All Good Things Must Come to an End

by: Natalie Raia, The University of Texas at Austin

Portable JIRP Blog, this is Portable Natalie conducting her two-month post-JIRP check-in.

            Exactly two months ago, 33 students solemnly, groggily departed from University of Alaska-Southeast housing. We were returning to family, friends, school, modern conveniences, and once-familiar, but now seemingly foreign lifestyles. Today, I sit on a plane bound for the Geological Society of America conference in Vancouver, where many JIRPers will be gathering to present the research products from our summer on the icefield.

            Now, our last blog entry leaves us packing up a charter bus in Atlin, and though many of you may now have heard stories from JIRPers you know, or have been through the journey yourself, Id like to fill in the gaps of those final, turbulent, poignant days.

            August 15th: We departed Camp 30 in Atlin, B.C. and took a scenic drive to Skagway, AK. We waited in Skagway for the ferry to Juneau. How bizarre it was to walk confined to sidewalks streaming with tourists, to stand in the ferry station surrounded by fluorescent lights, and to hear the voices of relatives on the phone. Looking at fellow JIRPers glazed, wide-eyed faces, it was apparent that I was not the only one who was overwhelmed by the sudden shift in environment. Boarding the ferry, JIRP overtook the solarium on the top deck, and settled in for the ~5-hour ferry ride with our sleeping bags. The rainy weather cleared (its burning off!) as we proceeded down the Inside Passage. Soon, sleeping bag sumo wars, ballroom dance lessons, and general JIRP revelry filled the upper deck, to the entertainment of the occasional non-JIRP passerby. All too soon, that glorious ride ended as dusk settled and we docked in Juneau. Wrestling our gear onto school buses (again, much to the amusement of passerby wondering precisely what we could possibly be doing with skis in August!), we returned to University of Alaska Southeast housing.  Dorm mattresses had never seemed so luxurious! Truly, we were coming full circle, and going home.

JIRP overtakes the top deck of the ferry from Skagway to Juneau.  Photo by Natalie Raia

JIRP overtakes the top deck of the ferry from Skagway to Juneau.  Photo by Natalie Raia

            August 16th arrived. Like a point in the horizon that the safety staff swore was Camp such and such on a traverse, August 16th had always been a day way off in the future, something hazy that never really seemed to be getting close until all of a sudden, you arrive. Well, that final day began with JIRPers pretending to go about business as usual. I wrote a plan of the day in my journalas usual; we had cereal at the pavilionas usual; we even had morning announcements and work detailsas usual. Nevertheless, this was anything BUT a usual day. After practicing presentations in the morning, we went on one last hikeappropriately, to John Muir's cabin. The day passed in a dizzying blur of science, meals, and trails through the woods, and soon I found myself on a bus headed back to Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center. In an all-too-fitting fashion, a misting rain descended on Juneau as we gathered to complete our one last task.

One final hike to John Muir's Cabin.  Photo by Natalie Raia

One final hike to John Muir's Cabin.  Photo by Natalie Raia

            I think I had an unshakable grin on my face the entire presentation. It was impossible to not be moved, proud, and content to watch and listen to my JIRP family talk about their hard work and passions. I looked upon the face of each person I had lived with, learned from, worked through challenges with, and come to respect and appreciate to the utmost extent. As I sat in the audience, I reveled in the fact that I could count myself in this group of remarkable, eclectic people. The atmosphere was loose and it was obvious that JIRPers (and the audience) were having fun recounting the summers activities. And then it was overI distinctly remember boarding the bus and Princes 1999 was playing on the radioin some sense, the perfect songupbeat and celebratory, but the lyrics tell a slightly darker story about endings, about running out of time.

            Sleep is for the weak was the unofficial motto from there on out! With just hours left (shout out to the 4 am departure crew!), we attempted to bring some sort of closure to a two-month, perspective-altering ordeal. Ha. Good luck! JIRP awards, a final video, and a well-written rap closed out the evening as people drifted about saying goodbyes and trying to maximize every minute left.

            Dawn.

