On the Dot: A Day on Cook Crew*†

By Molly Wieringa, Harvard University

*Here on the icefield, roughly sixty people need to be fed at least three times each day. To meet this demand, students pull duty as cooks from our first camp to the final days of the program. Each crew consists of three students who will band together and support one another through some of the longest, busiest days of the summer. I have here attempted to capture some of the insanity inherent to being a cook at a JIRP camp.
†all times are approximate

06:00- You’ve been awake for at least 15 minutes, and depending on where you sleep, you’ve picked your way across camp to the cook-shack. If you weren’t caffeine dependent before JIRP, you definitely are now, so you down your first coffee of the day and shuffle into the pantry, where you spend five minutes pretending that you have an actual choice about what breakfast will be.

07:00- The water for the oatmeal you will inevitably make is still not boiling. On the other hand, the coffee percolating on the stove has bubbled over twice.

08:00- Turns out that breakfast will be slightly late. There aren’t yet enough pancakes (or fried diced Spam; to each their own) to accompany the oatmeal. You rocket around the boundaries of the kitchen, pushing oatmeal toppings onto the serving counter, collecting the knives and bowls and crumpled towels lying haphazardly on every surface, flipping off the burners in response to a query about why the cook-shack smells like gas.

08:13- The most enthusiastic (or awake) member of the crew trumpets the vuvuzela, both indoors and out, and breakfast is served.

09:00- During the camp manager’s announcements, you call seconds, promptly distracting every student and instigating a stampede, through which navigation to any place other than the serving counter is impossible.

Typical cook crew swagger on display during lunch prep, when energy is at an all-time high. Left to right: Eric, Gavin, and Bryn. Photo credit: Molly Wieringa

Typical cook crew swagger on display during lunch prep, when energy is at an all-time high. Left to right: Eric, Gavin, and Bryn. Photo credit: Molly Wieringa

09:30- Welcome to Round 1 of dishes. Wash, hot rinse, bleach rinse, dry, repeat. You’ll be here for at least an hour and a half.

11:00- Break? What break? Better get started with lunch. You wander back through the pantry before deciding that making anything from scratch isn’t worth the effort, especially because at least half of the camp’s population is usually out in the field during lunch. Out the door to the refrigerators (read: snow filled coolers) you go.

13:00- The horn blows again; you’ve managed to reconstitute some combination of leftover rice, oatmeal, or soup, perhaps accompanied by canned meat or fresh-ish veggies. Hopefully, no one complains.

14:00- Maybe there are seconds, maybe there aren’t. Either way, Round 2 of dishes begins. If you’re lucky or experienced, you’ve used fewer dishes than breakfast and finish by 15:30.

15:30- Barring any major disasters, you take a nap, if you know what’s good for you. Feeding sixty people is hard work.

17:00- You’ve just woken up from what was going to be a 30 minute nap, having kissed your aspirations of academic productivity for the day goodbye. You meet the rest of the crew back in the cook-shack, theoretically “on the dot.” Regardless, it’s now time to test your mettle- dinner is when you either pass the high bar set by previous crews or tumble into culinary insignificance. The pantry awaits and your adventure fully begins. Playtime is over.

17:15- You’ve doctored a real recipe from an actual cookbook, possible only through many potentially sketchy ingredient substitutions and a (not that you’ll ever admit it) totally bogus scaling ratio. The number of pots on the stove has been increasing alarmingly.

18:00- Panic sets in briefly when you realize you’ve forgotten the vegetarian option. Another pot hits the stovetop.

18:55- Dirty dishes cover every surface- they seem to have multiplied on their own. Surely you didn’t actually use that bowl, but then why is it covered in sauce?

18:56- You scramble to move the various scattered kitchen implements to a designated area away from the serving counter, slap an ever-so-slightly snarky menu on the whiteboard, and then rush the pots and pans containing dinner onto serving trivets.

19:00- The vuvuzela sounds and the hovering hordes descend.

19:02- Realizing that the vultures previously known as your campmates are consuming food at an unheard-of rate, you panic all over again, before imposing serving sizes on each dish in the loudest voice you can manage in such a frazzled condition.

