A Basic Introduction to the Juneau Icefield Research Program

Annie Boucher

JIRP Senior Staff and Faculty Member

Welcome to the Juneau Icefield Research Program blog! We’re gearing up for the new season: students will soon be connecting with staff mentors to navigate expedition preparation, staff are making plans for staff training week in June, and faculty are sketching out plans for student research projects.

At this time of year, when our new students are preparing for the field season, we know there are a lot of people getting to know JIRP (pronounced “jerp”) for the first time. In the coming weeks, we will use this blog to give you a taste of who will be involved in the expedition this summer, what all goes into expedition prep, and some background on a few of the returning JIRPers who make everything happen. Over the course of the field season - June through August - we will use the blog to post daily updates from the field about what we’re up to. Students will post photos, essays, drawings, and video clips covering both the science research and the day-to-day mechanics of moving more than 50 people across the Icefield.

We have a lot to look forward to! To start, though, here’s a quick and dirty overview of what’s about to happen.

What is JIRP?
JIRP is an expedition-based field science education program. Over two months, we traverse the Juneau Icefield in southeast Alaska and northwest British Columbia, moving between permanent camps while we teach a variety of field research and glacier science topics. Because we are living right on the glacier, JIRP students are immersed in their studies. They don’t just learn about glacier ice flow from a textbook, they go out onto the glacier and explore the real-life markers of flow dynamics from the ice surface, from inside crevasses, from under the ice in sub-glacial caves, and from the bird’s eye view atop nearby mountains. JIRP students spend every waking minute soaking up their surroundings; this leads to a deeper understanding of the environment than any student could get inside the classroom.

Faculty member Billy Armstrong (right, red jacket) holds an evening lecture on ice flow dynamics above the Gilkey Glacier.

Faculty member Billy Armstrong (right, red jacket) holds an evening lecture on ice flow dynamics above the Gilkey Glacier.

Who makes up the JIRP team?
There are three groups of people at JIRP: students, staff, and faculty. At any given time, there are 50-60 people participating in the expedition. Our students are mostly undergraduates, although we often have high schoolers, graduate students, and in-between-schools students as well. Our students come from schools across the U.S. and around the world. Everything that happens at JIRP revolves around student education. This summer we expect to have 32 students, all of whom will be part of the program for the whole field season.

Students Matty Miller (blue jacket) and Tai Rovzar (green jacket) repel into a crevasse and observe their surroundings.

Students Matty Miller (blue jacket) and Tai Rovzar (green jacket) repel into a crevasse and observe their surroundings.

Our staff facilitate field safety and expedition logistics. The Icefield-based field staff spend the first two weeks of the program teaching the students and new faculty required glacier safety skills. For the rest of the season they manage our camps and accompany every group that goes out onto the ice to oversee technical mountaineering challenges and take care of any first aid needs. The Juneau-based staff organize personnel, equipment, and groceries for our helicopters, as well as maintaining daily radio communication with the expedition. This summer JIRP has 12 staff members on the Icefield and two in Juneau, all of whom will work for the whole season.

Field staffer Kirsten Arnell (center, blue jacket) discusses setting routes for rope team travel on the Norris Icefall. The field staff works closely with the students every step of the traverse, teaching them the skills to travel safely through the terrain. Photo credit: Ibai Rico.

Field staffer Kirsten Arnell (center, blue jacket) discusses setting routes for rope team travel on the Norris Icefall. The field staff works closely with the students every step of the traverse, teaching them the skills to travel safely through the terrain. Photo credit: Ibai Rico.

Our faculty are researchers, professors, graduate students, journalists, medical doctors, and other professionals. While their backgrounds vary, they share a deep commitment to education and expertise in a field relevant to the Juneau Icefield. They are on the program primarily to teach and while they’re with the expedition all their work includes JIRP students. Faculty rotate throughout the summer; most weeks there are between 5 and 10 faculty members on the icefield.

Student Joel Gonzales-Santiago and faculty member Lindsey Nicholson download meteorological data from a weather station. Photo credit: Allen Pope.

When does JIRP happen?
JIRP is a summer program. Our team is in the field from mid-June through mid-August. The program has been running on this schedule every year since 1949. For more on the history of JIRP, check out our history page and stayed tuned for some JIRP legends to be posted to the blog this spring and throughout the summer.