            No more mass balance pits. No more sunset skis. No more tan line contests. No more wet socks and sun-screened faces. No more Pilot Bread with peanut butter and brown sugar. No more glacier dragons. No more Science! No more icefield. And just one traverse left: the traverse without a trail party, the traverse no one tells you aboutthe hardest traverse of all.

            Somehow two months had passed, and this bizarre, beautiful social experiment (Hey, lets throw 30+ complete strangers together and have them live in confined spaces in the middle of an icefield under less than ideal conditions!) was at an end. Through quietly irrepressible tears that surprised this normally reserved author as the plane took off from Juneau, I was left with a singular line of questioning: How? How does this social experiment succeed? What is the secret of JIRPs transformative power in the lives of generations of young, aspiring scientists? How?

            The largest part of the answer involves the development of the program under Dr. Miller and his wife, JoanI am convinced. Their lifes work and legacy live on not only in the incredibly valuable scientific record JIRP produces, but also in the alumni and people who return year after year because it is such a transformative program. The second part of the answer is the students. The experience succeeds because JIRP assembles a group of diverse individuals from all corners of the U.S. and beyond. Despite our individuality, I thought about the common core values we necessarily share, and Id like to describe some of them briefly.

            We are dreamers. We dream of a healthier planetone in which our own human footprint is reduced. We dream of graduate school, of careers in engineering, environmental science, geology, and the list goes on. We dream of lives lived close to and in harmony with nature. Lives lived deliberately, surrounded by people we care about. We are dreaming.

            We are seekers. A never-ending thirst for knowledge drives us forward. Always searching for new ways to examine our beliefs, change our perspectives, and expand our horizons. We aim to learn from each person we meet.  We seek out and celebrate their best qualities. We are seeking.

            We are explorers. Testing our physical limits, pushing the bounds of our comfort zone, we never stop moving and never settle. Every new corner must be rounded, for we know that around each bend lies a new adventure, a new way to reinvent and reimagine ourselves and the world we live in. We are exploring.

            And finally, we are free spirits. Each JIRPer brought a unique addition to the summer. Artists, musicians, writers, singers, dancers, athletes, thinkers, and outdoorsmen (and women!) abound. We are compassionate characters, possessing a delicate sensitivity coupled with extremely tough mental faculties and willpower. We are soaring.

Kelly Hughes takes an incredible sunset above the Gilkey Trench.  Photo by Natalie Raia

Kelly Hughes takes an incredible sunset above the Gilkey Trench.  Photo by Natalie Raia

            The bruises and blisters have healed. Clothes have been washed (I hope!). Photos shared. Departing tears have dried. But memories prevailStep, step, stepping up the Ptarmigan. Prusiking on July 4th, surrounded by delightful pandemonium. Aching through the snow at 3:23 am. Kick, step. Kick, step. Stark red, white, and blue waving in front of resolute Towers and miles of dazzling white snow. The ping of shovels striking scientific gold. Kick, glide. Kick, glide. Haunting silence in a cavernous crevasse. The joyous laughter on sunny days. Swish. Swishcrunch. Marmot calls and gurgling glacial streams pointing down, down. Step. Step. Step. During our last radio contact with the icefield, a catch in the strongest voice does me in: “…going clear. The unsaid phrase, for the last time, hangs in the air. A single tear escapes me, for as she packs away the disassembled radio, the thunderous icefield is silenced. The Icefield. Perched on the hill, turning my back on that staggering, immense place. One last, fleeting glancequickly, quickly, the trees are swallowing us. Will I ever return? Rain strikes still waters in that pristine inlet, disrupted by the inconvenient arrival of civilization. Wonderful wind whistles on that massive, open deck, sweeping us closer, closer to the end. The End. A new kind of deep-rooted ache, stamping memories on my heart that read, Delivered via Icefield. Delivered via JIRP. Yes, memories prevail.

            And so, with the tenor of life permanently, beautifully disrupted, we carry on. Step, step, stepping. Never settling, never stopping, always fulfilling that Emersonian ideal: Books. Nature. Action.

            We are dreamers. We are seekers.

            We are explorers. We are free spirits.

            Now and forevermore, we are JIRPers.

All good things must come to an end. And through this end, all is well. Mighty fine, mighty fine.

