The Oozy Flats

The Oozy Flats

by Cezanna Semancher (Principia College) and Alex Burkhart (Willamette University)

While learning how to ascend ropes using prusiks in the Rock Dump Climbing Gym in Juneau, Matt Beedle, our Academic Director, pulled us aside (Alex, C, Olivia, and Evan) and asked us if we would be interested in taking an excursion to the Taku terminus for GPS Surveying. Now you may ask, what is the Taku Terminus? Well, the Taku Glacier is one of the few advancing glaciers, however, in recent years GPS surveying has identified it to be stagnant, and perhaps receding. If you can imagine glaciers as rivers, gradually meandering through and carving out valleys, the terminus of a glacier is equivalent to the delta, or end of the river.

  Stemming from the Taku Glacier, Hole-in-the-Wall Glacier appears below us as we flew above in the float plane. Here you can see the river like characteristic of the glacier as it flows through the valley surrounding it.

Stemming from the Taku Glacier, Hole-in-the-Wall Glacier appears below us as we flew above in the float plane. Here you can see the river like characteristic of the glacier as it flows through the valley surrounding it.

Our reaction to this offer from Matt was of course thrilled, yet we didn’t quite know what was in store for our upcoming three-day adventure. From staffers who had gone on the trip in years past we were told four things – 1) bring extra food, 2) there is no coffee, pack your own, 3) there will be superfluous amounts of mud to trudge through, and 4) there will be more spam than you would ever want or need. Knowing all of this, of course we took the offer. The next day, we found ourselves packing bear capsules into our packs and then loading onto a float plane in Gastineau Channel near downtown Juneau. Our pilot Al, a longtime JIRPer, flew us over expansive glaciers and other extraordinary topographic features before making our way to the Taku Lodge. From there, we took a flat bottomed river boat downriver to our rugged wilderness campsite that was only a few minutes’ walk away from the Taku terminus. We set up camp and ducked into our tents away from the swarm of mosquitoes and no-see-ums.

 The glacier’s complex hydrology system displays a waterfall emerging near the terminus.

The glacier’s complex hydrology system displays a waterfall emerging near the terminus.

The next day we oriented ourselves with our GPS units and proceeded to the terminus through a patch of lupins. Upon arrival, we split up into two teams: Alex and Evan went with Scott McGee (a former JIRP student and one of the faculty for the Taku Surveying Project) and Cézanna and Olivia surveyed with Uwe. Throughout the day, we took GPS waypoints and collected data (see blog by Evan and Olivia titled “Taku Turmoil”) of the location of the terminus. However, the majority of our time was spent on route-finding through the complex labyrinth of the Taku Glacier’s terminal moraines of quicksand-like glacial silt and deceiving glacial runoff streams. These tricky areas are better known as the Oozy Flats. This was likely the most challenging and thus, most exciting part of the trip. It really brought about a lot of camaraderie and lightheartedness to our group dynamic. Are you at all stuck on the word “moraine”? If you’re not familiar with the term, a moraine is the deposit of rock and dirt from the glacier that forms piles at the terminus of an advancing glacier.

  The Taku terminus lies to the left as Olivia and Uwe navigate across the terminal moraine.

The Taku terminus lies to the left as Olivia and Uwe navigate across the terminal moraine.

When we had completed our surveying, we awaited our boats’ arrival. Once loaded up and about 15 feet away from the shore, our boat got stuck in the shallow, muddy waters. Enthusiastically, we rolled up our pants and jumped into the glacial runoff water (which is quite cold) to reduce this insupportable displacement of the boat so it could float out to the main channel. After a successful second departure, we motored upriver to the Taku Lodge where we would pitch our tents for the night. Welcomed with a warm dinner, ginger snap cookies, a cozy fireplace, and a mellow bear, we reminisced and laughed over our newfound experiences and were grateful to take part in such a rare endeavor.