On clear nights toward the end of the summer JIRPers often sleep outside. Everyone falls asleep around 11:00 pm when it’s getting dark, but it’s not uncommon to wake up three hours later to shouts of “Lights! Northern lights!” Photo credit: Brad Markle.

On clear nights toward the end of the summer JIRPers often sleep outside. Everyone falls asleep around 11:00 pm when it’s getting dark, but it’s not uncommon to wake up three hours later to shouts of “Lights! Northern lights!” Photo credit: Brad Markle.

Where are we working?
The Juneau Icefield is one of the largest icefields in North America at 3,700 square kilometers, covering an area a bit larger than the state of Rhode Island. An icefield is a collection of several contiguous glaciers that flow more or less outward from an area of high snow accumulation. The ice surface of an icefield is low enough that the glaciers flow around, not over, the highest mountains (distinguishing it from an ice cap). The Juneau Icefield straddles the border between southeast Alaska and northwest British Columbia. The western side of the Juneau Icefield abuts the city of Juneau, AK - our students begin their traverse hiking just beyond the Home Depot parking lot. In contrast to many icefields of a similar size, proximity to Juneau makes the logistics of JIRP relatively easy.

The hike down to camp for dinner. At the top of the rocky hilltop in the fore ground you can pick out the buildings of our largest camp. Beyond camp, Taku Glacier flows from right to left in front of the distant Taku Towers. Photo credit: Kenzie McAdams.

The hike down to camp for dinner. At the top of the rocky hilltop in the fore ground you can pick out the buildings of our largest camp. Beyond camp, Taku Glacier flows from right to left in front of the distant Taku Towers. Photo credit: Kenzie McAdams.

JIRP maintains several permanent camps across the Icefield; we are based out of these for most of the summer. Our large camps include bunk room housing for all 50-60 members of the expedition, cooking facilities, outhouses, generators, and lecture space. All permanent structures are built on the bare rocky hilltops above the flowing glaciers. The buildings are modest and space is sometimes tight, but it makes all the difference for us to be able to get out of the weather at the end of the day.

Our last large camp, near the divide between the U.S. and Canadian side of the icefield. Photo credit: Kenzie McAdams.

Our last large camp, near the divide between the U.S. and Canadian side of the icefield. Photo credit: Kenzie McAdams.

Why study the Juneau Icefield?
People study the Juneau Icefield for a host of reasons. Geologists seek information about the complicated tectonic and geologic history of Alaska. Biologists examine the flora and fauna of the rocky mountain islands isolated by the flowing ice. Physicists use seismic data to look into the ice itself to understand how the glaciers flow.

Students DJ Jarrin and Riley Wall set up the delicate gravimeter. The gravimeter measures tiny anomalies in the local gravity, which the students use to deduce information about the bedrock buried beneath almost a mile (1500 m) of ice. Photo credit: DJ Jarrin.

Students DJ Jarrin and Riley Wall set up the delicate gravimeter. The gravimeter measures tiny anomalies in the local gravity, which the students use to deduce information about the bedrock buried beneath almost a mile (1500 m) of ice. Photo credit: DJ Jarrin.

Glaciers are also a “hot topic” right now because of climate change. Glaciers form and flow in areas where annual snow accumulation is high enough that substantial snowpack survives the summer. Because they rely on the snowpack, glaciers are sensitive to two central pieces of climate: temperature and precipitation. Measuring and observing different aspects of glaciers can tell us about past and present trends in temperature and precipitation. Climate research is a central component of the JIRP curriculum, but it is far from the only topic we cover.

Students Kate Bollen, Kristen Lyda Rees, and Louise Borthwick measure the density of the snow accumulated over the past year. Even at the end of the summer the last year’s snow accumulation is often 4-6 m/13-20 ft. deep high on the icefield. Measurements of the each year’s snowfall are compared with a continuous dataset that stretches back to the 1940s. Photo credit: Victor Cabrera.

Students Kate Bollen, Kristen Lyda Rees, and Louise Borthwick measure the density of the snow accumulated over the past year. Even at the end of the summer the last year’s snow accumulation is often 4-6 m/13-20 ft. deep high on the icefield. Measurements of the each year’s snowfall are compared with a continuous dataset that stretches back to the 1940s. Photo credit: Victor Cabrera.

