Sleeping on Rocks

Sleeping on Rocks

By: Olivia Eads

 University of Cincinnati

Sleeping outside is not for all personalities, but I believe anyone participating in JIRP should try it at least once. For me, there is no better pleasure in life than to be exposed to the elements, breathe fresh oxygen, and have wind brush past my cheeks as I fall asleep. It is a humbling feeling to wake up feeling small, totally surrounded by the vastness of the clear night.  There is no better scenery to wake up to than starry skies illuminating clouds moving across the horizon or early morning light gleaming off the glacier and reflecting onto exposed peaks. On such nights and mornings a tarp is not necessary to keep the body confined and the exposed sky allows the mind to be open and to contemplate life and existence. Unfortunately, those nights are few and far between as shifting weather patterns are a reality faced hourly on the Juneau Icefield.  With that being said, there are many things to consider, many of which are learned through trial and error in order to have a comfortable night sleep on the nunataks poking out of the sea of ice.

                The first order of business to set up a tarp city is finding a relatively flat rock. These can be rare especially at camps 17 and 10, due to the highly fractured nature of the nunatak rocks. If a flat platform is found that has a slight slope and there are concerns about waking up to a falling sensation as you slide down a cliff, no worries. This can be avoided, along with waking up at 4:00 AM meters away from the sleeping pad and tarp. Find a large rectangular rock that is about two inches in height and place it beneath your desired foot planting location. This ‘foot rock’ is really effective at keeping the body in place as you sleep. Plus the process of slinking across cold, wet, abrasive, rigid rock after rolling away from the slumber party and snoring comrades, is quite exhausting to say the least.  Best to play it safe on inclined planes and use a foot rock.

                When dealing with the effects of precipitation, look for drainage patterns around the prospected location. If fractures in the rocks look like they could channel rain during a storm event, a stream will surely commence and you can expect drenched gear. On the bright side, one must not stray beyond the boundaries of camp, so it the elements become too much, it is only a few minute walk to infrastructure and relatively warm, wind free buildings. 

Tarp tent trial 1: Tarp fitting 6 people. Not a very successful structure. Eventually it rained that night and there was a wind storm. The open floor plan caused heads and feet to get WET, however the wind later that morning dried everything… Photo credit: Jeffy Gunderson

Tarp tent trial 1: Tarp fitting 6 people. Not a very successful structure. Eventually it rained that night and there was a wind storm. The open floor plan caused heads and feet to get WET, however the wind later that morning dried everything… Photo credit: Jeffy Gunderson

The necessities for sleeping outside include: a warm sleeping bag, pad, headlamp, a tarp, and maybe a bottle of water. When sleeping outside it is important to take into account the tricky weather patterns, as they are ever changing. Some people choose to simply burrito themselves into a tarp, creating a bivy to evade rain. That method is not very effective if the goal is to stay dry. Especially if an opening is left for air flow. Others may decide to build a rock fort and or use existing nunatak infrastructure in order to stay dry. Rock forts are awesome when dressed with a tarp roof. Tarps with little to no holes are preferred for donning roofs considering they allow less precipitation to seep through. The more extravagant the rock fort, the more time consuming and laborious it is to build. Precision stacking is imperative; no one wants a rock to crush them while they are trying to sleep.  Expect about four to six thirty minute sessions of collecting and finagling about a ton of rocks into place to create a sturdy rock fortress. It is important to make sure that the rocks can withstand pressure coming from both sides, otherwise the structure is not terribly safe to slumber within. 

Tarp tent trial 4: The rock fort at camp 10 took many nights and attempts to perfect. By connecting some cord to rocks with a bowline knot and creating tension, a tarp that repelled precipitation was fashioned. People from left to right: James O’Neil, Olivia Eads, and Tadhg Moore. Photo credit: Jeffy Gunderson.

Tarp tent trial 4: The rock fort at camp 10 took many nights and attempts to perfect. By connecting some cord to rocks with a bowline knot and creating tension, a tarp that repelled precipitation was fashioned. People from left to right: James O’Neil, Olivia Eads, and Tadhg Moore. Photo credit: Jeffy Gunderson.