JIRP 2014, going clear.

For the last time.

The sun rises through the clouds on the last day at Camp 17.  Photo by Natalie Raia

The sun rises through the clouds on the last day at Camp 17.  Photo by Natalie Raia


Our Time In Atlin

By: Danielle Beaty, University of Colorado Boulder


Emotions were high as I stepped off the boat onto the docks in Atlin. For one thing, the sun shone brightly on the newly showered faces (some people were even wearing jeans which was a shocking sight) of all the people I had missed the last couple of days. I ran to them (which proved to be difficult considering my legs were so sore from the previous day’s traverse) and there were hugs all around. The sadness I had felt toward leaving the icefield was replaced by my excitement about being together again in such a beautiful little town. After a quick passport check from the mounties, Luc greeted me with a box of freshly picked flowers, berries and scones, and then I threw my gear down hoping I could eat some scones and relax for a bit. Mary was quick to gather my trail party, however, and give us a camp tour of the place. The final camp we stayed in was an old hospital building, and the rooms were quite eerie so most people opted to sleep out on the docks. I preferred this anyway, because we were there during a meteor shower. That first day I did laundry, showered, explored the small town of Atlin (I was startled every time a car drove by), lounged on the docks, went thrift shopping to buy clothes for our JIRP Thanksgiving celebration, and enjoyed fresh food which was such a treat. That night the sky was clear, and we enjoyed a meteor shower on the docks until our tiredness overtook us. 

The best sleeping spots around (Photo: Alex Mischler).

The best sleeping spots around (Photo: Alex Mischler).

The next day was a bit rainy, which gave my group an opportunity to finalize our project presentation. Afterwards, while most of us were out goofing around (eating ice cream, skipping rocks, roller skating, playing on a play structure, dancing in the street) Maya, Kurt and some staff prepared a phenomenal Thanksgiving meal, complete with turkey, stuffing, two kinds of gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, fresh baked bread, corn, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and apple pie.

Tristan and Luc skating around town (Photo: Laurissa Christie).

Tristan and Luc skating around town (Photo: Laurissa Christie).

The first serving of many more to come (Photo: Laurissa Christe). 

The first serving of many more to come (Photo: Laurissa Christe). 

Luc, Laurissa, Danielle, Lindsey, and Kate after Thanksgiving dinner (Photo: Laurissa Christe). 

Luc, Laurissa, Danielle, Lindsey, and Kate after Thanksgiving dinner (Photo: Laurissa Christe). 


The next day was presentation day, so we all practiced giving our presentations to one another, and gave each other feedback. I was very impressed by all the hard work everyone had put in this summer. There were several people on cookie duty, which meant preparing tons of cookies for the townspeople to enjoy. After dinner, we all walked a few blocks to the Atlin Rec Center. Everyone really took the feedback from earlier in the day to heart, as I thought the presentations had improved tremendously. I was very proud of my fellow JIRPers. After everyone had shared their research, I stuck around talking to the locals. Everyone I met was very passionate about the work JIRP does, and many of them had been coming to the JIRP presentations for 10, 20, even 30 years. It was great to know our summer’s work was appreciated. After dinner, I walked back to camp and the realization that JIRP was coming to a close really hit me hard. I wasn’t ready to accept that the next day we would leave behind the quaint town of Atlin to head to Juneau. I was nervous for the culture shock of being in a big town full of people I didn’t know, where not showering for two months or dressing in JIRP style would be scoffed. We spent one final night on the docks, then packed up and boarded a bus after one last final group photo.

Tristan killin' his presentation (Photo: Laurissa Christie). 

Tristan killin' his presentation (Photo: Laurissa Christie). 

