GPS Surveying

by: Kurt Powell

730am. Wake up call. I roll over to go back to sleep in an attempt to restore as much energy as possible before another day on the icefield begins.

745am. Someone’s alarm screams beside my ear. I roll over again in hope to regain my necessary slumbers.

755am. My alarm calls to me. I rise gleefully, knowing that by the time I arrive at the Cookshack, the breakfast line will be near empty, so I won’t have to wait for food. It’s a great start to a rainy day at C-17.

Promptly after smooshing into a packed table and eating a couple of spoonfuls of hot peanut butter oatmeal, Annie, the camp manager, calls out “Goood Mooorning”. We respond with a weary good morning as we have only finished a quarter of our coffees. Daily shout outs to the cook with resounding applause are heard from outside of the camp, today’s agenda and work details are quickly stated – today we are doing science. This is exciting as safety training has been successfully completed as of yesterday, and we are all ready for this new adventure of doing science. Probing, mass balance pit digging and GPS surveying are available to everyone’s excitement; we all become a little more eager despite the fact that our coffees are now only half drank. Annie announces all the assistant GPS surveyors have already been selected as the JIRPers whose first names start with the letter K; Kim, Kirsten, Kelly and Kurt. My name starts with a K! Thrilled, finally science is about to occur, science that mysterious thing that we have travelled so far for, I am about to do this thing called science and GPS surveying.

Shortly after finishing my meal, everyone is about to start their second coffee and the morning conversation picks-up, the buzz of excitement from today’s agenda flows into the conversation, people slowly begin to file out as time moves on. I make my way to my sleeping quarters to gather my daily materials.

1025am. We all meet in the staff shack as Scott and the German Surveyors, Martin and Paul, pull out the equipment that the team will be carrying for the rest of the day- a tarnished yellow bag with black alloy structure supporting the antenna, a controller, and a circular GPS unit node on a tall metal rod. They briefly explain the logistics of the system – find the spot, press buttons, move on, done. We divide into two teams to discuss how and what points of the Lemon Creek Glacier we will survey. We will be traveling by skis along lines of latitude measuring pre-arranged points every fifty meters or so.  This is done in order to find the glacier’s snow depths. Kelly and I throw on our personal packs with the teams’ lunches packed inside, and Kirsten and Kim throw on the GPS backpacks. Raining more heavily now than early today, I feel that today will be amazing and we make our way down to the glacier.

1045am. With our skis strapped on, both teams head south making their way to the first locations. Martin begins to explain to Kirsten and I how to use the controller, a few swift button pushes and we arrive at the home screen. We select the point in which we want to measure, travel to it, locate the measuring point within a 50cm radius, press measure to send a signal to the satellites to ratify our measurement, alter a setting to show that we have measured this specific point and move on to the next point. Shortly after Kirsten nails her first point within a few centimeters, we move on and ski into the rain.

Paul teaches Kirsten how to use the survey equipment

Paul teaches Kirsten how to use the survey equipment

 

In a short matter of time Kirsten is hitting every surveying point within a few very short minutes with wicked accuracy. As we cross beside Lake Linda and begin to ascend its mountain side, she hits her points and we travel north along the farthest reach of the glacier.

While Kirsten surveys, Martin and I ski behind chatting about the EU and the status of Germany post-2008, the cost of the equipment, his part-ownership in his surveying company and how he has been a part of JIRP for the past nine years.

Skiing along the mountain-side, the group begins to separate with the oncoming white out and intensifying rain storm. Feeling the distance grow between us, the gradient of the mountain side amplifies and I begin to realize that I am not as confident in my skiing ability as I once thought. Stopping and looking down, I stare at potentially steep fall downward, a blanket of white covers all that I see below, gusts of wind cause me to teeter side to side, the rain begins to seep into my jacket with its cold jaws clamping around side. One moment passes into another, and dazed, I think to myself that I could seriously get hurt here…  pausing yet again, I take a deep breath.  I stride forward attempting to catch-up to my team as I have fallen even further behind, the cold following closely behind me.