That’s all we’ve got for now. Blog posts will be published periodically this spring and almost daily during the summer on every aspect of working and living on the Juneau Icefield. In the meantime, we hope this gives new students, their friends and family a basic idea of what to expect in the coming months.

 

The Magic of Camp-8

Mackenzie McAdams

Purdue University

I would love to say I felt the magic of Camp-8 right when I arrived, but that was far from reality. After being towed behind a snow machine across the Matthes Glacier in a whiteout, we came to a halt on the edge of a slope. Newt told us that the snow machine had gone as far as it would go, and it was time to ski up from there. Still completely disoriented as to where I was, I started switchbacking up the slope until we reached the nunatak that Camp-8 was on. Dropping our skis and boot-packing to the top, we couldn’t wait to see our new home for the next two days. We opened up the door to a musty smelling one-room building with four bunks, a table, and a kitchen fully equipped with a waffle maker. We didn’t get to stay too long at first, because at the bottom of the nunatak sat the sled full of food and four tanks of propane. We headed back down, filling our empty packs with all the food and supplies we could, and grabbing a propane tank each. Slowly but surely, we made our way back up to camp. Magical yet? Not in the slightest, but as with most things that are worthwhile, you’ve got to work a little bit to achieve them. Arriving back at camp, and still only able to see about a meter in front of us, we tucked away inside our new home and finished all of our camp opening chores. 

Camp-8 when we first arrived. Photo by Kenzie McAdams.

Camp-8 when we first arrived. Photo by Kenzie McAdams.

After we finished cleaning, we stepped outside and the clouds were starting to clear. Newt and Tristan insisted that we take advantage of the weather and make the trek up to Mt. Moore, the summit of the nunatak. Deirdre and I exchanged glances. I knew we were both tired from opening and just wanted to take a break. But here we were standing in the middle of the icefield with hopes of blue sky above us; how could we not take the opportunity to see this beautiful place from a different perspective? So up we went, and boy was it worth it. At the summit, the sun was shining bright above and the clouds were flowing over the peaks below us like a river. I had never seen anything even close in comparison to the views that day. It was ethereal, everything below us was moving so fluidly, an important part of this natural system that happens every hour of every day, regardless if anyone is there to see it or not. It was in this moment that I felt the true magic of Camp-8. In the rest of our time at Camp-8 we summited Mount Moore twice more, each time different from the last. 

Newt Krumdieck overlooking the cloud-covered icefield from the summit of Mount Moore. Photo by Kenzie McAdams. 

Newt Krumdieck overlooking the cloud-covered icefield from the summit of Mount Moore. Photo by Kenzie McAdams. 

The magic didn’t stop once we came down from the summit. That evening we made cornbread waffles with barbeque chicken and roasted potatoes, played Settlers of Catan, and shared chocolate brownies right out of the tin with a couple of forks. We became fast friends with Lucifer, the heating unit that warmed the whole room, and learned all about the tradition of “RASHing”. We were trained on the radio, learning how to keep the radio log, understand the lingo, and what the importance of radio communication meant to JIRP. Whether it be the back and forth between Juneau Base to Camp-8 and Camp-8 to Camp-18 trying to relay weather information to get a helicopter in that day, or the happy-go-lucky trail parties calling in for their daily check-ins, the success of JIRP hinges on this radio system. Although we had an important duty monitoring the radio, in the true spirit of JIRP we didn’t stop exploring. Our remaining time at Camp-8 was spent exploring the bergschrund on the side of the nunatak, (or more fondly know as “the ‘schrund!”), mastering our tele turns on the hill and rappelling into the snow crevasse that opened up near camp overnight, always to return to warm waffles waiting for us at camp.

Kenzie Mcadams sharing the view from inside the Camp-8 crevasse. 

The opportunities for exploration and growth are endless on the icefield; each camp, each traverse and each conversation has its own unique type of magic. After reading all of the writing on the walls and chatting of the JIRPers before us, we left Camp-8 knowing that we were joining the ranks of those JIRPers who got to experience this magical place. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

Unexpected Biogeochemistry Results, and How They Were Surprisingly Helpful

Molly Peek

Smith College

Sometimes, in field science, things do not go as planned, and you just have to make the best of it. While this is true for all of life at JIRP, this year’s biogeochemistry group received special lessons in planning and adaptation.

