The Traverse from C-17 to C-10

By Kamil Chadirji-Martinez and William Jenkins

Last night the students and staff members of JIRP 2013 were all reunited after several days of travel. This year 31 people completed the traverse from our first camp, Camp 17, to Camp 10 on the edge of the massive Taku Glacier – a total distance of 36 kilometers.

Members of Trail Party Two wave goodbye to Trail Party One.  Photo by Adam Taylor.

The first 10-person trail party (with co-author William) left at 9:00am, under beautiful sunny skies, and descended the Lemon Creek Glacier in 45 minutes. A day later, the second 21 person trail party (with co-author Kamil),  left at 5:45am, in thick fog. The fog created a treadmill sensation, as white-out conditions in all directions created the illusion of skiing in place. Under these  conditions it took us 3 hours to descend the Lemon. Some skis were very slick, and allowed one  to easily shoot down the glacier. Other ski types and comfort levels forced people to shuffle down the glacier, so we could only start moving until the person behind us was visible. As we approached the margin of the Lemon Creek Glacier, rocks, patches of red algae-stained snow, and areas of grooved blue ice emerged from the fog.

Looking back up towards Camp-17 from the lower Lemon Creek Glacier, as seen by Trail Party One.  Trail Party Two reached this point in fog.  Photo by Adam Taylor.

From the base of the Lemon Creek Glacier the trail parties ascended several steep slopes, gaining approximately 1,000 vertical feet in elevation, in order to arrive at an area known as “Lunch Rocks”. The outcrop served as a nice resting spot and offered an outstanding view of Devil’s Paw, the tallest peak on the Juneau Icefield and a popular destination for alpine climbers. This peak lies on the Canadian border, and stands as a staunch reminder of the long distance that we have yet to travel. From this point,  we traversed the upper Thomas Glacier to the base of Nugget Ridge. We climbed up the steep and rocky ridge with skis on our packs, until we could gain a safe access point to the upper Norris Glacier.

Nugget Ridge was a pleasant ski-break for some of us. Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

As the second trail party tied into their rope teams, the wind started to blow and moved the fog in and out, providing short glimpses of the mountains around us. It began to rain lightly, but horizontally. Some of us tied parachute cords around our skies as brakes, while others used climbing skins. We carefully wound our way down through crevasses, crossing snow bridges over large crevasses. Looking outward, the snow dipped away at a sharp angle all around us, revealing mountains below. Nearing the end of this descent, the wind ripped Jai Beeman’s rain fly from his bag. Because we were roped up, we had to watch it fly into the distance. At the end of this slow descent the weather finally cleared up.  Our group descended to Death Valley with ease, listening to  music on Adam Toolanen’s speakers while enjoying the blue skies.

The teachings of Camp 17 come into play as we skied roped up down from Nugget Ridge toward Death Valley.  Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

Sarah Cooley skis by a crevasse during the descent from Nugget Ridge.  Photo by Adam Taylor.

The name “Death Valley” implies a far more ominous scene than the seemingly flat  and expansive glacier which laid before us; however, we rapidly came to the conclusion that the sun cups were enough to kill at least one’s forward momentum. After a several-hour traverse across the valley, we encountered the final obstacle before the cache camp, the Norris Icefall. The ascent up the icefall involved hours of negotiating a maze of crevasses while divided into rope teams. Once on top of the icefall we followed the fresh snowmobile tracks left by Scott McGee. He had established the nearby Norris Cache, where we would spend the night in tents set up on the snow.

Skiers approach the Norris Icefall, which looms above Death Valley.  Photo by Adam Taylor.

Skiers make their way up to the Norris Icefall.  Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

Sarah Bouckoms smiles at the sight of the Norris Cache after a long day.  Photo by Jamie Bradshaw.

