All Good Things Must Come to an End

by: Natalie Raia, The University of Texas at Austin

Portable JIRP Blog, this is Portable Natalie conducting her two-month post-JIRP check-in.

            Exactly two months ago, 33 students solemnly, groggily departed from University of Alaska-Southeast housing. We were returning to family, friends, school, modern conveniences, and once-familiar, but now seemingly foreign lifestyles. Today, I sit on a plane bound for the Geological Society of America conference in Vancouver, where many JIRPers will be gathering to present the research products from our summer on the icefield.

            Now, our last blog entry leaves us packing up a charter bus in Atlin, and though many of you may now have heard stories from JIRPers you know, or have been through the journey yourself, Id like to fill in the gaps of those final, turbulent, poignant days.

            August 15th: We departed Camp 30 in Atlin, B.C. and took a scenic drive to Skagway, AK. We waited in Skagway for the ferry to Juneau. How bizarre it was to walk confined to sidewalks streaming with tourists, to stand in the ferry station surrounded by fluorescent lights, and to hear the voices of relatives on the phone. Looking at fellow JIRPers glazed, wide-eyed faces, it was apparent that I was not the only one who was overwhelmed by the sudden shift in environment. Boarding the ferry, JIRP overtook the solarium on the top deck, and settled in for the ~5-hour ferry ride with our sleeping bags. The rainy weather cleared (its burning off!) as we proceeded down the Inside Passage. Soon, sleeping bag sumo wars, ballroom dance lessons, and general JIRP revelry filled the upper deck, to the entertainment of the occasional non-JIRP passerby. All too soon, that glorious ride ended as dusk settled and we docked in Juneau. Wrestling our gear onto school buses (again, much to the amusement of passerby wondering precisely what we could possibly be doing with skis in August!), we returned to University of Alaska Southeast housing.  Dorm mattresses had never seemed so luxurious! Truly, we were coming full circle, and going home.

JIRP overtakes the top deck of the ferry from Skagway to Juneau.  Photo by Natalie Raia

JIRP overtakes the top deck of the ferry from Skagway to Juneau.  Photo by Natalie Raia

            August 16th arrived. Like a point in the horizon that the safety staff swore was Camp such and such on a traverse, August 16th had always been a day way off in the future, something hazy that never really seemed to be getting close until all of a sudden, you arrive. Well, that final day began with JIRPers pretending to go about business as usual. I wrote a plan of the day in my journalas usual; we had cereal at the pavilionas usual; we even had morning announcements and work detailsas usual. Nevertheless, this was anything BUT a usual day. After practicing presentations in the morning, we went on one last hikeappropriately, to John Muir's cabin. The day passed in a dizzying blur of science, meals, and trails through the woods, and soon I found myself on a bus headed back to Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center. In an all-too-fitting fashion, a misting rain descended on Juneau as we gathered to complete our one last task.

One final hike to John Muir's Cabin.  Photo by Natalie Raia

One final hike to John Muir's Cabin.  Photo by Natalie Raia

            I think I had an unshakable grin on my face the entire presentation. It was impossible to not be moved, proud, and content to watch and listen to my JIRP family talk about their hard work and passions. I looked upon the face of each person I had lived with, learned from, worked through challenges with, and come to respect and appreciate to the utmost extent. As I sat in the audience, I reveled in the fact that I could count myself in this group of remarkable, eclectic people. The atmosphere was loose and it was obvious that JIRPers (and the audience) were having fun recounting the summers activities. And then it was overI distinctly remember boarding the bus and Princes 1999 was playing on the radioin some sense, the perfect songupbeat and celebratory, but the lyrics tell a slightly darker story about endings, about running out of time.

            Sleep is for the weak was the unofficial motto from there on out! With just hours left (shout out to the 4 am departure crew!), we attempted to bring some sort of closure to a two-month, perspective-altering ordeal. Ha. Good luck! JIRP awards, a final video, and a well-written rap closed out the evening as people drifted about saying goodbyes and trying to maximize every minute left.


            No more mass balance pits. No more sunset skis. No more tan line contests. No more wet socks and sun-screened faces. No more Pilot Bread with peanut butter and brown sugar. No more glacier dragons. No more Science! No more icefield. And just one traverse left: the traverse without a trail party, the traverse no one tells you aboutthe hardest traverse of all.

            Somehow two months had passed, and this bizarre, beautiful social experiment (Hey, lets throw 30+ complete strangers together and have them live in confined spaces in the middle of an icefield under less than ideal conditions!) was at an end. Through quietly irrepressible tears that surprised this normally reserved author as the plane took off from Juneau, I was left with a singular line of questioning: How? How does this social experiment succeed? What is the secret of JIRPs transformative power in the lives of generations of young, aspiring scientists? How?