This was the first year of the biogeochemistry student research project (BGC for short); we needed to start with an exploratory study. With no prior fieldwork done in the area, we relied on related research to begin our study characterizing the chemistry of supraglacial streams in the ablation zone of the Llewellyn Glacier. Supraglacial streams are melt water streams that run along the top of exposed ice in glacier melt zones. Nutrients from nearby nunataks are blown onto the ice, where supraglacial streams transport them across the glacier, and eventually off the end of the glacier into the downstream fluvial system. We decided to focus our project on alkalinity, which is dissolved inorganic carbon, or bicarbonate, in the water. Bicarbonate can be weathered off rocks through water, and thus is a good starting point in characterizing the chemical makeup of water.

Team BGC crosses from the nunataks to the blue ice of the ablation zone for a day of fieldwork. Photo credit: Auri Clark

Team BGC crosses from the nunataks to the blue ice of the ablation zone for a day of fieldwork. Photo credit: Auri Clark

Team BGC headed down to the blue ice of the Llewellyn Glacier and Camp 26 to investigate alkalinity in the supraglacial streams carving the ice, armed with our relevant literature and our alkalinity titrator (a devise used to measure the concentration of bicarbonate in our water samples). After a long traverse over thin snow and a tricky crevasse field, we arrived to Camp 26 on the Llewellyn ready to take alkalinity measurements on 30 melt water streams. Using clean water sampling strategies, we donned plastic gloves and filled plenty of bottles to bring back to camp for titration, as well as recording measurements and observations on the character of the stream.

Chris Miele measures the dimensions of a supraglacial stream on the Llewellyn Glacier. Photo credit: Annie Zaccarin

Chris Miele measures the dimensions of a supraglacial stream on the Llewellyn Glacier. Photo credit: Annie Zaccarin

Back at camp with fresh samples, we excitedly began titration to test for bicarbonate. To titrate, we added a dark green indicator base to the water sample, followed by drops of acid that react to the base, turning the water bright pink. The number of drops of acid required to turn the water a vibrant pink indicates the alkalinity of the water—the more drops we needed to add, the more alkalinity in the water.

Based on previous research on similar glaciers and the nature of the Llewellyn’s geology, our group expected to find significant amounts of alkalinity in supraglacial streams, especially in those streams with visible debris along their beds.

So, where was all this alkalinity? Adding acid to our samples, we consistently found it only in low levels, with the water turning boldly pink after fewer than 10 drops of the acid, indicating our samples would have bigger error bars.

Did we do something wrong? Checking over our work, we realized that, no, we had done the process correctly; we just had results that were completely unexpected. What now?

We had committed a fatal flaw in science: becoming married to a hypothesis! What can I say, we were excited. Our first response was to laugh for a little while in some frustration, and then we decided to take this as a lesson, but make it a fun one in the end.

A supraglacial stream running over the blue the ice, which our testing showed carries surprisingly low levels of alkalinity. Photo credit: Auri Clark

A supraglacial stream running over the blue the ice, which our testing showed carries surprisingly low levels of alkalinity. Photo credit: Auri Clark

If we didn’t find alkalinity where we predicted, we wondered if we would find it anywhere else. As a group, we decided to use our extra bottles to collect samples from other places around Camp 26 and on our hike off the icefield. We collected water from basal streams found in ice caves and coming out near the terminus of Llewellyn Glacier, and at the Llewellyn Inlet on Atlin Lake.

A meltwater stream running over rock debris near the terminus of the Llewellyn Glacier. Although sampling this stream wasn’t part of our initial fieldwork plan, it proved to have high levels of alkalinity. Photo credit: Auri Clark

A meltwater stream running over rock debris near the terminus of the Llewellyn Glacier. Although sampling this stream wasn’t part of our initial fieldwork plan, it proved to have high levels of alkalinity. Photo credit: Auri Clark

Finally in Atlin, we broke open the alkalinity titrator kit for one final hurrah to test these “fun” (or, more professionally, “exploratory”) samples. Observing the water as we collected samples, most of these sites were more turbid, or cloudy with dissolved particles, than the supraglacial streams had been: a good sign for finding alkalinity derived from bedrock weathering. We added our indicator dye, and apprehensively began to add drops of acid. We started slowly, but became more excited as they passed the statistically significant threshold – we had found alkalinity!

