The Journey from Juneau to Camp 17

The Journey from Juneau to Camp 17

Arianna Varuolo-Clarke

We started off on the morning of Tuesday, June 30th from the Home Depot Parking Lot in Juneau. The trail name is the Lemon Creek as it follows the Lemon Creek River which begins at the Lemon Creek Glacier. This is approximately our destination where the first camp of the season, Camp 17, as it is perched on a nunatak between Ptarmagin and Lemon Creek Glaciers. If we are travelling on the Lemon Creek trail along the Lemon Creek River which begins at the Lemon Creek glacier, then we must be close, right? But this is not the case. A full days hike lies between the Home Depot Parking lot and Camp 17.

We start off the hike walking through the rainforest. This may sound odd as we are hiking on to an icefield and but part of Juneau is classified as a temperate rainforest climate. Hiking through this rainforest includes the “Vertical Swamp”. The Vertical Swamp is a section of the hike in which it is relatively steep for about an hour. This section is also typically pretty wet with water running down the trail you are trying to ascend, hence the swamp part. Luckily it was not too swampy for us on this day, but it was indeed still very steep.

A little while after going through the Vertical Swamp, we ascend further above tree-line. At this point, the terrain mellows for a little while as we travel through rolling hills. We heard a few marmots on this part of the trail but I did not get to see any of them.  Soon we get to a point where we can see the Ptarmagin Glacier. This is the steep long glacier that now stands between my trail party and Camp 17. If we looked close enough through the clouds we could even see the camp, but we were still about 2 hours away. In order to get onto the glacier we first had to travel through the valley. We hike over landscape that was once covered by the glacier. Then we walk over snow for a little while and there are large exposed cliffs to our left as we are hiking. At one point our trail party leader, Adam, spots mountain goats on the cliffs. There were about 20 of them! I think I heard one as it was running along the cliff because I heard the distinct sound of heavy strong hooves hitting stone and reminded me of a horse galloping. 

View of Camp 17 from the outhouse, called the Venus Fly Trap. Photo by author.

View of Camp 17 from the outhouse, called the Venus Fly Trap. Photo by author.

Once we get onto the glacier we are about an hour long steep hike up the Ptarmagin until reaching Camp 17, our home for the next 10 or so days. To ascend this kind of terrain it is truly a matter of just one step in front of the other and one step at a time as we climb the glacier. Ibai, another field staff member, skied down to retrieve my backpack and that was one of the happiest moments of my day, only to be topped by finally arriving atop the nunatak at Camp 17. Some of the folks that had already arrived came out to cheer us on during the last bit of the hike. At the top there were a lot of high fives and hugs and we were all quickly rushed inside for dinner. When I walked into the cookshack it was like entering a new world:  the Icefield world. Everyone just looked so cozy and excited and they were all so welcoming. It was a really great experience and I look forward to the rest of the summer with more similar experiences!

A view from Camp 17 looking towards the dead branch of the Norris Glacier. Photo by author.

A view from Camp 17 looking towards the dead branch of the Norris Glacier. Photo by author.

The Hike to C17

By Grayson Carlile, Photos by Jeff Barbee and Mira Dutschke

After almost two weeks of hot weather in the Juneau area we had an extremely rare experience for Southeast Alaska, on the long trek up to Camp 17, the trail wasn't a stream!  Our hike up to Lemon Creek Glacier was truly unique.  Most amazing was the  sunlight that filtered through the high forest canopy as we wound our way up, up, up the valley.

The trail wasn't a stream, but we still had a number of stream crossings to challenge us.  Photo:  M. Dutschke

Hiking through the dense understory of Lemon Creek Valley.  Photo:  M. Dutschke

Ascending the "vertical swamp".  Photo:  J. Barbee

The alleged "vertical swamp" that took us up past tree line, was pleasantly un swamp-like and after a muddy mosquito filled trip through southeast Alaska's temperate rain forest we were finally greeted with a refreshing drizzle of rain in the high alpine valleys. Skirting a glacial "tarn" lake, a flash of lightning and a peal of thunder caught us exposed near a ridge.  We found safe lower ground and waited out the worst of the danger before heading up towards Camp 17 once again.

Hiking in the alpine after ascending from Lemon Creek Valley.  Photo:  J. Barbee

Ascending to the low pass that leads into Ptarmigan Valley.  Photo:  J. Barbee

Descending into Ptarmigan Valley.  Photo:  J. Barbee

Climbing the upper Ptarmigan Glacier near camp, the most amazing thing of all were the cloud-free views of Juneau's Auke Bay, the fjords of the inside passage, and the jagged ridge lines that mark the far western edge of the Juneau Icefield.  While it was a tiring 14 hour day, we could not have asked for a more amazing introduction to our first research camp.

Beginning the climb up Ptarmigan Glacier to camp.  Photo:  J. Barbee

The fantastic view from Camp 17 across the upper Lemon Creek Glacier.  Observation Peak is on the right.  Photo:  J. Barbee