The Juneau Icefield is constantly evolving and there are not many things better in life than existing upon a nunatak. I implore those who have not considered sleeping outside to do so even if rain is imminent. The pitter-pats created on the tarp are one of the most beautiful lullabies sung by the rain. By creating a sound structure and keeping in mind where the water will go during a storming event one can stay dry, warm, and relatively happy.  Insects, birds, and rodents are another reality of sleeping outside and should be respected as we are merely guests in their territory. Just a heads up: there is no morning wake up when camping out. That means that either your internal clock must be on point, or an alarm is necessary, especially when staying by yourself. If sleeping alone, make sure that at least one person knows where your camp is located, for if you happen to snooze through breakfast, a personalized wake up from a friend across camp is much appreciated. .

These are the many aspects to consider when sleeping on the rocks. The next rock fortress to come at camp 18 should be more impressive than camp 10. Stay tuned.

Taku Terminus

Taku Terminus

Mickey Mackie, Harvard University

Isabel Suhr, Lewis and Clark College

Mickey:

The rotors picked up speed with a deafening roar. I felt a wobble, and the helicopter was lifted into the air. Isabel and I were on our way to the Taku Terminus to assist a research team with field work. I was in the front seat. The window stretched to the floor and I could see the Taku Glacier beneath my feet. Camp 10 disappeared in the distance.

We flew low to the ground and crossed over the section we skied across to get to Camp 10. It was now streaked with ice and crevasses.

Crevasses on the Taku Glacier. Photo: Isabel Suhr

Crevasses on the Taku Glacier. Photo: Isabel Suhr

A wondrous sight appeared on the horizon: trees, thousands of them. I basked in the magnificence of the first greenery I’d seen in weeks. I was still in shock when we touched down in camp, our home for the next week.

Isabel:

Camp life at the Taku Terminus field camp was very different from life on JIRP. Instead of a permanent camp, we each had a small tent to sleep in, plus a large communal tent for cooking and one for gear storage. We camped just past the terminus of the glacier, on flat exposed sediment between Taku Inlet and the outlet streams from the Taku Glacier. It was very strange to be among plants again! 

Camp at the Taku terminus. Photo: Mickey MacKie

Camp at the Taku terminus. Photo: Mickey MacKie

There were thirteen people at camp including Mickey and I, and we worked on a variety of different projects on the Taku terminus. Jason Amundson, from University of Alaska Southeast, was in charge of the camp, and the other scientists were all from UAS or University of Alaska Fairbanks. In addition to the scientists, Jason’s wife and four-year-old-daughter were at camp, which made our mornings and evenings really fun.

Mickey:

15,000 lbs of gear, a glacier, and three crazy scientists are what you need to drill a borehole in the ice. Martin Truffer from University of Alaska Fairbanks led the operation. The boreholes were made using pressurized steam. Water was heated in a container called the hot tub and was fed through a tube into the hole.

Lowering a camera down the borehole. Photo: Mickey MacKie

Lowering a camera down the borehole. Photo: Mickey MacKie

These holes can be used to get sediment samples, do dye tests, or study glacier deformation. Martin put a camera in the hole, and we were able to see a subglacial stream. It was exciting to see how technology is used to learn more about glaciers.

Isabel:

The project Mickey and I did the most work for was a seismic survey. Jenna, a grad student from UAF, was the lead on the project and Mickey and I, and another undergrad from UAF, were field assistants.

Seismics are a good way to get information about the bottom of a glacier and what is below it. To do a seismic survey you need seismic waves to measure, whether they are from an earthquake or from a manmade explosion. We used a Betsy gun, which fires blank shotgun shells. To create the seismic waves, we bored a hole a half a meter or so into the ice, then placed the Betsy gun in the hole. To fire it, we hit the top of the gun with a sledgehammer, which then fired the blank at the bottom of the hole, creating seismic waves. It was quite the explosion!

To get information from the Betsy gun explosions, we used two types of instruments to measure the seismic waves we created—geophones and geopebbles. Both are seismometers: they measure vibrations in the ground. The geophones are single-component seismometers, which means they have one sensor to measure seismic waves. The geophones then all connect to a cable, which relays their information back to a computer. The geopebbles are a little different: they are three-component seismometers, so with their three sensors they can track the direction of movement of the seismic waves. They also have a built-in GPS and can transfer information wirelessly. We used a combination of geophones, for dense sampling over the point of interest, and geopebbles, for measurements farther from the shot locations.