Testing these samples was exciting purely because we found the results we had set our hearts on earlier. Even though we know this is a dangerous trap in which to fall in science, as this experiment proved, it was satisfying to find the sought-after alkalinity. Beyond that, though, these samples allowed us to ask more questions about our study, which we consider a successful outcome in an exploratory study.

Why was there far more alkalinity found in basal streams than in supraglacial streams? Where did the alkalinity in the basal streams come from? How do we characterize the supraglacial streams, knowing they have little bicarbonate? How does this differ from basal streams?

All in all, this year’s biogeochemistry project was a lesson in flexibility. When the route through the crevasse field doesn’t work, try again. When your hypothesis gets a little fuzzy, ask why. A ‘null result’ is still a result, and it allows us to build off the unexpected and ask new questions.

 

Link TV: Juneau Icefield Expedition

By Matt Beedle

In 2013 JIRP was fortunate to have photographers and documentary film makers Jeffrey Barbee and Mira Dutschke as members of a great crew of staff and faculty.  In addition to their efforts to help JIRP run smoothly and safely Jeff and Mira produced two fantastic video episodes on the 'Juneau Icefield Expedition' for Link TV.  Enjoy!

Thank you, Jeff and Mira! 

The Z-Pulley Crevasse Rescue System

By Mary Gianotti

[NOTE:  Pictures will be added to this post when they are available.]

One of the main safety hazards in crossing the Juneau Icefield is that posed by snow-covered crevasses.  Crevasses are cracks in the surface of a glacier caused by stress from moving ice, and vary in depths up to many tens of meters.   They often occur at the edges and lower extents of glacier, at the outside of bends, and areas where the glacier surface steepens.  Given that even the safest route takes us through some crevassed regions, JIRP field parties rope up into groups of four or five team members and move in unison.  In the event that a team member falls into a crevasse (which has rarely happened on the icefield!), JIRP trains students to implement the Z-pulley system. This system uses a simple set of tools: a climbing rope, a few loops of cord or webbing (called slings), sit harnesses, and a small number of carabiners.  Additionally, skis and ice axes are used to build a safe anchor, which can be used to haul the team member to safety.  The system is efficient and lightweight.

To simulate a rope-team member falling through the snow into a crevasse, we took turns dropping off of the moat’s lip.  Immediately, all other group members dropped into the self arrest position, securing themselves to the snow with their ice axes and bodies to stop the fall. The first order of business is to communicate with the victim: Are they alright? Do they need medical attention? Can they climb out by themselves, or should we build a Z-pulley system?

After establishing the physical state of the victim and determining that they need assistance, the next task for those up on the surface is to build an anchor.  A couple members hold the weight of the victim; this frees another member or two to begin digging an anchor. Fortunately, Alaskan snow is almost always wet, thanks to the wonderful rainforest climate of the region.  It therefore provides a secure hold for the anchor: usually a pair of skis, clove hitched together by a sling and buried.

Once the anchor is completed, the rope is connected to the anchor using a sling, into which a special, friction-generating knot known as the “prussik” is tied.  This sling is then clipped into the anchor with a carabiner.  After this is accomplished, the weight of the victim can be safely shifted to the anchor.  Other  team members can also clip into this anchor, either directly or by securing themselves to the climbing rope via another prussik.  This allows the rescuers freedom to safely move about, check on the victim, and, if possible, prepare the lip of the crevasse (by knocking off snow, if safe, or putting an object under the rope so that it doesn’t cut deeply into the snow). Ideally, a team member stays at the crevasse’s lip to monitor the victim.

Now it is time for the rest of the members to set up the Z-pulley. The system is named this because the rope is folded back onto itself like the letter “Z” using additional prussiks and carabiners.  This arrangement provides a 3:1 multiplier in force – thus making rescue of the victim possible.

We first built the Z-pulley in one of the biuldings, then outside in the sunshine, and then in an icy rainfall that was blowing sideways. Students practiced being at all positions of the rope line.  We all lead the team at one point or another. We worked through nearly every possible  scenario until we came up with a solution. “Mr. Backpack” and other inanimate objects were great at being non-responsive dead weights.  Sometimes, unknown to the pull team above, the weight of one person in the moat secretly became that of three, as others joined in to challenge the haulers and test the system.

