Same Icefield, Different Memories

Same Icefield, Different Memories

Blaire Slavin, The Benjamin School


I’ve been thinking a lot about following in the footsteps of others. This concept is meaningful to me because I would not be here if I didn’t follow the footsteps of my father (’73), brother (’11) and sister (’12) who all went to JIRP when they turned seventeen. Growing up I would always listen to all of their incredible JIRP stories hoping that when I turned seventeen I would be able to do the exact same. Finally, my turn has arrived. Wearing my sister’s hat and my brother’s jacket (which is way too big for me but I still love it), I perched myself on a rock overlooking the breathtaking Taku Towers just as they did. 

  Me, finally completing the Slavin family JIRP wall. Happy belated Birthday Dad! (Photo by Aaron Chesler)

Me, finally completing the Slavin family JIRP wall. Happy belated Birthday Dad! (Photo by Aaron Chesler)

However, following in people’s footsteps doesn’t just pertain to me, but to every JIRPer…both literally and figuratively. In the literal sense, on traverses from one camp to the next, trail parties follow the tracks of the teams that traversed just days before them. The procedures required to record annual mass balance were established in the early 50s and are still used today. The shelf I sleep on is covered in signatures of JIRPers ranging from the 60s to just last year. The snow machine and sled that Seth, Tadhg and I used to drag our GPR (ground- penetrating radar) equipment up and down the Taku glacier was from 1995. Even some of the outhouses we use, as gross as it is to think about, were built in the late 40s and have been there for almost every JIRPer since. These examples, among many others, serve as constant reminders that we owe all that JIRP is today to the contributions of all JIRPers who came before us.  

  Seth, Tadhg, and I having a blast dragging our GPR equipment in the old sled. (Photo by author)

Seth, Tadhg, and I having a blast dragging our GPR equipment in the old sled. (Photo by author)

Although I’ve been focusing on the idea of following other people’s footsteps, every JIRPer creates their own unique path. When I go home and show my family pictures of Camp 17 or Camp 10, they will bring back memories that are entirely different for each of us.

Ultimately, all JIRPers have been to the same camps, skied the same terrain, and eaten the same tasty cans of SPAM, but the Icefield has changed each individual in a slightly different way. What JIRP has done for me might not be what it has done for others. For example Annika, a former student and current staff member says JIRP has “inspired [her] to pursue connections between people, place, and climate change—in the hope of creating ripples of positive change. Also [she] has never laughed more in her life.” Jeff, a current student, says JIRP has “changed [his] perception of science from something that is done in a lab or read in a textbook to something that applies to the real world”. Alf who first started coming in 67’ says “[he] married JIRP first”. What I’ve learned from the JIRPers around me, both past and present, is that JIRP doesn’t end when we step off the ice. The calluses, blisters, and inner nostril sunburns that we’ve earned will remind us of the many places we’ve been, knowledge we’ve gained and wonderful people we’ve met.