            The largest part of the answer involves the development of the program under Dr. Miller and his wife, JoanI am convinced. Their lifes work and legacy live on not only in the incredibly valuable scientific record JIRP produces, but also in the alumni and people who return year after year because it is such a transformative program. The second part of the answer is the students. The experience succeeds because JIRP assembles a group of diverse individuals from all corners of the U.S. and beyond. Despite our individuality, I thought about the common core values we necessarily share, and Id like to describe some of them briefly.

            We are dreamers. We dream of a healthier planetone in which our own human footprint is reduced. We dream of graduate school, of careers in engineering, environmental science, geology, and the list goes on. We dream of lives lived close to and in harmony with nature. Lives lived deliberately, surrounded by people we care about. We are dreaming.

            We are seekers. A never-ending thirst for knowledge drives us forward. Always searching for new ways to examine our beliefs, change our perspectives, and expand our horizons. We aim to learn from each person we meet.  We seek out and celebrate their best qualities. We are seeking.

            We are explorers. Testing our physical limits, pushing the bounds of our comfort zone, we never stop moving and never settle. Every new corner must be rounded, for we know that around each bend lies a new adventure, a new way to reinvent and reimagine ourselves and the world we live in. We are exploring.

            And finally, we are free spirits. Each JIRPer brought a unique addition to the summer. Artists, musicians, writers, singers, dancers, athletes, thinkers, and outdoorsmen (and women!) abound. We are compassionate characters, possessing a delicate sensitivity coupled with extremely tough mental faculties and willpower. We are soaring.

Kelly Hughes takes an incredible sunset above the Gilkey Trench.  Photo by Natalie Raia

Kelly Hughes takes an incredible sunset above the Gilkey Trench.  Photo by Natalie Raia

            The bruises and blisters have healed. Clothes have been washed (I hope!). Photos shared. Departing tears have dried. But memories prevailStep, step, stepping up the Ptarmigan. Prusiking on July 4th, surrounded by delightful pandemonium. Aching through the snow at 3:23 am. Kick, step. Kick, step. Stark red, white, and blue waving in front of resolute Towers and miles of dazzling white snow. The ping of shovels striking scientific gold. Kick, glide. Kick, glide. Haunting silence in a cavernous crevasse. The joyous laughter on sunny days. Swish. Swishcrunch. Marmot calls and gurgling glacial streams pointing down, down. Step. Step. Step. During our last radio contact with the icefield, a catch in the strongest voice does me in: “…going clear. The unsaid phrase, for the last time, hangs in the air. A single tear escapes me, for as she packs away the disassembled radio, the thunderous icefield is silenced. The Icefield. Perched on the hill, turning my back on that staggering, immense place. One last, fleeting glancequickly, quickly, the trees are swallowing us. Will I ever return? Rain strikes still waters in that pristine inlet, disrupted by the inconvenient arrival of civilization. Wonderful wind whistles on that massive, open deck, sweeping us closer, closer to the end. The End. A new kind of deep-rooted ache, stamping memories on my heart that read, Delivered via Icefield. Delivered via JIRP. Yes, memories prevail.

            And so, with the tenor of life permanently, beautifully disrupted, we carry on. Step, step, stepping. Never settling, never stopping, always fulfilling that Emersonian ideal: Books. Nature. Action.

            We are dreamers. We are seekers.

            We are explorers. We are free spirits.

            Now and forevermore, we are JIRPers.

All good things must come to an end. And through this end, all is well. Mighty fine, mighty fine.

JIRP 2014, going clear.

For the last time.

The sun rises through the clouds on the last day at Camp 17.  Photo by Natalie Raia

The sun rises through the clouds on the last day at Camp 17.  Photo by Natalie Raia


By Sarah Bouckoms

“The boat is here” were the words I wrote in my diary as we watched the calm waters being broken by the bow of a small silver boat. In it contained the first person in two months we saw who was not a JIRPer. But it held so much more meaning than the weight of our Captain. It was a passageway to Atlin, BC. The final call that we were off the Icefield. The summer adventures were over. But there was still more work to be done. In Atlin we would be busy doing things like showering, laundry and eating ice cream. After those necessities were taken care of the students needed to busy themselves finalizing their presentations for the citizens of Atlin.  The students were divided into groups based on topic area to each talk about their work. Each student found it hard to pack a summer of research in 3 minutes, but with a bit of practice we pulled it off.  After the talks we enjoyed a cookie and a hot drink with the community. Earlier in the day, Mary Gianotti, Stephanie Streich and Christiane McCabe busied themselves in the kitchen making cookies. 400 of them. There were chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, shortbread and peanut butter with chocolate Hershey kisses. 

Yum Yum! Lots of cookie eating after the talks. Photo by Stephanie Streich.