So as of now, we feel ready to conquer any crevasse that dares to cross our path.  I know now that crevasse rescue is an important tool for glacier travel. On our traverse from C-17 to C-10, there were times when we had to travel in rope teams over crevassed terrain and we crossed the areas with confidence and security.  While there were lighter moments in our training, I trust my fellow expedition members to realize the gravity and weight of the situation if I fall into a crevasse and that they will pull me to safety.

Connections

By Adam Taylor

Jon and Christy reflecting on the mountains as they make memories that will last a lifetime.  Photo:  Adam Taylor

Day 12 of the JIRP experience and the weather has changed quite drastically. The past few days students and staff have seen higher winds and rain which apparently is "more like Camp 17 weather".  But even with the change in weather, morale is still soaring with the eagles and yesterday we were able to dig our first snow pit.  Snow pits are a way for us to study how much mass the glacier is gaining or losing. We have also been skiing, setting up z-pulleys, and learning to safely navigate the icefield. Alongside our safety skills we've also been developing relationships.  JIRP students and staff are forming bonds not only with each other but with former and future JIRP members as well.

Adam Toolanen, Jamie Bradshaw, and Jai Beeman tying knots and friendships that if dressed properly, can last a lifetime. Photo:  Adam Taylor

JIRP students and staff will make friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. Everywhere you look at Camp 17, JIRP members are laughing and enjoying each other's company. And although most of the individuals have only known each other for a short time, they are beginning to form a family. We feel safe and comfortable with each other, which is important when traveling across the icefield. Trust will be needed during our traverse, since the time will come when your life will be put in another's hands.  

I relate the JIRP experience with my time spent in the military. Both experiences are difficult to relate to others if they haven't been participants themselves. The time spent in Camps and on different glaciers will only be shared among the few members on the icefield. When leaving, this connection stays between the students and staff. Stories will be told and memories shared with others outside, but the bonds formed will remain within the family members of JIRP.

Not only are current JIRP members creating memories with each other but they are forming bonds with former and future JIRP members as well. When blogs are posted, the experiences will be read by all; however, only fully understood by those who have experienced it before. I would hope that readers wanting the same connections would view the blogs as a motivator to attend JIRP in the future. These connections do not stop at the blog, they carry over in all aspects of life. When JIRP 2013 is written on a resume, anyone who reads it and has attended JIRP will more easily relate to the experience than those who have not been through the program. 

The memories created and time spent during the Juneau Icefield Research Program will last a lifetime. In addition to the science being done, we are gathering memories alongside data points. My feeling is that five, ten or fifteen years from now the data collected may become a bit clouded but names like Annie Cantrell, Grayson Carlile, and Brooke Stamper will hold strong. Since 1946 JIRP has been creating friendships and will continue to form them into the unforeseeable future. As Scott McGee says, "once a JIRPer, always a JIRPer". This in itself, says it all.

A JIRP trail party settles in for the night at Camp 17A over tuna-macaroni and cheese. Photo:  Adam Taylor

Tied to a String

By Stephanie Streich, Photos by Mira Dutschke and Jeff Kavanaugh

Chrissy McCabe, Alistair Morgan, William Jenkins, Adam Taylor and others practice their knots at Camp 17 on the Juneau Icefield.  Photo:  Mira Dutschke

At Camp 17, students have been roped in and all tied up, becoming familiar with various knots. A critical part of our daily routine has been learning and practicing the knots that are crucial to travel safely on the icefield. The Figure-8, the Butterfly and the Double Fisherman are just some of the knots that will protect us against the dangers of crevasses and ice caves that are hidden within glaciers. The Prussik knot and the climbing harness are sometimes the only lifeline that attach you to the other members of your trail party as you travel across this vast white wilderness of snow and ice. Before we expose ourselves to the real life dangers of the field, we developed our climbing skills in a safer and warmer environment: the kitchen.

