The Many Lessons Learnt by JIRPers

Kellie Schaefer

Michigan Technological University

It is fair to say that the majority of students participating in JIRP this year have never been on a glacier before. I thought it was insane that a large group of 20-somethings was going to be transported via skiing throughout different locations on a large ice sheet in Alaska. Through trial and error that broadened their range of knowledge (and perhaps developed some “character”), the students began to learn a few lessons on their JIRP journey.  

Crampon training on the Mendenhall Glacier. Photo by Kellie Schaefer.

Crampon training on the Mendenhall Glacier. Photo by Kellie Schaefer.

They first began their quest through the famed “vertical swamp”. While most of the trek consisted of slogging through dense blueberry bushes and boggy muskeg, there were a few short moments of excitement. While crossing a large stream, Chris managed to drop his bright green roll of duct tape into the rushing water. The duct tape was eventually fished out of the stream with a ski pole, much to the excitement of the trail party. Two lessons were learned during this episode:

1) Don’t “Christmas Tree” your pack

2) Duct tape is a crucial piece of gear that must be saved at all costs

About halfway up the vertical swamp, Victor hiked past a stump, and promptly began to hoot and holler, yelling “Stinging!!! Stingers!!! Aaahhhhh!!” Having no idea what was meant my “stingers”, I continued to slosh through the muskeg, only to hear a buzzing sound. I glanced up to see a swarm of angry bees. I quickly changed my course and escaped with no bee stings, while Victor managed to receive three. About three weeks later, I was collecting Isotope samples along Profile A. Unfortunately, I was paying more attention to the GPS path than the terrain. Before I knew it, I had toppled face first into a rather large sun cup. Maybe I was not being as observant on the icefield as I had been with the bees. In short:

3) Be aware of your surroundings at all times

4) You don’t always have to follow the exact GPS path

The weather had treated us JIRPers unusually well during the voyage up to Camp 17, with the exception of one night that consisted of 60 mph winds and everyone in the camp running outside to lean into the wind. Clear skies and impromptu outdoor nights of sleep continued throughout the week at Camp 10. The staffers continuously reminded us of how spoiled we were in terms of weather. When the clouds rolled in and the rain began to patter on the corrugated roofs of the various camp buildings, the students began to panic. Clothes that had been laying out on the granite rocks for days had suddenly become sodden. Boots left out to dry were now soaked again. People scrambled for their rain gear, which is pretty unserviceable on the icefield (unless you utilize the rubber rain jackets in the cook shack). When mass balance or GPS teams returned from their daily excursions in the rain, their faces were freshly sunburned and contoured with even more tan lines. The recent precipitation has taught us many things:

5)    Rain is wet

6)    The driest sock is sacred

7)    You can get sunburned all of the time, even when you’re in a cloud 

Shawnee and Alex being the "victims" during crevasse rescue training. Photo by Kellie Schaefer.

Shawnee and Alex being the "victims" during crevasse rescue training. Photo by Kellie Schaefer.

Due to the change in weather, most of the student’s free time is now spent in the kitchen area. If they are feeling particularly observant, they may find entertainment in witnessing the exploits of the creatures known as “the cooks”. The cooks are extremely vigilant of “vultures”, swooping in on anyone who takes one too many slices of fried spam. Only the bold will enter their domain to seek a certain spice, or if they are feeling particularly cocky, exit/enter the cook shack through the cook’s door. The cooks can become frazzled after a long day of catering to hungry FGERs, and can sometimes do silly things. Take Joel for example, who turned on the stove, struck the match (after a brief period of time), and lit the stove. Joel did not realize that propane gas is quite flammable, and proceeded to scorch all of the hair off of his hand in the flame that ensued. Kate-CO forgot to drain the water after cooking the mac n cheese noodles, and ended up making a mac n cheese soup.  Eric somehow got bit by a carrot. The cooks frequently make too much oatmeal in the morning, and creative new recipes are born from the leftovers. A few very important life lessons can be obtained from the experience of being a cook:

8)    Light the match before turning on the burner

9)    You love oatmeal and oatmeal loves you

10)    SPAM® is a beautiful thing 

Cheers from 'Taku B'!!!

Cheers from 'Taku B'!!!