A Chain of Mentorship

Matt Beedle

Director of Academics and Research

Today is a special day on the JIRP calendar. As you read this, the 2017 JIRP staff team – with excitement for the new field season despite the weather – is hiking to Camp 17 for “Staff Week”. These 12 days of opening JIRP’s first main camp, wilderness first aid training, glacier travel/rescue training, and (let’s be honest) at least a few runs on the Ptarmigan Glacier to test skis and snow conditions, kicks off the field season. It establishes more than physical goals and hard skills, however. The culture, community and camaraderie of JIRP 2017 begin to form today. While each season is unique, there are threads of commonality that span the many generations of JIRP field seasons and individual JIRPers. One of the most powerful threads in each field season is that of mentorship.

We’ve done quite a number of short pieces on JIRP history in recent years (see some of them here, here and here), but a component of JIRP that hasn’t been communicated in particular is the long history of mentorship. Post-JIRP, students regularly comment on the value of having tremendous access to inspiring staff members and faculty. The often cheek-by-jowl conditions of a JIRP camp, skiing for hours in a driving rain, discussion of ideas, problems and dreams allow for JIRP students to get to know one another well. These moments, however, are also shared with faculty and staff, moments that have been shared on the Juneau Icefield for decades. The JIRP story begins in the 1940s, but a chain of mentorship can be traced back in time even further.

John Muir first ventured to Alaska in 1879 for the first of his fabled canoe journeys through southeast Alaska. He wasn’t the first to journey here, as western sailors had been poking into the bays and fjords of southeast Alaska since Chirikov’s voyage of 1741, and the Tlingit people had called this part of the world home for many thousands of years prior. Muir’s 1879 voyage, however, did initiate a western investigation of the glaciers of southeast Alaska, enabled by his Tlingit guides.

John Muir and Reid's team at the Muir cabin in Glacier bay, 1890. Source: National Park Service

John Muir and Reid's team at the Muir cabin in Glacier bay, 1890. Source: National Park Service

On a subsequent trip to southeast Alaska in 1890, Muir spent time in Glacier Bay with Harry Fielding Reid and a team of scientists investigating the dynamics of Muir Glacier.  Reid’s subsequent Variations of Glaciers work would be a foundational effort for the World Glacier Monitoring Service of today. One of the individuals that Reid mentored and inspired was William O. (Bill) Field, known as one of the founders of modern glaciological study in North America. For his 1941 expedition to southeast Alaska, Field inquired with Bradford and Barbara Washburn in looking for a capable field assistant.The Washburns pointed him to Maynard Miller, a Harvard undergraduate who had been on their expedition to Mount Bertha the previous year. Field and Miller’s shared field experiences in 1941 and subsequent years gave rise to this important new direction to explain glacier behavior:

It became fairly clear to us in 1941 that a full explanation was more likely to be found in the upper elevations rather than at the terminus.
— W. O. Field and M. M. Miller, Geographical Review, 1950
Maynard Miller (right) explores the remnants of the Muir cabin in Glacier Bay during the 1941 expedition led by Bill Field. Source: Field, William Osgood. 1941 No Glacier: From the Glacier Photograph Collection. Boulder, Colorado USA: National Snow and Ice Data Center. Digital media.

Maynard Miller (right) explores the remnants of the Muir cabin in Glacier Bay during the 1941 expedition led by Bill Field. Source: Field, William Osgood. 1941 No Glacier: From the Glacier Photograph Collection. Boulder, Colorado USA: National Snow and Ice Data Center. Digital media.

After a few years of aerial reconnaissance and further investigation of the termini of glaciers of southeast Alaska, followed by a first exploration of the “high ice” of the Juneau Icefield in 1948, JIRP the annual field expedition began in 1949. It has continued ever since, and this chain of mentorship has been ongoing, from Field and Miller, to individuals such as Ed LaChapelle, Austin Post, Kurt Cuffey, Christina Hulbe, Steven Squyres, Kate Harris, Alison Criscitiello and many hundreds more. From this annual traverse of the Juneau Icefield, dreams, careers, adventures are launched.

It is challenging to keep track of the inspiring work that recent JIRP alumni are taking on, let alone the many hundreds who have come before them. A part of this inspiration has come from interactions with JIRP mentors: the long ski traverses filled with academic discussions, songs, and stories; the hardships and smiles shared in the field and back at camp; the guidance during the season and in the years that follow. With this view back at the long chain of mentorship through many decades of exploration of the icy corners of southeast Alaska, it is exciting to think of the JIRP staff of 2017. Slowly making their way to Camp 17 today, hiking in the literal and figurative footsteps of the many hundreds before, they are setting in motion the foundational community of JIRP 2017 - the community of staff, faculty and students that will continue this chain.

Note: Thanks to Bruce Molnia for being a JIRP mentor of mine and for pointing out the linkages back in time from Mal Miller, to Bill Field, to Harry Reid, and to John Muir.

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 (beedlem@unbc.ca).

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.

Maynard M. Miller JIRP Legacy Fund

Dear friends of JIRP,

Our dad (Dr. Maynard M. Miller, M3 ) is 92 and living at home in Idaho.  He is weak but is generally happy and gives thumbs up when discussing the future of JIRP.

To boost his spirits we often talk about the icefield. And as a special boost we have an idea for a gift, that if successful, we would like to share with him.  In the coming months we want to celebrate him and his decades of leadership with a gift that will help bridge to a bright JIRP future – the M3 JIRP Legacy Fund.

Donations will be used to ensure ongoing maintenance of the icefield infrastructure that he worked so hard to make possible, and which continues to enable the annual JIRP field season.  Funds will be used to endow maintenance of this vital infrastructure, and, specially, to renovate his room at Camp 10 as a student research lounge, archive, and museum of JIRP history. In addition, resources will be allocated to organizing and archiving data, photographs, maps, films and other documentation of the nearly 70 years of work on the Juneau Icefield.  These two streams of focus – maintenance of icefield infrastructure and archival of historical data – constitute a significant portion of  M3’s legacy, and the legacy of JIRP.

We ask you to join us, members of the FGER (Foundation for Glacier and Environmental Research) board of directors, and others in giving generously to the M3 JIRP Legacy Fund.  Your tax-deductible donation can be made:

Online via PayPal:

By sending a check or credit card details to:

Foundation for Glacier and Environmental Research
4616 25th Avenue NE, Suite 302
Seattle, Washington 98105

Please make checks payable to FGER, and note that your donation is for the M3 JIRP Legacy Fund.

Along with your generous donation we would like to offer you the opportunity to send a personal message to our dad, and to have your name included in a list of donors that will be presented to him and on a commemorative plaque in the future, renovated building at Camp 10.  Include your personal message in the PayPal checkout process or with your donation via the FGER mailing address.  Please specify if you wish to remain anonymous.

With your help we can give M3 a tremendous gift - one that honors him, but also helps ensure a bright JIRP future for decades to come. 

We also want to introduce the forthcoming Joan W. Miller JIRP Scholarship Fund, which will be formally announced in October, and have the ongoing goal to help make the JIRP experience accessible to all prospective students.  Through these two funds we - along with the FGER Board – aspire to honor our parents, recognize their many decades of leadership, and ensure a bright future for JIRP.   

Thank you for your generous support of the Juneau Icefield Research Program.


Lance and Ross Miller