Kelly taking measurements on the Lemon Creek glacier

Kelly taking measurements on the Lemon Creek glacier

 

Quick elongated strides allow me to close the gap, the cold fades away, and we reconnect at the end of the mountainside.  Relieved, we ski down a less steep hill side to group together to enjoy lunch – JIRPs famous peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches.

Swapping packs with Kirsten, I begin to orientate myself with the cardinal directions and punch the first settings into the controller. Hopefully I will be as quick as Kirsten.  Beep…Beep, the controller received its coordinates from the responding satellites, I step forward, Martin and Kirsten follow closely behind me. Striding forward I am within two meters of the point of measurement, I stop and inch my way forward still, the screen on the controller flashes to show a display of my location as an X and my point within 50 cm as a large zero. I fiddle with the tall rod trying to place it correctly, one step this way, no the other way, no back again, damn – my frustration begins to build, all while Martin and Kirsten patiently wait for me to work it out.

Some five minutes later I feel satisfied with my work, I send off the coordinates, and I am finished my first point. My second point is quicker, third more efficient. My confidence grows, perhaps I’m not as fast as Kirsten, but I am capable.

The hours fade away just as the cold wind blows past us, and the afternoon slips away without hesitation until I arrive at my last few points. I notify the group that I am feeling relieved, and even victorious as we have finished this quest to acquire snow depth of Lemon Creek glacier! Martin looks at me with a kind smile and we turn to ski towards camp.

Survey crew Paul, Kim, and Kelly pose in the middle of a cloudy Camp 17

Survey crew Paul, Kim, and Kelly pose in the middle of a cloudy Camp 17

?:?? pm. Cold, wet, sweaty, tired, hungry, I have lost track of time, it been a full day. From the bottom of camp I look up at the cook shack with icy, wet, dripping skies on my shoulder and I can only hope that there will be some food left for me, I don’t care if there is a line anymore.

Special thanks to the GPS crew, JIRP coordinators, fellow students, my family and especially my editor in Windsor for making all of this happen – its been a life changing ride.

The Gang Builds a Hot Tub

by Lindsey Gulbrandsen, State University of New York at Oneonta

On July 12th I arrived at Camp 10 along with thirteen others after an unforgettably cold and wet two-day traverse. After a brief recovery period, we all quickly adjusted to life at C10. Unfortunately, we brought the wet and windy Camp 17 weather with us. While we waited for the other trail parties and our science equipment to arrive, we filled our time with laundry, lectures and cribbage. By the fourth day in camp with no other trail party arrivals we had gotten more creative with our ways to occupy time. After a brief think tank session on nunatak hot tub logistics we were ready to begin construction. We carefully chose a location below the water supply for the tub. The crew spent several hours moving rocks to build up the tub walls, and then attempted to channelize the melt water along garbage bags and tarps. To maximize comfort in the hot tub, we lined the rock walls with moss and installed several rock slab seats beneath the tarp. After a few hours of construction, we sat back and relaxed in the tub while it filled.

Admiring our work.  Photo by Emily Stevenson

Admiring our work.  Photo by Emily Stevenson

All that the tub was missing was a swim up bar, some jets and maybe some clean hot water. It was an amazing day with great people and great views.

Enjoying the views.  From left:  Zach, Luc, Lindsey, and Laurissa.  Photo by Emily Stevenson

Enjoying the views.  From left:  Zach, Luc, Lindsey, and Laurissa.  Photo by Emily Stevenson

After spending 7+ hours sunbathing in our mud puddle we hiked down the rocks to greet the incoming trail party. Being reunited was the perfect end to another great day out on the icefield.

Photo by Saskia Gindraux

Photo by Saskia Gindraux

The Wet Traverse: Adventures of Trail Party 1

by Elizabeth Kenny, Bowdoin College

After over a week of safety training, it was finally time to traverse to Camp 10. Everyone was excited to see a new part of the icefield. We waited in anticipation for a helicopter to come in and transport some of our gear to Camp 10 so that select staffers could open camp before we arrived. There was a days delay due to the weather, but the following day at 5 in the morning the first trail party (Kirsten, Lindsey, Elias, Luc, Alex Z, and I along with safety staff Zach and Jon) was off. It was a perfect morning, with blue sky and amazing snow conditions for skiing!