Giving presentations in Atlin after completing the traverse has been a long-standing JIRP tradition. It gives the students a chance to work on their public speaking, but more importantly it is a social event in Atlin not to be missed. We were overwhelmed with the enthusiasm shown as we entered the shops or laundromat. No one cared that we were stinky since we had not showered yet. Everyone was just excited to hear how our summer went. 

The local shops were a novelty after waiting on helicopter deliveries all summer. Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

Atlin was a great transition back into civilization. It was quite bizarre to see things such as cars and telephone poles, cute little shops and animals. Luckily for us, the streets were not so busy so it was not a problem that we treated the roads like a trail and took to walking down the center of the street. Atlin gave us a great welcome with its sunny days, warm water for swimming and clear nights for Aurora gazing. We joked that if we had been plopped down in New York City there would have been casualties in minutes.  Thank you citizens of Atlin for the warm welcome and hospitality you offered, we are all grateful for the easy transition.

[NOTE:  Click on any of the images below to open a slideshow with all photos and captions.]   

The Traverse from Camp 26 to Atlin

By Sarah Cooley

The final traverse from Camp 26 to Atlin Lake was definitely an epic and exciting way to end our trip across the Juneau Icefield. With the constantly changing scenery and gradual descent into greenery, it is a favorite of many of the returning staff and faculty. Though we were all sad to leave the Icefield, there was definitely excitement in the air when we set off in the morning. We did the traverse in three groups: two the first day followed by one final group the next day. I was in the second group, so we set off at 9 am, two hours after the first group’s 7 am departure. After seeing them off and eating a quick breakfast of instant oatmeal and pilot bread, we packed up, attached our skis to our packs and headed down the nunatak to the ablation zone of the Llewellyn Glacier. Once we hit the glacier, we began an easy few hours down the ice on the side of the medial moraine. After weeks in the accumulation zone, it was amazing yet very strange to be on bare ice, walking amongst melt channels, crevasses and the occasional moulin. We were all fascinated with these ablation zone features, and many pictures were taken as we reminisced about our summer while hiking across the ice. As the crevasses grew deeper and larger, we needed to put on crampons so we all could have a little bit more stability. Traversing the crevasses was slow, and we all worked together to get ourselves through the toughest parts, cutting steps and providing support to each other as we maneuvered through each ice bridge. A few hours later, we all were extremely relieved to be able to take off the crampons and return to flatter ice.

JIRPers hike down the lower Llewellyn Glacier. Photo by J.L. Kavanaugh.

By mid-afternoon we had reached the toe of Red Mountain.  After scouting a route, we left the ice for a quick climb to the top of the ridge followed by a long and difficult descent through scree and alders. The combination of tired legs, heavy packs and unwieldy skis added a significant challenge to the hike down, and again we all pitched in to help each other down the steep and slippery sections. When we had finally reached the bottom of the hill, we were somewhat tired, scraped, bruised and covered in mud, but all in good spirits, telling lots of jokes and stories as we waited for our trail party leaders Jeff and Kate to scout a route onto the ice. Once we had successfully gotten back onto the Llewellyn Glacier, slippery ice meant crampons became quite necessary, so we spent one last hour in our crampons before finally exiting the glacier for the last time. Leaving the icefield after seven weeks of amazing experience was quite emotional for everyone, and we took a few last pictures, filled up our water bottles with one last gulp of pure glacial water and put our feet onto dry land. I think we all are still struggling to process leaving the glacier, but in the moment we had no choice but to keep our goodbyes quick and continue the long hike to the inlet.

Approaching the Red Mountain Ridge on the lower Llewellyn Glacier. Photo by J.L. Kavanaugh.

The next part of our hike included a beautiful segment known as the Ball-Bearing Highway. With the sun setting over the Llewellyn Glacier behind us, we followed the lake at the terminus until we hit the trail exactly as we lost daylight. After a quick break to get out our headlamps, we continued our hike around the lake in darkness. The surrounding trees and greenery were a welcome change after two months without large plants, and the smells of the flora overwhelmed us. Above us were some of the most beautiful stars I had ever seen, and our journey through the unfamiliar woods in darkness was almost magical. After two hours without much rest, we took one final break at midnight, exhausted but still in good spirits and excited to reach Llewellyn Inlet. As we all sat on our packs, contemplating attacking the remaining few miles after such a long day, the sky suddenly lit up with a fantastic display of aurora borealis. We all sat in silence for a few minutes, turning our headlamps off, all amazed at the wondrous timing of the first aurora of the summer. After searching all summer (and in summers past), it was the first northern lights I had ever seen, and combined with the emotion of leaving the amazing icefield, it was a really poignant and unforgettable moment. With the northern lights in front of us and shooting stars sweeping across the sky above us, we all felt prepared and excited to tackle the final few miles.