Mickey placing the geophones. Photo: Isabel Suhr

Mickey placing the geophones. Photo: Isabel Suhr

Over the three days Mickey and I helped with the project, we started by checking out the seismic line we planned to use, then placed the geophones and geopebbles in the ice, then finally fired shots from the Betsy gun at intervals along the line. It was pretty cold and wet work, but we really enjoyed getting a chance to see what conducting a seismic survey was like!

 

Mickey:

Through mud, over moraine, to the ice we strode.

We went in a line – I was at the end of the row.

I walked across what seemed like solid ground

And found myself shifted several feet down.

I felt the ooze seep into my pants

And realized that I was stuck in quicksand.

As I stood immobilized in that murky pool,

All I could think was, “This is so cool!”

Strong arms grabbed me, and with many a tug

I was finally lifted out of that mud.

Dear reader: if in quicksand you ever should fall,

I hope that unlike mine, your pants don’t have a hole.

Post-quicksand. Photo: Isabel Suhr

Post-quicksand. Photo: Isabel Suhr

Isabel:

Getting back to JIRP from the terminus turned into quite an adventure. After a day of weather delays, we changed plans to go through Juneau on the way back to Camp 10 rather than straight to Camp 18. To get to Juneau, we got a lift from Brian, a very kind airboat operator, across the inlet to his airboat base, where he had a helicopter of tourists coming in from Juneau. The airboat ride was amazing—since it has a giant fan instead of an outboard motor, we could go into very shallow water without risking running aground. On the way back to the airboat base, we took a look up the Norris River to the Norris Glacier, which had a calving front. It was very cool to see the icebergs and hanging blocks of ice that were about to fall! We took another look at the calving front from the air on the helicopter ride back to Juneau too.

Isabel in the airboat. Photo: Mickey MacKie

Isabel in the airboat. Photo: Mickey MacKie

The calving front from the air. Photo: Isabel Suhr

The calving front from the air. Photo: Isabel Suhr

Being in Juneau was strange—we had gotten so used to life on the icefield that being in civilization again was a shock. Luckily, after a few hours we could get on a helicopter to Camp 10 to rejoin our friends!

Serendipitous Disconnect

Serendipitous Disconnect

Ella Keenan – University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire

Rachel Medaugh – University of Miami

Joel Wilner – Middlebury College

 

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after”- The Hobbit

Looking out from Camp 8 (Photo Credit: Scott Braddock)

Looking out from Camp 8 (Photo Credit: Scott Braddock)

An important part of our search was the time we spent at Camp 8. There’s something special about that single roomed building in the middle of nowhere. It’s not the fact that four JIRPers were sent up Mt. Moore for the seemingly useless purpose of radioing between camps that can’t actually hear each other, nor the white mold growing near your head while you sleep, nor the creepy voodoo doll of “Lucifer” hanging above the identically named furnace. And it’s certainly not the 70mph winds knocking you off your feet if you ever feel the need to venture outside. Although all of those things do add a certain uniqueness to the experience, there is something more profound that makes Camp 8 special.

Camp 8 is riddled with the reflections of years of JIRPers who had nothing but time to sit and think. Here is the place where you lose and find yourself, where you break from your usual existence to put on the cloak of another. Whether it be breaking from your inhibitions and sitting on the roof in 60 plus mph winds, drinking hot Tang in an age-old JIRP tradition, or basking in the glory of the view from Mt. Moore, not worried about how you’ll get down in those 60mph winds or other worldly obscurities. You can be happy for a few breaths because you just feel free, there in the moment.

An important part of our search was the time we spent at Camp 8. There’s something special about that single roomed building in the middle of nowhere. It’s not the fact that four JIRPers were sent up Mt. Moore for the seemingly useless purpose of radioing between camps that can’t actually hear each other, nor the white mold growing near your head while you sleep, nor the creepy voodoo doll of “Lucifer” hanging above the identically named furnace. And it’s certainly not the 70mph winds knocking you off your feet if you ever feel the need to venture outside. Although all of those things do add a certain uniqueness to the experience, there is something more profound that makes Camp 8 special.