Kirsten, Elias, and Alex beginning the traverse.  Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

Kirsten, Elias, and Alex beginning the traverse.  Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

Excitement was high as we rapidly made our way down the Lemon Creek Glacier towards an area where the snow had melted away, revealing beautiful blue glacier ice. As it was a bit slippery, we took off our skis and slowly crossed.

Crossing the ice on the Lemon Creek glacier.  Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

Crossing the ice on the Lemon Creek glacier.  Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

Looking back on the Lemon Creek glacier.  Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

Looking back on the Lemon Creek glacier.  Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

However, as we began our ascent of Nugget Ridge, ominous clouds began to move in from Juneau. As we split into two four-man rope teams in order to safely cross a crevasse zone, the storm was drawing nearer. It soon became so socked in that you could hardly see the person in front of you on the rope. As the first party, we were responsible for setting a safe track for the following trail parties. This proved to be a difficult task, and we ended up going in a very large loop, spending nearly two hours skiing roped up. The rain was coming down harder and the wind was picking up as we made our way down the other side of the ridge.

Roped up while making our way through a crevasse zone in a white out.  Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

Roped up while making our way through a crevasse zone in a white out.  Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

This was the type of weather we had been hoping to avoid. Had we known that it was coming, we probably would not have started our traverse that day. However, weather on the icefield is unpredictable. At that point our only option was to continue on to a cache that had been set up to support our night of camping on the glacier. It was slow going as we made our way across Death Valley in the rain, with sun cups on the snow significantly restricting our progress. Finally we reached the Norris Icefall, our last obstacle before the cache. Not one item of clothing was dry as we roped up once again, but we did so quickly in an effort to keep everyone warm. After reaching the top of the icefall, it was a short ski to the cache, where we were finally able to stop for the night. After almost 15 hours on the trail everyone was exhausted, so after a quick dinner of chili it was off to bed. The second trail party arrived at camp shortly after us, equally wet and tired.

                  Unfortunately, the tents we had were no match for the pouring rain outside. The next morning the majority of us woke up just as wet, if not wetter, than we had been the night before. It was still raining, and once again poor visibility prevented us from seeing any of the surrounding icefield. We learned that the next trail parties decided not to head out that day due to the weather, but once again, we had no choice but to power on. After scarfing down some oatmeal and hot chocolate, both groups began to travel together on the last stretch of the traverse. It felt like we were on a white treadmill, with nothing visible except for the skiers in front of us. Despite the cold and rain, everyone remained in relatively high spirits. The day was long and tiring, but just when we thought we couldn’t go any farther, Camp 10 appeared through the fog!

Camp 10 finally appearing! Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

Camp 10 finally appearing! Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

Cheers of excitement arose as we made our way to the base of the nunatak. The short climb to camp felt like quite an ordeal after skiing so much for the past two days, but at least we were finally there. Wet clothes were quickly shed and hung up to dry as we moved into our new bunks, and after a warm and filling dinner followed by a quick camp tour, we could finally rest at our new home. This traverse was a classic example of Type B fun on the icefield – it may not have been fun while we were doing it, but it is certainly something we will never forget.

Learning to Ski

by Randall

During the first week at Camp 17, we spent the majority of our time learning all the skills necessary to cross the Juneau Icefield, including everything from tying knots and crevasse rescue to to  ski practice. JIRPers come from all over, so skiing ability varies greatly. Some people have never stepped into skis in their entire life, while others are powerful alpine skiers or graceful tele-skiers. Needless to say, ski practice was hilarious and there was non-stop carnage. The first day was full of yard-sales, blood, sweat, and tears.

