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.