Climbing ropes hanging to dry in the cookshack at Camp 17 on the Juneau Icefield.  Photo:  Mira Dutschke

For practice all the students piled into the cookshack to climb up ropes attached to the ceiling. Using the knots we learned, we used two Prussik slings and attached them to the ropes and our harnesses. I have to admit, I was pretty hesitant to get up the rope as I was standing in line waiting for my turn. I was unsure if two skinny strings attached to a rope would actually hold my weight and enable me to elevate myself high into the air. Once I got attached to the rope I realized that the harness did a lot of the work for me, and I started having a blast. The harness loops around our waist and legs, linking us to the main line with a carabiner. With a long Prussik for the legs and a short Prussik from the harness to the rope I was able to hoist myself up the line. It was a great feeling of relief hanging in thin air by a string, gradually climbing up, knowing that I was not going to fall down. It was so easy! Climbing was definitely not as difficult as it seemed watching my fellow JIRPers tackling the rope. Getting down, however, was another story and quite a challenge. It would be rare to need to Prussik down a rope, but I'm going to have to work on that.

Author Stephanie Streich at the top of the rope after practicing with her prussiks in the camp cookshack.  Photo:  Jeff Kavanaugh

JIRP Students Begin a Storied Traverse

By Matt Beedle

With their initial steps along Lemon Creek Trail today, Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP) participants marked the beginning of an annual expedition to the Juneau Icefield.  This hallowed academic expedition has roots reaching back to 1948, and a history of visioning and reconnaissance beginning in the early 1940s.

In August and September of 1941, a team that included William O. Field, Jr. and Maynard M. Miller (amongst others) studied the glacier termini of Glacier Bay and the inlets and fjords near Juneau (Field, 1942). Field and Miller would later recall that it was during this expedition of the 1940s that it began to become apparent that it was necessary to study the upper reaches of these Alaska glaciers to understand their disparate behavior (Field and Miller, 1950).

Until the 1940s the vast bulk of scientific observation of Alaska glaciers was of their termini, with many hundreds of stations established for repeat photography and surveying of glacier length change. What was apparent – and what dominated as the key ‘problem’ in the glaciology of southeast Alaska at the time – was how some glaciers (most notably those of Glacier Bay) were receding dramatically, while others (such as Taku Glacier) were advancing vigorously. What was the cause of this dichotomy? Field and Miller  were being drawn to the upper reaches of these glaciers as the best place to uncover what was driving the terminus changes that had been observed for decades. However, these upper reaches – the massive icefields of the Coast Mountains - were still, for the most part, unexplored:

“Taku Glacier heads far back in the mountains, no one knows where . . .”

--Israel Russell, Glaciers of North America, 1897

At the American Geographical Society in 1946 Field and Miller began to collaborate on what would become the Juneau Icefield Research Project (Field, 2004).  In 1948, with American Geographic Society funding, Field and Miller initiated which was envisioned then as:

“ . . . a program for which would initiate over a period of years comprehensive studies not only of the Juneau Ice Field but on other representative ice masses in both North and South America . . .”

--Field and Miller, The Juneau Icefield Research Project, 1950 

Members of the first JIRP "high ice" expedition to the Juneau Icefield in the summer of 1948.  Left to right:  Maynard Miller, W. Laurence Miner, Lowell Chamberlain, Melvin G. Marcus, William A. Latady and Anthony W. Thomas.  Photo taken at Camp 4 on "Hades Highway," the upper Twin Glaciers' neve.  Photo:  FGER Archives

JIRP work on the icefield began in the summer of 1948 with a reconnaissance party tasked with searching for routes to access the accumulation area of the Juneau Icefield, and to begin to determine the gear and logistics necessary to carry out thorough investigations. Over the course of three weeks a team of six carried out this early reconnaissance and also initiated glaciological, geological, botanical and meteorological studies.

Following the early, more exploratory years of JIRP in the late-1940s, extensive field research in the 1950s was lead by a host of collaborators, including Calvin Heusser, Art Gilkey, Ed LaChappelle, and Larry Nielson along with Field and Miller.  These early years of JIRP are brilliantly chronicled in a recent retrospective by Calvin Heusser, complete with wonderful journal entries from the early expeditions on the Juneau Icefield (Heusser, 2007).

In the late-1950s and early-1960s JIRP the 'Project' became JIRP the 'Program'.  This transition, and subsequent half-century of JIRP, was lead by the team of Maynard and Joan Miller.  And while it was Maynard and Joan who were the driving force behind JIRP for many decades, I would be remiss if I did not mention the efforts of hundreds of devoted volunteers and financial supporters that have brought to fruition this experience for further generations.

