By: Melissa “Luna” Brett, Radford University
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 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.
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.
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.