Everyone joins the group photo before leaving Atlin (Photo: Alex Mischler)

Everyone joins the group photo before leaving Atlin (Photo: Alex Mischler)





The Final Traverse

By: Melissa “Luna” Brett, Radford University

Saying goodbye to Camp 26 with a view of the medial moraine we used as the first part of our trail, and a view of Atlin Lake in the distance (Photo by: Maya Smith)

Saying goodbye to Camp 26 with a view of the medial moraine we used as the first part of our trail, and a view of Atlin Lake in the distance (Photo by: Maya Smith)

The last few minutes at camp 26 were spent with a handful of rock samples, turning each one and weighing them in either hand, carefully deciding which couldn’t be lived without and which were too heavy to carry on the long and icy journey ahead. With a pack full of the “can’t live without pile” and an empty “too heavy to carry pile”, I set out with our trail party across the immense Llewellyn Glacier. The weather was cold and sprinkling, but staying on the move kept everyone warm as we quietly walked along the medial moraine watching the sunrise.

“The Great Blue Landscape of my Wildest Dreams” (Photo by: Elizabeth “Lizzie” Kenny)

The Great Blue Landscape of my Wildest Dreams (Photo by: Elizabeth Lizzie Kenny)

The sun was fighting the gray sky, casting long and sharp shadows into every corner of my vision. The crunch of crampons under our feet and the whipping wind was all that could be heard at first, and all around was the lonely morning light illuminating the colorful, sharp peaks jutting from their ice covered feet. Small meandering streams trickled along atop the glacier, joining forces as wild rivers, drilling deep and roaring holes down into the dark blue depths of the glaciers’ heart. Some places were as clear as glass, with a colorful variety of sediments locked in place, others areas were filled with a variety of stripes and swirls of every shade of blue imaginable, and everywhere there was a sense of slow and steady change. Giant, unimaginably deep crevasses were all around, and we slowly made our way through the groaning maze toward the lake and beyond the mountains ahead.

The journey takes us beyond ourselves, and into another world (Photo by: Elizabeth “Lizzie” Kenny).

The journey takes us beyond ourselves, and into another world (Photo by: Elizabeth Lizzie Kenny).

One last step and the ice would be behind us. I stood there for a second, looking ahead to the outwash plain, and then over my shoulder, looking back not just to the blue ice behind me, not just to the long challenging weeks on the icefield, but back at all the things that brought me here; all the hard work, all the risks, all the right choices and all the wrong ones. All the people who have helped me along, all the times I looked out the window and didn’t go, and all the times I opened the door and left. They were all there with me, and with a deep and satisfying breath, I wiped the tears from my face, turned and stepped off the ice. With an exciting strength the group hiked on, through rocks and sediment of every shape, size and color imaginable. Chatting with each other to make the time pass we moved swiftly through the quickly changing landscape, through a variety of ecosystems with their exciting and forgotten scents. Trees! Beautiful trees and shrubs creeping in around us until we were fighting our way through, which isn’t an easy task with new blisters and tall skis sticking out from the tops of our packs, but the sound of laughter and encouraging words kept the group going.

Trees! Finally back to the land of plants (Photo by: Elizabeth “Lizzie” Kenny)!

Trees! Finally back to the land of plants (Photo by: Elizabeth “Lizzie” Kenny)!

Dry boots were a thing of the past once we hit the marsh, and people were just tromping through creeks now with reckless abandon. Beaver dams, lynx and bear tracks, birds and squirrels were all welcoming signs that the Atlin Lake inlet was near! One last break on top of the ridge with a view of the now far-off glacier, one last group picture full of smiles and pride, one last hoist of the overstuffed and heavy packs, and on we went, dropping down into the woods. The forest was like a good long hug from an old friend, deep green pines, bright green mosses, the sound of water and wind through the aspen leaves, all so familiar. The last few steps brought us to the shore of the lake, and in that moment we had crossed the Juneau Icefield, traversed from Juneau to Atlin inlet on what will always be for many of us, the greatest journey of our lifetime.  

The team says one last goodbye to the Juneau Icefield (Photo By: Matt Pickart)!

The team says one last goodbye to the Juneau Icefield (Photo By: Matt Pickart)!

Connecting Glaciology, Hydrology, and Ecology on the Juneau Icefield

By: Kim Quesnel, Stanford University; Lindsey Gulbrandsen, State University of New York, Oneonta; and Laurissa Christie, University of Guelph


Since the main focus of JIRP fieldwork is mass balance (digging snow pits to determine the annual health of the glacier), the hydrology group decided to examine the relationship between mass balance and stream flow on the Lemon Creek and Taku glaciers. Both glaciers have historic mass balance data and also feed into United States Geological Survey (USGS) gaged streams, giving us two datasets to use in our analysis. Additionally, we will also be using meteorological data (temperature and precipitation) in our models.