Ski practice on the Lemon Creek glacier

Ski practice on the Lemon Creek glacier

The former alpine skiers are now in tele set-ups, which is like learning a foreign language. Soft leather boots and free heels make for squirrelly skiing when you’re not used to it. A few of the staffers, are dedicated and experienced tele-skiers (including the JIRP director, Dr. Jeff Kavanaugh, who is probably the best tele-skier on the glacier… and the one with the biggest ego).  They have demonstrated the skill and finesse necessary to execute a proper tele turn. After a week of ski practice, everyone can competently ski down any intermediate slope.

Fortunately, there is no lack of ski slopes at Camp 17. Fifty feet to the east of camp is the Lemon Creek Glacier, which offers an excellent bunny slope to start working on pizza-french fry transitions. To the west is the Ptarmigan Glacier (also known as the “Gnarmigan”), a much more formidable slope.  It’s steep and covers about 1000 vertical feet. At age 79, Alf Pinchak skis the Ptarmigan every morning before anyone else even wakes up, making all us youths feel lazy.

Looking down the "Gnarmigan" glacier

Looking down the "Gnarmigan" glacier

                  As a die-hard snowboarder, looking around at the lines on the surrounding peaks is a bit tantalizing. I haven’t skied in six years so I’m way out of my element stepping into two planks rather than one. Hills that would have been like a walk in a park on a snowboard now seem like gigantic mountains and I spend half the day falling and getting back up. At the end of ski practice, I’m usually soaked to the bone with snow filling every bit of clothing I’m wearing. That said; it’s definitely fun to be learning something all over again.

 Now that we are all feeling somewhat comfortable in the tele set-ups, most afternoons consist of ski practice on the Ptarmigan (weather dependent). It’s a great way to practice turns when the day’s activities are done. Along the ridge where the Ptarmigan starts, there are various lines down, some steep and some shallow, which allows for skiers of all levels to practice.

Alf Pinchak (age 79) on the right carrying his skies to the Lemon Creek Glacier while a student struggles to get up.

Alf Pinchak (age 79) on the right carrying his skies to the Lemon Creek Glacier while a student struggles to get up.

French Alex, Hannah, and Kim during ski practice on the Ptarmigan on a beautiful day

French Alex, Hannah, and Kim during ski practice on the Ptarmigan on a beautiful day

Notes from a JIRP Alum

by Jay Ach

As a JIRP alum, returning for the first time since 1973 and 1975, I am struck by the similarities to what I remember from some 40 years ago.

Weather has kept us at Camp 17 for longer than expected, so I can only judge from past and present Camp 17 experiences.  The infrastructure here is almost identical; some buildings have been changed or extended to a small degree, but it’s all immediately recognizable.  Certainly on this side of the Icefield, the weather has not improved over the decades.  All field parties were supposed to be in Camp 10 by now, or at least well on their way.  Instead, two parties that left in a brief spell of good weather are completing their two day traverse to Camp 10 today, while all others are holed up at Camp 17, waiting out horizontal rain driven by 50+ MPH winds.  The new flag raised over the camp two weeks ago has been blown to shredded tatters.

Student spirits are far from tattered, however.  Days of comprehensive glacier travel training, including knot tying, belaying, prussiking, self-arresting, building crevasse rescue systems, and learning or improving cross-country and telemark skiing transformed a group of students from new acquaintances to a group of competent scientist/mountaineers constantly on the lookout for each other.  Staff personnel is, of course 100% different from when I was here before, but exhibit the same awesome degree of competence leavened with abundant irreverence that I experienced as a student.  The last two days of being all but confined indoors in a couple of small buildings due to inclement weather would cause any normal group of strangers to go bonkers.  Given the sense of team that has formed, though, spirits have stayed incredibly upbeat and the tremendous good humor and frequent bouts of hilarity have been wonderful.

The sense of group, of being a team on an expedition, and watching out for the good of the group as opposed to one’s own self-interest, was one of my most enduring life lessons from my previous JIRP experiences.  It is great to see that the same lessons are still being transmitted to students decades after my own experiences as a JIRP student.

The science is still way cool too . . .