bond

Climbing back up the Gnarmigan after skiing down, inside a ping-pong ball. Photo credit: Max Bond


 

 

Learning to Live on the Ice

By Kelcy Huston, University of Minnesota Duluth

Adjusting to life on the ice comes with learning a unique set of skills and routines. Some of the daily chores are variations of familiar things (like using water and sweeping), and other skills are things I think many of us thought we would only see in the movies if it weren’t for JIRP. The following pictures capture highlights of our time at Camp 17.

One of the first things we did upon arrival to camp was set up water collections. We did this by framing tarps with 2x4s to funnel into a gutter and then into a bin after shoveling surrounding snow onto the tarp. It’s good to scrape off the top layer before shoveling, but no filtering or purifying needed! Photo credit: Kelcy Huston.

One of the first things we did upon arrival to camp was set up water collections. We did this by framing tarps with 2x4s to funnel into a gutter and then into a bin after shoveling surrounding snow onto the tarp. It’s good to scrape off the top layer before shoveling, but no filtering or purifying needed! Photo credit: Kelcy Huston.

Our first week had a heavy focus on ski training and safe glacier travel practices, which requires learning to “rope up” in case someone in a trail party falls into a crevasse. This way, if someone were to fall in, everyone else on the rope team drops to the ground to prevent a long fall and prepare the next stages of rescue. Photo credit: Kelcy Huston.

Our first week had a heavy focus on ski training and safe glacier travel practices, which requires learning to “rope up” in case someone in a trail party falls into a crevasse. This way, if someone were to fall in, everyone else on the rope team drops to the ground to prevent a long fall and prepare the next stages of rescue. Photo credit: Kelcy Huston.

Building on roping up, we’ve also been practicing building anchor and pulley systems to actually be able to pull people out of a crevasse. Snow anchors allow us to take the weight of the fallen person off of ourselves and the pulley systems give us mechanical advantage to pull them up more easily (it was an added training bonus that it stopped raining and the sun shined for the first time in 6 days!). Photo credit: Kelcy Huston.

Building on roping up, we’ve also been practicing building anchor and pulley systems to actually be able to pull people out of a crevasse. Snow anchors allow us to take the weight of the fallen person off of ourselves and the pulley systems give us mechanical advantage to pull them up more easily (it was an added training bonus that it stopped raining and the sun shined for the first time in 6 days!). Photo credit: Kelcy Huston.

When not out in the field we’ve been having evening lectures from guest faculty, starting to think about our own upcoming research, and taking in the views. Photo credit: Kelcy Huston.

When not out in the field we’ve been having evening lectures from guest faculty, starting to think about our own upcoming research, and taking in the views. Photo credit: Kelcy Huston.

****Special happy belated birthday to my Dad – hope it was a great one, I love you!

 

Tour of Camp 17

By Zach Gianotti, Santa Clara University

Perched on the top of a ridgeline in between the Lemon Creek and Ptarmigan glaciers, just out of view of Juneau, sits Camp 17, the first camp for our JIRP crew.  A mix of seven buildings, 2.5 outhouses, and a weather station, it is a humble and close quarters start for this year’s 60-something JIRPers.

Light glimmers off the aluminum clad buildings in rare sunny events, visible from miles around. In fog — or more rightly labeled, clouds — on approach the buildings slowly grow into focus, sometimes not coming into sharp relief until mere feet away.

Camp 17 on a more common foggy day. Photo: Daniel Otto.

Camp 17 on a more common foggy day. Photo: Daniel Otto.

The Cook Shack is the largest and tallest building in camp, with a small arctic entry, a mud room of sorts, with a place to hang wet coats that leads to the radio room. Above the radio room door is a steep staircase to the upstairs overflow housing and rope/boot drying areas that look down over the main eating area, also accessible from the arctic entry.  The main area is filled with a few long dining tables, a kitchen at the far end with a pantry off the side, and it is decorated with the usual million nails for ropes and cups and plastered with Sharpie graffiti crafted by past JIRPers from floor to rafters.

The other communal area by day is a hop, skip, and a jump (all modes of transport prohibited on JIRP camp sites) away from the cook shack and is called the Library. The Library is where group gear is stored, helicopter transport staging occurs, where some students sleep, where lectures occur, and where a few old books reside tucked away in a corner. There is a wall that is lined with windows that overlook the Lemon Creek Glacier. They flood light into the building the size of a small garage, a place big enough to store a smart car, or a mini cooper, or a fiat 500, but not an American sedan of any sort.

A few of the Library from the outside on a sunny day. Photo: Daniel Otto.

A few of the Library from the outside on a sunny day. Photo: Daniel Otto.

This year the girls’ and gender neutral housing was split in between the library and the James’ Way, a quaint little dome-roofed structure the size of the ‘bed of a dump truck’ as one of the residents described it. The boys were annexed off in housing past the helicopter pad up along the path to Vesper Peak, in a building named the Arm Pit. The Pit, as the boys call it, had two floors filled with all the male students and their damp gear. The rather large design flaw of the Pit was its lack of ventilation, or even ventilation potential. It has one door and one openable small marine window upstairs. The collection of progressively wet and dirty clothes, coupled with a low number of clear days to open up our two ‘vents’, created a unique bouquet quite representative of the buildings name.

Camp 17 in the foreground with Cairn Peak in the background. Ptarmigan Glacier, off to the right, is a popular ski hill easily accessible from camp. Photo: Daniel Otto.

Camp 17 in the foreground with Cairn Peak in the background. Ptarmigan Glacier, off to the right, is a popular ski hill easily accessible from camp. Photo: Daniel Otto.

When talking about Camp 17 one cannot forget to mention the wet weather that was near ever-present at the camp. This forced us to spend our free time shoulder to shoulder in the Cook Shack or crammed in the Library practicing knots. This also provided those new to Southeast Alaska an accurate representation of the climate that I grew up with. The only difference is that at camp we only have heating and electricity for a few precious hours a day leading to next to no drying opportunities for humans and gear alike.

The inside of the Armpit, the domain of the male students. Wet gear hanging from the rafters makes for close quarters. Photo: Daniel Otto.

The inside of the Armpit, the domain of the male students. Wet gear hanging from the rafters makes for close quarters. Photo: Daniel Otto.