Laurissa cores a sample of snow in the mass balance pit. 

Laurissa cores a sample of snow in the mass balance pit. 

The goal of our project is to examine the fluxes in glacial accumulation and ablation and to determine the impact of changing glacier dynamics on downstream ecosystems (both terrestrial and marine) which are dependent on glacial melt water. For example, salmon habitats require specific streamflow and sediment conditions to spawn, and changes due to accelerated melt may impact their habitat and breeding environments. We are excited to see different relationships between all of the variables, and we are waiting to get back to our respective universities to continue to analyze data.

Kim looks at a supraglacial stream.

Kim looks at a supraglacial stream.

French Alex, Kim, Laurissa, and Natalie measuring a stream.

French Alex, Kim, Laurissa, and Natalie measuring a stream.

In addition to looking at the overarching hydrology of icefield, we also took several field trips while we were at Camp 26 to look at the water features in the ablation zone. We mapped hydrologic features, looked at the evolution of supraglacial streams, and explored ice caves under the Llewellyn glacier. 

The hydrology group! Laurissa, Kim, Lindsey, and Carrie.

The hydrology group! Laurissa, Kim, Lindsey, and Carrie.


Geobotany and Entomology on the Juneau Icefield

by Polly Bass, University of Alaska, Anchorage, Matanuska Susitna College

Today I am at camp 18 above the Vaughan Llewis Icefall and Gilkey Trench.  Some of the objectives of the geobotanical and biological sciences research group this summer include: Continued monitoring of permanent vegetation quadrats; Evaluation, retrieval and redeployment of temperature data loggers at some of the permanent plots; Investigation of possible invasive species at C18; evaluation of Saxifraga sp. found on the Mount Moore nunatak in 2013, re-evaluation of an observed Taraxacum sp., and investigation of a Draba sp. not before seen on the icefield nunataks. Work at camp eight on Mt. Moore revealed a second species of Saxifrage present. The two Saxifraga members are the only vascular species observed and recorded on Mt. Moore during the relatively long history of JIRP.  The vascular plants on Mt. Moore were found to inhabit a specific geological dike of fissile aphinitic intrusive igneous mafic composition.

Polly Bass leads the JIRPers on a geobotanical field lecture at Camp 10.

Polly Bass leads the JIRPers on a geobotanical field lecture at Camp 10.

Grasses are being collected for a collaborative project with Saewan Koh at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Saewan is exploring the relationship between the Neotyphodium ungus in grasses, and grazing by herbivores. In the Ruby Range of the Yukon Territory, the presence of the fungus has been identified as a deterrent to grazing. Poaceae family members and, in particular, Festuca genus members were collected at several sites to determine if the observed influence of the fungus on the forb impacts grazing across a latitudinal gradient.

Sean Schofield from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has joined us to continue the investigation of Nebria lituyae and N. nivalis, two species of Arctic/alpine beetles. Dave Kavanaugh began an investigation of Nebria sp. in the Paradise Valley region of the icefield in 2012. In 2013, student, Ben Slavin collected Nebria at several nunatak sites for Sean Schofields research. This year, Sean is expanding on Bens work to include more sites. He is interested in understanding the distribution of the species across the icefield nunataks, and how the species migrated to the sites. He will also explore the adjacent environs. Additional collections and observations were made adjacent to the icefield in the Mt. Roberts and Mt. Gastineau areas. Future work will benefit from further collaborative field efforts between the geobotanical and entomological research groups. These joint efforts will strive to correlate habitat, substrate, and microclimate variables influencing the presence and absence of icefield flora and microfauna.

Phyllodoce glanduliflora on the icefield.  photo by Alex Micheler

Phyllodoce glanduliflora on the icefield.  photo by Alex Micheler

JIRPers gather around during the geobotanical lecture.

JIRPers gather around during the geobotanical lecture.