JIRP truly has become multi-generational, with the children and grandchildren of Maynard Miller and Tony Thomas (both members of the 1948 reconnaissance) also participating in and helping to lead JIRP in subsequent decades.  And while JIRP can count familial generations as participants, it has also inspired multiple generations of scientists, adventurers and artists:

“My JIRP experience strengthened in me a love of exploration that ultimately led to my participation in the space program, including the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. JIRP was fundamental to my growth as a scientist and as a person.”

--  Dr. Steven Squyres, Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University; Principal Investigator of Mars Exploration Rover Project

“I’d always wanted to be an explorer when I grew up . . . JIRP essentially taught me how.  It’s not about being the first person to plant flags and leave footprints somewhere.  It’s about mapping the world in new ways, and in the process, discovering untrammeled territory in yourself.”

--Kate Harris, author and adventurer, named one of Canada’s top 10 adventurers by Explore Magazine

Six of the JIRPers of 2004 on top of 'Taku B'.  From left to right:  Kate Harris, Riley Hall, Evan Burgess, Keith (Laskowski) Ma, Winston Macdonald, and Robert Koenig.  Photo:  M. J. Beedle

And today, 65 years after the first reconnaissance team of six, JIRP continues as an unrivaled academic expedition.  Over the next seven weeks, across the Juneau Icefield from Juneau, AK to Atlin, BC, 25 new JIRPers will join the storied history of JIRP.  From the Vertical Swamp to the Vaughan Lewis, the Lemon Creek to the Llewellyn, Split Thumb to Storm Range, this country, this experience never ceases to inspire.  Be inspired, JIRPers of 2013!

References

Field, W. O.  1942.  Glacier Studies in Alaska, 1941, Geographical Review , 31, 1, 154-155.

Field, W. O.  2004.  With a Camera in my Hands:  William O. Field, Pioneer Glaciologist:  A Life History as Told to C. Suzanne Brown, University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks, 184 pp.

Field, W. O. and Miller, M. M.  1950.  The Juneau Ice Field Research Project, Geographical Review , 40, 2, 179-190. 

Heusser, C. J.  2007.  Juneau Icefield Research Project (1949-1958):  A Retrospective, Developments in Quaternary Sciences, 8, 232 pp. 

Russell, I. C.  1897.  Glaciers of North America, Ginn and Co., Boston, 220 pp.  

Arrival in Juneau and Hike to Mendenhall Glacier

By Sarah Bouckoms, Photos by Adam Taylor

Happy solstice everyone!  We celebrated by arriving in Juneau on a warm sunny day and to stunning views of the glaciers.  It's a fun experience meeting all the people we are going to get to know so well over the next eight weeks.  Everyone seems pretty nice so far, no apparent poor hygiene practices . . . as of yet.  Everyone is super cool and has an amazing story to tell.

The 2013 JIRP crew en route to Mendenhall Glacier.  Photo:  Adam Taylor

Today we hiked to Mendenhall Glacier.  It was really exciting for those of us who had never been on a glacier before.  Pretty special moments to see those dreams come true.  No one was deterred by the slight rain and gray clouds, but rather it made for some majestic photos.  The weather was still warm, in the mid 60s, and the clouds lifted as the day went on. 

A view of the terminus of Mendenhall Glacier.  Photo:  Adam Taylor   

We learned how to put on crampons, worked out the cobwebs in our legs and got to know everyone a bit more.  The trail mix was fabulous and we enjoyed the luxury of fresh apples.  Oh and cereal WITH MILK for breakfast.  Savor it . . .

The group puts on crampons for some practice on the lower Mendenhall Glacier.  Photo:  Adam Taylor

The best part about the day has to be the ice cave.  The ceiling was literally glowing.  It was indescribably beautiful.  Thanks to Adam's photography skills for capturing the scene.  Walking in the cave, the stream was flowing, the walls dripping, ice forms everywhere and cameras snapping.  I think everyone has already been wowed beyond belief and the "best day ever" quotes are often heard, as will probably happen every day.  We're so happy to be here. 

Inside an ice cave at the terminus of Mendenhall Glacier.  Photo:  Adam Taylor