Camp 8 is riddled with the reflections of years of JIRPers who had nothing but time to sit and think. Here is the place where you lose and find yourself, where you break from your usual existence to put on the cloak of another. Whether it be breaking from your inhibitions and sitting on the roof in 60 plus mph winds, drinking hot Tang in an age-old JIRP tradition, or basking in the glory of the view from Mt. Moore, not worried about how you’ll get down in those 60mph winds or other worldly obscurities. You can be happy for a few breaths because you just feel free, there in the moment.

Ella and Rachel at the top of Mt. Moore (Photo Credit: Scott Braddock)

Ella and Rachel at the top of Mt. Moore (Photo Credit: Scott Braddock)

On the moon, the Apollo astronauts had only each other and the distant view of their home. All of human experience lay before their eyes, and from a heavenly post they calmly observed. But they were not isolated from humankind; rather, they achieved fuller human experience in their shared serendipitous disconnect.

Camp 8 crew enjoying the sunset from the roof.  (Photo Credit: Scott Braddock)

Camp 8 crew enjoying the sunset from the roof.  (Photo Credit: Scott Braddock)

Here too, at Camp 8, we leave behind our society: the friends we’ve made and have grown close to on the Icefield. We may simply gaze upon the land where we’ve grown close to one another, separated by a ferocious void of wind and space. As we few at Camp 8 support each other in our isolation, we grow closer as human beings. When we return to the rest of JIRP from Camp 8, itself a microcosm of how JIRP relates to the rest of the world, we will return with the knowledge that splendid remoteness is as essential to survival as food, water, or air.

  Last night at Camp 8 (Photo Credit: Ella Keenan)

 

Last night at Camp 8 (Photo Credit: Ella Keenan)

Get Them to the Cache

Get them to the Cache

Joseph Wolf, Minnesota State University, Mankato

 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

From day 15 on the Juneau Icefield

 

            Trail Parties consisting of five to six students along with two staff members started their traverse to Camp 10 from Camp 17; two days and 23 miles in total.  The first day started at Camp 17 and finished at the Norris Cache.  This traverse was an obstacle course, full of both expected and unexpected challenges throughout. 

            Our journey started at 6:00 AM. Waking to the sounds of rain, we packed our 50 lbs. backpacks, made trail lunches of cheese, lettuce, and peanut butter sandwiches, two Snickers bars, and a half dozen granola bars, and ate a wholesome breakfast of oatmeal and peanut butter.  At 7:00 AM, we started our descent of the Camp 17 ridge, which lead to the Lemon Creek Glacier.  We started skiing down glacier until we were stopped by a large section of exposed blue ice.  At the blue ice we transitioned to crampons, metal spikes that strap around hiking boots.  This was one of the first years JIRP students had to crampon down the blue ice on the Lemon Creek Glacier due to the record breaking low snowfall this past winter.  Walking across the blue ice and weaving around open crevasses was an amazing experience.  A loose crampon had my nerves on edge and I watched each foot step carefully. 

Exposed Blue Ice on the Lemon Creek Glacier

Exposed Blue Ice on the Lemon Creek Glacier

When our trail party finished traversing the maze of blue ice, we started up the south facing slope of the Lemon Creek Glacier and then across the plateau of the Thomas Glacier. The weather was fierce--strong wind, thick fog and drizzling rain made it hard to see more than 10 yards in front of us.

 The next part of our journey had us boot packing up Nugget Ridge over loose rock to reach a safe snow patch where we would continue skiing.  There has been a light-hearted argument ongoing betweenfaculty member, Seth Campbell, and head safety staff , Ibai Rico, if we should call our journey up Nugget Ridge boot packing or simply, walking.  Seth Campbell is in support of “boot packing up Nugget Ridge”, while Ibai Rico is in support of “walking up Nugget Ridge.”  Keep in mind Seth Campbell has a Ph.D., teaches Wilderness First Aid classes, and is an avid mountaineer; Ibai Rico has a master’s and is a professional mountaineering guide in the Alps, Scandis, and the Himalayas. If you ask me, they’re the same thing. Just plain semantics.  

The next leg in our journey descended the Camp 13 slope.  With the white out conditions continuing, starting down the slope was becoming difficult while dodging deep crevasses. Our route was safely staked out by a couple of staff members a few days before.  Before this descent, the crevasses I have seen were never that wide or deep but the ones I saw here contained large holes the size of small houses, spider-webbed with snow bridges.  Two hours later, around 7 PM, the Camp 13 slope lead us into Death Valley, a wide-open flat plain of snow about 3 miles across.  This was not a difficult ski per se, but I needed to keep up my endurance, grit, and perseverance for this long ski and the following scramble up the Norris Icefall.  

