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 . . .