The final stretch of the trail includes multiple swamp crossings and some bush-whacking. Bush-whacking with skis on is, well, interesting, and for many of the parts we all assumed what we called ‘narwhal position’ which entailed squatting and bending over so that your skis come to a point a few feet in front of your head. It was tiring, but it was quite successful. With sore backs and our legs and feet wet up to our knees, we all sang and talked up the final hill towards camp, screaming and laughing at 1:30 am when we finally reached the inlet. Given the lateness of our arrival and the presence of another tired trail party who had arrived a few hours before us and were already asleep, we opted not to jump in the lake as is JIRP tradition, unlike the two other trail parties. However, despite the exhaustion, we all began to process the fact that we had completed the entire traverse of the Juneau Icefield, and our sense of personal accomplishment was palpable. We quickly pulled out our sleeping bags and all laid down right on the beach, just a few feet from the water. As we laid there in silence, the aurora reappeared, even more magnificent than before. The green lights curled with columns shooting upwards towards the stars, and with one last glimpse at the incredible sky, we all quickly fell asleep.

Awaiting the early-morning boat shuttle across Atlin Lake from Llewellyn Inlet to Atlin, BC. Photo by J.L. Kavanaugh.

After barely three hours of sleep, we were awakened the next morning by the arrival of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who checked each of our passports and allowed us to officially enter Canada, despite the fact that we had crossed the border days before. The first trail party then promptly left for Atlin via boat. We returned to our sleeping bags for an hour or so, then cooked ourselves a breakfast of beans and Spam over the fire as we waited for the second boat to come pick us up. When it finally arrived, we quickly loaded up and headed for Atlin. The boat ride was fantastically beautiful but also quite emotional as we watched the high ice of our beloved Juneau Icefield slowly slip out of view. The excitement of trees, waterfalls and islands kept our attention as we moved closer to Atlin. After such a long journey, we were so excited to finally reach the small town on such a beautiful sunny day. 

JIRP is FINALLY Happening!

By Jamie Bradshaw

While writing this, I am sitting in The Cook Shack at Camp 17 listening to Pink Floyd while the cooks are planning lunch and our fearless leaders are setting the route for the Norris Cache, our first move to Camp 10. Once the route is set and the weather softens, the first trail party will hit the trail. Fortunately, I am in the first trail party and this time I will have first dibs on sleeping arrangements! I am really looking forward to seeing new sights and I am pumped to endure what I have been told is the most physically and mentally challenging part of the icefield traverse. Another reason why I am so excited to arrive at Camp 10 is because I know just how good the view is. Unlike the other students, Camp 10 is not a complete mystery to me. If you followed the 2012 JIRP blog, you may remember my post from last summer about my fortunate flight to Camp 10

Jamie and “Blue”, the trusty JIRP Suburban, on their way to Atlin, BC, Canada to continue JIRP logistics in 2012.  Photo:  Jamie Bradshaw

I first heard about the program nearly three years ago when enrolled in a Glacier Surveying Field Methods course offered by Mike Hekkers at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, Alaska. I was immediately intrigued. In 2011, I was lucky to be able to spend time with the JIRPers while they were in Juneau for a week. I hiked to Herbert Glacier with them and showed them our surveying sites on Mendenhall Glacier.  Last year, I saw the Logistics Agent position for JIRP was available. I decided to apply for the position because it would be a great way to support JIRP,  get involved and I figured it would give me a unique perspective of JIRP in hopes of participating as a student in the summer of 2013. You could say that I had the “JIRP bug”.

Nearly all of the JIRP mystery is removed for me because of my logistics position last summer. I understood how the food, supplies and mail get here, I knew what many of the camps look like and approximately how long we spend at each camp, I knew how meals work and how day and multi-day trips work and I knew of the joys of Atlin, BC. I also knew three of the students participating prior to JIRP, I knew the staff members and many of the guest lecturers from previous JIRP experiences. Most of the time I really appreciate my JIRP background because I can answer many questions that students have and I can prepare myself for upcoming events. Other times, this background takes some of the excitement of the unknown away from me that the other students have. Needless to say, I am very thankful to have this JIRP knowledge and to have the unknowns of the routes from camp to camp!

While coordinating logistics in Juneau last summer, I read the blogs, flew to Camps 10 and 18, and saw how close the students and staff grew. I was honored to be a part of the JIRP family, but I wanted to learn and grow with everyone on the ice. I knew that JIRP would be an amazing experience and I anxiously awaited the summer 2013 season to begin. On the hike up to Camp 17A, I kept saying to myself “ I can’t believe this is finally happening!”  So far, JIRP has been everything I have imagined it to be!

Jamie on the upper Lemon Creek Glacier overlooking the Dead Branch of Norris Glacier; where, after three years, JIRP is really happening!  Photo:  Jamie Bradshaw