After  dinner we hit the sack. The snow’s cold presence was felt even through a tarp, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag. The next morning we slept in and woke up, feeling a little sore and packed up our gear at a leisurely pace. From the cache we made a final steep (if short) climb. Most of the rest of the day was spent gradually skiing down the gradual slope of the Taku’s Southwest Branch towards the main trunk of the Taku Glacier. On this final 18 kilometer stretch of our traverse to Camp 10, we became familiar with the phenomenon known by some in our group as the “Alaska Factor”, which describes the extreme scale of things here on the Icefield. From the beginning of the second day, we could practically see Camp 10, and spent the major part of the day skiing towards it.

When we reached Juncture Peak (at the juncture of the Southwest Branch and main trunk of Taku Glacier), we knew that we were approaching our goal, and that we only had to cross the main Taku Glacier to reach Camp-10.  Given its size, this took an additional two hours.  Both groups traversed the glacier in the sun, a welcome change from the conditions at C-17.  Both parties also experienced the katabatic winds that commonly flow down the Taku, resulting from the densification of air cooled by contact with the snow.  A couple large clouds hovered around the camp, about a hundred meters from the glacier surface. Upon emerging from this strange scenery, we were met with familiar faces and a warm dinner.

A humorous sign informs the trail party of the next day’s travel distance.  Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

JIRP is FINALLY Happening!

By Jamie Bradshaw

While writing this, I am sitting in The Cook Shack at Camp 17 listening to Pink Floyd while the cooks are planning lunch and our fearless leaders are setting the route for the Norris Cache, our first move to Camp 10. Once the route is set and the weather softens, the first trail party will hit the trail. Fortunately, I am in the first trail party and this time I will have first dibs on sleeping arrangements! I am really looking forward to seeing new sights and I am pumped to endure what I have been told is the most physically and mentally challenging part of the icefield traverse. Another reason why I am so excited to arrive at Camp 10 is because I know just how good the view is. Unlike the other students, Camp 10 is not a complete mystery to me. If you followed the 2012 JIRP blog, you may remember my post from last summer about my fortunate flight to Camp 10

Jamie and “Blue”, the trusty JIRP Suburban, on their way to Atlin, BC, Canada to continue JIRP logistics in 2012.  Photo:  Jamie Bradshaw

I first heard about the program nearly three years ago when enrolled in a Glacier Surveying Field Methods course offered by Mike Hekkers at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, Alaska. I was immediately intrigued. In 2011, I was lucky to be able to spend time with the JIRPers while they were in Juneau for a week. I hiked to Herbert Glacier with them and showed them our surveying sites on Mendenhall Glacier.  Last year, I saw the Logistics Agent position for JIRP was available. I decided to apply for the position because it would be a great way to support JIRP,  get involved and I figured it would give me a unique perspective of JIRP in hopes of participating as a student in the summer of 2013. You could say that I had the “JIRP bug”.

Nearly all of the JIRP mystery is removed for me because of my logistics position last summer. I understood how the food, supplies and mail get here, I knew what many of the camps look like and approximately how long we spend at each camp, I knew how meals work and how day and multi-day trips work and I knew of the joys of Atlin, BC. I also knew three of the students participating prior to JIRP, I knew the staff members and many of the guest lecturers from previous JIRP experiences. Most of the time I really appreciate my JIRP background because I can answer many questions that students have and I can prepare myself for upcoming events. Other times, this background takes some of the excitement of the unknown away from me that the other students have. Needless to say, I am very thankful to have this JIRP knowledge and to have the unknowns of the routes from camp to camp!

While coordinating logistics in Juneau last summer, I read the blogs, flew to Camps 10 and 18, and saw how close the students and staff grew. I was honored to be a part of the JIRP family, but I wanted to learn and grow with everyone on the ice. I knew that JIRP would be an amazing experience and I anxiously awaited the summer 2013 season to begin. On the hike up to Camp 17A, I kept saying to myself “ I can’t believe this is finally happening!”  So far, JIRP has been everything I have imagined it to be!

Jamie on the upper Lemon Creek Glacier overlooking the Dead Branch of Norris Glacier; where, after three years, JIRP is really happening!  Photo:  Jamie Bradshaw