In Death Valley, looking at the Norris Icefall in the distance

In Death Valley, looking at the Norris Icefall in the distance

The Norris Icefall was the toughest part of this whole traverse.  Our trail party arrived at the base of the icefall at 9 PM and had two hours left before we arrive at the Norris Cache, where tents and hot canned soup were waiting for us.  Annika Ord, one of our trail party leaders, stated we would have to be focused and give our full attention to the next mile.  Broken ice, full of large crevasses, and very narrow walking paths were waiting ahead of us.  A couple of times on the icefall, we had to walk on a thin patch of snow with deep crevasses on either side – very nerve-racking.  By the end of the trek through the icefall, we were alert and wide awake, even though we just spent the last 16 hours skiing and hiking through the most treacherous of terrain and weather conditions.

Our arrival at the Norris Cache was one of the best feelings I have experienced on JIRP.  To have completed the hardest portion of the 2 month traverse, was a great lifetime accomplishment – having never cross-country skied and having never experienced Southeast Alaska weather before this summer.

Looking onto the Camp 13 Slope leading to Death Valley.  From the vantage point of Norris Cache (All photographs taken by author)

Looking onto the Camp 13 Slope leading to Death Valley.  From the vantage point of Norris Cache

(All photographs taken by author)

Glaciology is Mathematics

Glaciology is Mathematics: The perspective of a master of mathematics student

James Headen, Elizabeth City State University

Panorama of Camp 10. Photo by author

Panorama of Camp 10. Photo by author

ʃ8xdx...2x²+2x²… 3a=12x², regardless of the equation, there exists an explicit solution (definition: a function expressing a solved relationship between variables). Although mathematics has its share of implicit solutions (definition: an unsolved relationship between variables), the solution still has a variation of some finite (definition: known value) equation. Glaciers on the other hand, have so many unknowns that solving or drawing near a conclusion can be overwhelming. And that is the exact reason I’m drawn to nature’s canvas. 

Sunset view looking westward from Camp 17. Photo by author.

Sunset view looking westward from Camp 17. Photo by author.

My background is strictly mathematics and physics, therefore any knowledge gained about glaciers is extremely new. I am a novice with any activity associated with glaciers and even using glacier terminology is unfamiliar. Such subjects as basal sliding, surface velocity or even measurements of movement uses an amazing quantity of mathematics. For instance, flux quantities are a mathematical representation of glacier movement. I enjoy observing the effects a simple derivative can have on glacier factors. For instance, constructing a simple differential equation with parameters such as height, length, gravity, and variables that represent changes in position interval exponents, produces a surface velocity at a specific point. Together, a motivated group of individuals and I are using these equations to create a cross-section model of the Taku Glacier. My portion focuses on using differential equations, the Pythagorean Theorem and GPS coordinates to extract surface velocity for specific points. Every day is the perfect balance of lab time with your project team and field time to experience the JIRP tradition. 

Representation of velocity flow along a glacier surface

Representation of velocity flow along a glacier surface

Originally, I felt my mathematics would be put in the back corner during the length of the program, but I have experienced quite the opposite. Consequently, I can honestly say JIRP has a little bit of something for everyone. Whether it’s the mathematics student, the biology student, the programmer or even the outdoor enthusiast, each interest has life here at JIRP. 

Mathematics is everywhere……even at camp 18. Photo by author.

Mathematics is everywhere……even at camp 18. Photo by author.

But can math really answer the deep questions of the icefield? My honest answer is YES!!

To understand the icefield requires mathematics. Math helps us understand glacier behaviors. In understanding the movement of glaciers, we can track possible areas of crevasses and map the general topography. Knowing these characteristics will increase safety for future exploration.

Mathematics helps us understand how climate impacts glaciers and in turn helps us understand how glacier change influences downstream ecosystems. Nature is math. To understand nature, we create mathematical representations (also known as models) to describe and predict its cycles. Through this we can prepare for future changes in our environments.

So to the aspiring JIRPmaticians, math lives here on the icefield!