Tour of Camp 17

By Zach Gianotti, Santa Clara University

Perched on the top of a ridgeline in between the Lemon Creek and Ptarmigan glaciers, just out of view of Juneau, sits Camp 17, the first camp for our JIRP crew.  A mix of seven buildings, 2.5 outhouses, and a weather station, it is a humble and close quarters start for this year’s 60-something JIRPers.

Light glimmers off the aluminum clad buildings in rare sunny events, visible from miles around. In fog — or more rightly labeled, clouds — on approach the buildings slowly grow into focus, sometimes not coming into sharp relief until mere feet away.

 Camp 17 on a more common foggy day. Photo: Daniel Otto.

Camp 17 on a more common foggy day. Photo: Daniel Otto.

The Cook Shack is the largest and tallest building in camp, with a small arctic entry, a mud room of sorts, with a place to hang wet coats that leads to the radio room. Above the radio room door is a steep staircase to the upstairs overflow housing and rope/boot drying areas that look down over the main eating area, also accessible from the arctic entry.  The main area is filled with a few long dining tables, a kitchen at the far end with a pantry off the side, and it is decorated with the usual million nails for ropes and cups and plastered with Sharpie graffiti crafted by past JIRPers from floor to rafters.

The other communal area by day is a hop, skip, and a jump (all modes of transport prohibited on JIRP camp sites) away from the cook shack and is called the Library. The Library is where group gear is stored, helicopter transport staging occurs, where some students sleep, where lectures occur, and where a few old books reside tucked away in a corner. There is a wall that is lined with windows that overlook the Lemon Creek Glacier. They flood light into the building the size of a small garage, a place big enough to store a smart car, or a mini cooper, or a fiat 500, but not an American sedan of any sort.

 A few of the Library from the outside on a sunny day. Photo: Daniel Otto.

A few of the Library from the outside on a sunny day. Photo: Daniel Otto.

This year the girls’ and gender neutral housing was split in between the library and the James’ Way, a quaint little dome-roofed structure the size of the ‘bed of a dump truck’ as one of the residents described it. The boys were annexed off in housing past the helicopter pad up along the path to Vesper Peak, in a building named the Arm Pit. The Pit, as the boys call it, had two floors filled with all the male students and their damp gear. The rather large design flaw of the Pit was its lack of ventilation, or even ventilation potential. It has one door and one openable small marine window upstairs. The collection of progressively wet and dirty clothes, coupled with a low number of clear days to open up our two ‘vents’, created a unique bouquet quite representative of the buildings name.

 Camp 17 in the foreground with Cairn Peak in the background. Ptarmigan Glacier, off to the right, is a popular ski hill easily accessible from camp. Photo: Daniel Otto.

Camp 17 in the foreground with Cairn Peak in the background. Ptarmigan Glacier, off to the right, is a popular ski hill easily accessible from camp. Photo: Daniel Otto.

When talking about Camp 17 one cannot forget to mention the wet weather that was near ever-present at the camp. This forced us to spend our free time shoulder to shoulder in the Cook Shack or crammed in the Library practicing knots. This also provided those new to Southeast Alaska an accurate representation of the climate that I grew up with. The only difference is that at camp we only have heating and electricity for a few precious hours a day leading to next to no drying opportunities for humans and gear alike.

 The inside of the Armpit, the domain of the male students. Wet gear hanging from the rafters makes for close quarters. Photo: Daniel Otto.

The inside of the Armpit, the domain of the male students. Wet gear hanging from the rafters makes for close quarters. Photo: Daniel Otto.