19:55- The camp assistant (a fellow student charged with helping the cook crew and the camp manager) gets up and gives a personal reflection. You then call seconds, again resulting in an impassable cook-shack.

20:10- If you’ve overestimated the amount of food, you beg your comrades to take thirds on their way to evening lecture.

20:15- The cook-shack, so hectic just moments before, now seems quiet as the grave. You sigh, blink at the mess in front of you, and steel yourself for the third, final, and most gnarly round of dishes. In order to win the favor of the masses, you’ve prepped a dessert already, and slide it into the oven before breaking out the dish soap.

21:30- Said masses, fresh from lecture, breeze through the door, carefree and laughing, as you push the dessert trays to the counter with achy muscles and prune-y hands. In a gravelly, strained voice, you urge them away from the newly clean camp bowls in favor of personal mugs. You’ve had it up to here with doing dishes.

Julian the Kitchen Troll: a representation of every cook at the end of the day. Photo credit: Molly Wieringa

Julian the Kitchen Troll: a representation of every cook at the end of the day. Photo credit: Molly Wieringa

22:00- During the post-dessert daze, you somehow managed to put everything away, dump the dirty dish water, and wipe down the kitchen surfaces. If you’re like this cook, you ignore the rationale of going to bed early and seek out Avery, Benjy, or Max, one of whom is probably playing guitar. Wiser cooks take this opportunity to pass out. It’s been a full 16 hour day, but one of the most gratifying in camp. As your head hits your sleeping bag, you pray for the souls of tomorrow’s cook crew, and bless the stars you don’t have to wake up early.**

**Disclaimer: despite having used a tone to the contrary, being on cook crew is usually enormous fun, and a wonderful opportunity to get to know your two fellow cooks. Ten out of ten, would recommend.*

 

Morning Routine at Camp 10

Izzy Boettcher, Dartmouth University

“Good morning, beautiful nerds.” Allen’s voice rings clear, and full of excitement. The clatter of eating utensils, the hum of sleepy conversation, and the overall organized chaos that is each morning on the Icefield quickly fades and is replaced with an attentive silence. We sluggishly turn in our seats towards the back wall. A room of mildly caffeinated eyes focus on Allen, the academic lead, and the “Plan of the Day” white board that (tentatively) organizes each day. I’ve come to learn that life on the Icefield is highly dependent upon factors that we can’t always foresee — weather, snowmobile functionality, a Pilot Bread famine, etc.  — and thus our “plans” are always subject to change.

“07:30 wake up — check,” Allen begins, ticking off the tasks we have already completed. “08:00 breakfast — check.” He continues down the list, asking for daily chore volunteers, summarizing the day’s fieldwork outings, and concluding with the routine, “20:15 lecture” and “23:00 lights out.” At this point, the morning lull diminishes — fast replaced by the characteristic buzz of curious students energized by the day’s possible adventures. Will we test the skills we learned during safety training and practice crevasse rescue?  Will we snowmobile across the Taku marking a new GPS profile? Or will we strap a shovel to our pack and dig a mass balance snow pit? Our minds race as we eagerly consider our options. We all ultimately know that we can’t really go wrong, no matter our final decision. Each option guarantees unparalleled scenery, good company, and new accomplishments, calamities, and understandings that will soon be relayed when we reconvene for dinner. On this day, I decide to tag along with mass balance, and quickly finish my breakfast as others continue to brainstorm.

Cooks prepare for the morning breakfast rush. Four-person student cook crews are in the kitchen by 6:00 am to serve hot breakfast at 8:00 am for upwards of 60 people. Here, Camp Manager Annika Ord (left) and Artist in Residence Hannah Mode (at the stove) assist students Susannah Cooley and Benjy Getraer. Photo credit: Jay Ach.

Cooks prepare for the morning breakfast rush. Four-person student cook crews are in the kitchen by 6:00 am to serve hot breakfast at 8:00 am for upwards of 60 people. Here, Camp Manager Annika Ord (left) and Artist in Residence Hannah Mode (at the stove) assist students Susannah Cooley and Benjy Getraer. Photo credit: Jay Ach.

