Stuck with strangers?

Kit Cunningham

Montana State University

Coming into this program, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the various aspects of glacial travel and academics that I would be learning; however, I didn’t know how this group of 40ish people would shape the dynamics around me.  Now, after the program, I realize the intense impact they had on my experience.

These people, who came from all walks of life and from so many different backgrounds, had the ability to create a unique environment where all forms of growth were welcomed and could flourish. I realize in hindsight that this growth began through the initial questions surrounding the journey, which could only be approached with unabashed curiosity and high excitement. These questions could be something like, “How do I put my foot in my ski binding?”, “What does ablation mean?”, “How many cans of spam would you use to feed this camp?”, and, my personal favorite, “Is the rainfly just a rain jacket for the tent?” These questions, as innocent and rudimentary as they seem, sparked the fire for continuous curiosity that would surround the group for the rest of the summer.

Other factors that fueled the fire of inquisition were the traverses from camp to camp. When you have been skiing through what looks like the inside of a Ping-Pong ball for six hours, and still have seven hours more to go, the only source of entertainment are these weird beings beside you also trudging along. The traverses led to new forms of questions revolving around life stories, embarrassing moments, and of course, the weirdest places everyone has ever pooped. When there is nothing to do and the people around you are the only outlet for mental stimulation, it’s no surprise that some weird and very personal stories emerged. In any other circumstance, I would have never heard the situation in which Tae held a dead cat. Or when Mo was forgotten in the back of the truck or when Auri almost died in a plane crash. I am normally hesitant to surround myself with strangers due to my own antisocial tendencies, but after learning facts about the people around me that I normally would never begin to unfold, I realize the special environment for vulnerability and friendship that traverses tend to create.

 A trail party traverses the upper Thomas Glacier on day one of the two-day traverse from Camp 17 to Camp 10. Photo by Matt Beedle.

A trail party traverses the upper Thomas Glacier on day one of the two-day traverse from Camp 17 to Camp 10. Photo by Matt Beedle.

The last main factor that contributed to the atmosphere around me was the people themselves. These people are all so special, in both similar and completely different ways. They all have this drive for adventure that makes them ask more, dive in a little deeper, and want to look just around the next corner. The constant fear of missing out (fondly known as FOMO) is deeply embedded in all members, causing impromptu dances in the moonlight, sing-alongs to guitar, and sunset ski runs. Everyone also has unique characteristics they bring to the table that add to the group’s flavor. If you give Kellie a rusty spoon and an expired can of cream of mushroom, for example, she will undoubtedly create a culinary or artistic masterpiece out of it. Or if you tell Annie B. a dream you had the night before that is only interesting to you, regardless, she will raise her eyebrows, open her eyes a little wider, and look at you like you are telling her the most exciting thing she has heard all day. Or if you are listening to music, Joel will demonstrate crazy, psychedelic hand motions that will both hypnotize and entertain.

While I can’t speak for the rest of the 2016 JIRP crew, the comfortable space created this summer has had a permanent impact on my life. I personally struggle with emerging from my shell, and more specifically, talking about myself. I have never been around a group of people who have not only welcomed my oddities and my presence, but have pleasantly harassed me for personal quirks. Off of the icefield, I feel like I can blend in with the people around me and be one with the wallpaper, but being in an area as beautiful as Camp 18, and surrounded by people equally as beautiful, I can’t help but remove myself from the sidelines and let myself be engulfed by the wonderful aroma of curiosity, vulnerability, foot stank, and immeasurable love and acceptance that the 2016 JIRP crew has fostered.
 

 To top it off, here is a photo of Molly popping a pimple on her leg, Victor feeling “one” with the rock, and I don’t know what Tai and Alexandra are doing. Photo by Kit Cunningham.

To top it off, here is a photo of Molly popping a pimple on her leg, Victor feeling “one” with the rock, and I don’t know what Tai and Alexandra are doing. Photo by Kit Cunningham.