In Which Your Humble Narrator Crosses Nugget Ridge, Death Valley, and the Southwest Branch, braving Ice, Wind, and Clouds, in a search for the Warmth and Safety of Camp 10

By Bryn Huxley-Reicher, Harvard University

After a long night playing JIRPardy (topics ranged from the middle names and previous lives of the staff to the main properties of the waves used in seismology) and packing obscene amounts of trail food, Trail Parties 1 and 2 woke up early to a grey sky and oatmeal for breakfast. Trail Party 1 had already begun their journey by the time we in the second group gathered and left.

 

 Trail Party 2, about to set off on our epic adventure across the frozen landscape of the Juneau Icefield. PC Theresa Westhaver

Trail Party 2, about to set off on our epic adventure across the frozen landscape of the Juneau Icefield. PC Theresa Westhaver

 

 

Field staffers Lara and Mike took command as we crossed the Lemon Creek Glacier and then skied down its length to the terminus, where the snow had melted and the blue ice was exposed. The sun peeked out from behind a few clouds, giving us a false sense of hope for the weather ahead.

 Crossing the Lemon Creek Glacier at 7:30am with a hint of sun. PC: Bryn Huxley-Reicher

Crossing the Lemon Creek Glacier at 7:30am with a hint of sun. PC: Bryn Huxley-Reicher

 

 

 

 Students Zach Gianotti, Theresa Westhaver, and Ilana Casarez crossing the blue ice at the terminus of the Lemon Creek Glacier before our hike up Nugget Ridge. PC: Bryn Huxley-Reicher

Students Zach Gianotti, Theresa Westhaver, and Ilana Casarez crossing the blue ice at the terminus of the Lemon Creek Glacier before our hike up Nugget Ridge. PC: Bryn Huxley-Reicher

 

We crampon-ed our way through the beautiful blue crevasses filled with glacial water, the moulins poking down into the ice, and the debris from the rocks that had been pulverized and dragged with the ice flow. The weather got wetter and windier as we climbed snow and rocks onto the shoulder of Nugget Ridge, ending our hopes for a dry traverse.

  Scrambling up Nugget Ridge through the driving wind and sleet. PC: Theresa Westhaver

 Scrambling up Nugget Ridge through the driving wind and sleet. PC: Theresa Westhaver

 

From there we skied the rest of the way to Lunch Rocks near the top of the Thomas Glacier for a much needed break for calories. We were slowed only by the heel piece to my ski binding popping off, and Matt lashing it back on. Next we headed down the backside of Nugget Ridge towards Death Valley. It was then that the weather gods decided we were not to be allowed to have an easy time of it, and sent a driving wind and icy snow into our faces. We were roped up, and walking in crampons without being able to see more than a few yards in front of us, trying to protect any exposed skin from the shards of pain shooting at us from the sky. After what felt like an eternity of slipping through the soft snow, the wind died down and the snow grew gentle. We broke through the clouds and saw Trail Party 1 below us, heading out onto the flats of Death Valley. In the bowl of the valley, we got to ski with visibility improving towards the icefall we had to climb to get to our halfway camp. We caught up to Trail Party 1 at the base of the icefall, and hiked up a snow ramp to Norris Cache and the tents that Annie and Nigel had set up for us. A large, warm, and filling dinner later and we all crashed early and gratefully.

We slept in, and cleaned up camp before heading out as a large group, following the snowmobile tracks that Annie and Nigel had left. After crossing a patch of crevasses, we skied the length of the Southwest Branch of the Taku glacier, and managed to have some conversation, getting to know each other better as the clouds set in again.

 

 Trail Parties 1 and 2 merged to ski the length of the Southwest Branch of the Taku Glacier on Day 2 of the traverse to Camp 10. PC: Bryn Huxley-Reicher

Trail Parties 1 and 2 merged to ski the length of the Southwest Branch of the Taku Glacier on Day 2 of the traverse to Camp 10. PC: Bryn Huxley-Reicher

 

A few hours and a few tens of kilometers later the clouds lifted and we passed the last section of crevasses to see the Nunatak Chalet, also known as Camp 10: our final destination.

 

 

  On the final approach to Camp 10: crevasses ahead! PC: Theresa Westhaver

 On the final approach to Camp 10: crevasses ahead! PC: Theresa Westhaver

 

                Despite the featureless landscape and the snow horizon that did not move, we avoided madness and skied down to the base of Nunatak Chalet, where Stan and Nigel were waiting to welcome us. Our eighteen-hour, thirty-six-kilometer journey ended with a long scramble up steep rocks to Camp 10, where we found warm drinks and dinner, a gorgeous view, and space to sleep.

                The longest and most difficult portion of our summer over with, those of us at Camp 10 are enjoying the space and quiet until the rest of our group arrives. We are looking forward to getting to work on our research projects, cleaning our bodies and clothes, and maybe, hopefully, for the weather to break.