“Hey, hey.” Mike, our camp manager’s voice cuts through the building volume. We pause our planning efforts to refocus our attention. “You ready?” he asks us. We grin, and nod our heads — we all know what’s coming. This moment is perhaps the last truly predictable part of each day. For although each morning begins with the same routine, each day holds something different. “Okay,” Mike says, bringing his hands in front of him and hovering his palms a few inches apart. We mimic his motions and anticipate the countdown. “3, 2, 1” he starts. And on “break,” 54 pairs of hands clap in unison, queuing both the mad rush of hungry JIRPers hoping for a second helping of oatmeal and SPAM, and the start of another day at Camp 10.

Hungry JIRPers waiting in line for food. With a full camp it takes about 30 minutes for everyone to wind through the breakfast line. The mark of a truly great cook crew is keeping the coffee flowing for the whole process. Photo credit: Jay Ach.

Hungry JIRPers waiting in line for food. With a full camp it takes about 30 minutes for everyone to wind through the breakfast line. The mark of a truly great cook crew is keeping the coffee flowing for the whole process. Photo credit: Jay Ach.

 

 

Windows of JIRP

By Crystal Yong, Yale-NUS College

Camp 17 is infamous for its cold, wet, rainy weather. After the treacherous traverse there from Juneau, we got one rest day before jumping right into safety training, slogging it out in the rain for five days in a row to become proficient in the skills required to cross the glaciers. I was beginning to feel a little down because of the non-stop routine and horrible weather, so when I was assigned cook duty on the sixth day, I was overjoyed at the thought of being able to stay indoors all day.

It was just my luck that this happened to be the first day the rain stopped and the sun came out. It didn’t make me feel any better to see everyone wash their hair and do their laundry under the sunny weather, while I had to cook, wash dishes and crush cans in the cook shack.

Yearning for a glimpse of the outside, I found a window above the stove and was immediately captivated by the view. It wasn’t solely the scenery that intrigued me, but the combination of the odd-shaped opening, the way the frame caught the sunlight, and the mix of items carelessly placed on the sill.

Window above stove of cook shack, Camp 17. Photo credit: Crystal Yong

Window above stove of cook shack, Camp 17. Photo credit: Crystal Yong

This combination of objects captured the glow and warmth of the outside even better than the scenery itself. It felt like JIRP’s presence on the Juneau Icefield was reflected here, where people lived side-by-side with big nature, coexisting at a comfortable distance for both the people and the wilderness. This was when I began to develop a fondness for the windows around JIRP’s camps.

Back window of The Institute, Camp 10 Photo credit: Crystal Yong

Back window of The Institute, Camp 10 Photo credit: Crystal Yong

The fact that there are so many windows makes it impossible to escape being with the outdoors, even if you’re in. At Camp 10, where there are many more sunny days, the light flooding through the many windows around camp reminds me of Dr. Maynard Miller’s famous words, “Nature is screaming at you”.

While every angle of the Icefield is beautiful, I somehow got the sense that each window was intentionally built to frame a certain scenic view. This intentionality really gives the sense that these JIRP camps are lived spaces. They aren’t just shacks for people to take a pit stop, or caches to store gear. They are places for explorers to live and be with nature.

Photographing these windows, I found that every one has its own unique character, with its special mix of objects placed around it. Just like the individuals in camp, they each have their own history and personality, and all carry beauty within them.

Quietly, these windows invite you to look up and out. And I think this sense of intrigue captures the spirit of many of the JIRPers I’ve met – they are all constantly looking, seeking for different ways to view the world, with eyes filled with fascination and hearts filled with both admiration and curiosity for the beauty around them.

Double Wide outhouse window, Camp 17. Photo credit: Crystal Yong

Double Wide outhouse window, Camp 17. Photo credit: Crystal Yong

I have yet to see camps 18 and 26, but I’m excited to see what windows I’ll find there - I’m sure they won’t disappoint.

 

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.