Not-So-Academic JIRP Lessons

Auri Clark

University of Puget Sound

Coming into this program as a biochemistry major, I have been busy absorbing many academic topics completely foreign to me, including photogrammetry, sedimentology, and glacier mass balance. During the last three weeks on the icefield, I have also been busy learning many important skills and random facts unique to the JIRP experience:

1.  Counterintuitive to your first instinct, always pick the bed with the most nails sticking out of the walls around you. You may regret this decision momentarily when you hook your pants on one trying to climb out of your bunk early in the morning or when you roll around in the middle of the night and feel one poke you in the back, but I promise these minor setbacks are worth it. It is difficult staying organized when you are living out of a backpack. If you want to be able to find your clean pair of socks among all of your stuff (and the clothing of the 20 other girls you’re sharing sleeping quarters with) after a long day of skiing, as well as have a place to hang your wet ones inside, you want as many nails as you can get.

2.  There are only two ways to wake up after setting your sleeping bag and bivy out on the rocks on a beautiful night. You might think that sleeping outside means falling asleep under the stars and waking up to a beautiful sunrise next to the Taku Towers, slowly sitting up to yawn and stretch, and enjoying the amazing view until you are ready for breakfast. In the five times I’ve slept outside, I have never had such a pleasant experience. I have woken up to a slow drizzle on my face that quickly turned into a downpour, which then somehow crept its way through my bivy and into the space between my toes. This experience usually causes an immediate attempt to find cover and sometimes a long scramble through the pouring rain in shorts and a t-shirt. At other times, I have woken up in a full sweat to the sun high above me, converting the cozy bundle of synthetic down I curled up in the night before into a thousand degree torture chamber. This experience, even more uncomfortable than the previous, also requires immediate evacuation of your sleeping bag at a less than ideal hour of the morning. Yet I will still sleep outside over my bunk every chance I get.

My first night in Camp 10, sleeping in the best bivy spot. The view is looking across the Taku Glacier at the Taku Towers (they can be spotted right in the middle of the peaks shown). This night included both an early morning sprinkle and a glaring sun wake-up. Photo by Auri Clark.

My first night in Camp 10, sleeping in the best bivy spot. The view is looking across the Taku Glacier at the Taku Towers (they can be spotted right in the middle of the peaks shown). This night included both an early morning sprinkle and a glaring sun wake-up. Photo by Auri Clark.

3.  The JIRP schedule tends to run on a different clock than the usual. I’m not talking about using military time, although that has been quite the learning experience for me as well. If it’s 0845 and the staff says you MUST be ready for today’s excursion at 0900, you should try and be ready by 0930 and if you’re with an especially prompt group, you may even leave by 1000.

4.  I thought I knew about sunburns before coming up to the icefield as I’ve had my fair share of painful experiences with them before. During our mini traverse, one of our first days out on the snow and ice for nearly 10 hours in beautiful weather, I applied sunscreen diligently at every opportunity. I even put zinc oxide on my nose and cheeks to save what I know as my most vulnerable sunburn spots, despite my concern for looking dorky in all the awesome pictures I was sure to be featured in. I was so proud of myself going to bed that night without any burns, unlike many of my goggle-tanned companions, but this joy quickly disappeared upon waking up the next morning. The sun reflecting off the snow managed to fry the entire interior of my nose. I couldn’t wipe or even touch my consistently runny nose for the next couple days without thinking my whole nose might be peeling off with the amount of pain it caused. If you are planning on spending a full day with sun exposure coming from below as it reflects off the snow, don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the inside of your nose. I wouldn’t recommend applying sunscreen to the inside of your mouth, but do try and get rid of wide-open mouth breathing habits as well.

The trail party ahead of my own using crampons to navigate the ablation zone on the Lemon Creek Glacier during our mini traverse, with beautiful and dangerous blue sky above. Photo by Auri Clark.

The trail party ahead of my own using crampons to navigate the ablation zone on the Lemon Creek Glacier during our mini traverse, with beautiful and dangerous blue sky above. Photo by Auri Clark.

5.  No matter how full you are, you can always seem to fit in one more piece of pilot bread. For those of you who don’t know what pilot bread is, it is a palm-sized, flavorless cracker, and they are absolutely addicting. It’s not so much the plain cracker I crave at the end of every day, but the endless number of topping combinations: peanut butter and jelly; butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar; leftover spaghetti sauce and parmesan cheese; the leftover mix of sauce and salad dressing left at the bottom of your dinner bowl. Whatever you are eating, it somehow tastes better on pilot bread. Just know that once you try one topping with pilot bread, you will end up trying every topping and every combination of toppings with pilot bread by the end of the night. And the next night you will try them all again.

Many of these findings may not be applicable to the remainder of my life, and probably not most of yours, but they do present a good insight into the icefield lifestyle. And to the future JIRPers reading this blog—remember these lessons, as I am confident they will still be relatable for the summers to come.