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

Maynard M. Miller (1921 - 2014)

Dr. Maynard Miller, the beloved founder and long-time director of JIRP, passed away January 26th at his home in Moscow, Idaho. 

In the coming days and weeks we will be adding more images, stories, videos, and history of his phenomenal life.  Eventually this content  will be stored permanently on a dedicated page of the JIRP website. 

Until then, however, we will be adding content here on the JIRP blog.  One intention for this is so that you can share a remembrance of Mal; please do so in the comments below and help us honor and memorialize Dr. Miller.  

If you would like to contribute images, stories, or videos in Mal's remembrance please be in touch with FGER Vice President Matt Beedle by email (

Dr. Maynard Miller on the Juneau Icefield.  Photo courtesy of the Miller family.

Dr. Maynard Miller on the Juneau Icefield.  Photo courtesy of the Miller family.


Dr. Maynard Malcolm Miller on a Juneau Icefield Expedition in November, 1953.  Photo by Ira Spring.

Dr. Maynard Malcolm Miller on a Juneau Icefield Expedition in November, 1953.  Photo by Ira Spring.

Maynard Malcolm Miller, explorer, committed educator and noted scientist whose glaciological research was among the first to identify hard evidence of global climate change as a result of human industrial activity, died on January 26 at his home in Moscow, Idaho. He was 93.

Dr. Miller was Emeritus Professor at the University of Idaho where he previously served as Dean of the College of Mines and Earth Resources, and Director of the Glaciological and Arctic Sciences Institute. The Institute, along with the Juneau Icefield Research Program, founded in 1946 and developed in partnership with his late wife Joan Walsh Miller, inspired more than 4000 students through hands on involvement in scientific research in remote mountain environments in Alaska and around the world.

As a scientist and climber on America’s first Mt. Everest Expedition in 1963, Miller conducted research on atmospheric pollution and other contributors to climate change. On that historic expedition, as the West Ridge climbers returned from the summit, Miller sacrificed his precious scientific water samples, laboriously collected from the Khumbu Icefall, in order to rehydrate the exhausted climbers.

Although a deeply spiritual person, Maynard Miller did not believe in any God of organized religion; instead, he found inspiration in the magnificence and wonder of nature. He also believed that through the challenge of rugged mountain expeditions, where teamwork is essential to achieve a common goal, the best in each individual may be revealed. His great joy was to share and provide these experiences for others.

A native of the Northwest, Miller graduated from Stadium High School in Tacoma, Washington. He studied geology and glaciology, receiving degrees from Harvard University and Columbia University, and his PhD from Cambridge University, England. During WWII Miller served on a Navy destroyer, seeing active duty in 11 major Pacific campaigns and sustaining injuries during an aircraft attack at sea. Late in life, Miller served three terms in the Idaho State House of Representatives where he advocated for expanding educational opportunities.

He will be remembered for his enthusiasm, unrelenting optimism and phrases such as, “stress helps you grow” and his closing on mountain radio transmissions, “mighty fine, mighty fine”.

Miller is survived by his sons and their spouses, Ross Miller (Denise), and Lance Miller (Jana). Miller also leaves behind his beloved grandchildren, Logan, Anna, Zachary and Eva, extended family in the Puget Sound area as well as scores of grateful students, scientific collaborators and co-adventurers.

Celebrations of the life of Maynard Malcolm Miller will be announced at a future date.

Newspaper and other print articles:

Remembering Dr. Maynard 'Mal' Miller, by Mary Catharine Martin, Juneau Empire, Feb. 14, 2014

A Remembrance of Dr. Maynard M. Miller, by Eduardo Crespo, April 4, 2014

Tribute to Dr. Maynard M. Miller, by Keith Daellenbach, Feb. 27, 2011

Educator and scientist Maynard Miller Dies at 93, AAG Newsletter, Feb. 18, 2014

Book: 'Memories of Maynard M. Miller and Other Juneau Icefield Lore'

For a limited time only (while supplies last) you can purchase a copy of a revised, spiral-bound 2nd edition of the 2011 Memories of Maynard M. Miller and Other Juneau Icefield Lore. Total cost, including shipping and handling, is $35. All proceeds go directly to JIRP.

Articles by Dr. Maynard Miller

On Reaching Upward, published in Appalachia in 1950

Historical audio and video from KTOO Radio - Juneau:

Thank you to KTOO's Matter Miller (@KTOOMatt) for this content.

Remembering Mal

"Some years ago, after the JIRP presentation and all the students had departed Atlin, Mal dropped in at my place for a chat and to share some nice red wine he had with him. Naturally we discussed the state of the world, and JIRP and other programs. As we came to relaxed and much more cheerful final comments, he said to me 'You know, it's kids like this that give me hope for the future. They really care, and they worked so well together (contented sigh).' Thanks, Mal!"

-- Nan Love, Atlin, BC

Image gallery:

Select any of the photos below to open a slideshow of all the images.