The Final Traverse

By: Melissa “Luna” Brett, Radford University

Saying goodbye to Camp 26 with a view of the medial moraine we used as the first part of our trail, and a view of Atlin Lake in the distance (Photo by: Maya Smith)

Saying goodbye to Camp 26 with a view of the medial moraine we used as the first part of our trail, and a view of Atlin Lake in the distance (Photo by: Maya Smith)

The last few minutes at camp 26 were spent with a handful of rock samples, turning each one and weighing them in either hand, carefully deciding which couldn’t be lived without and which were too heavy to carry on the long and icy journey ahead. With a pack full of the “can’t live without pile” and an empty “too heavy to carry pile”, I set out with our trail party across the immense Llewellyn Glacier. The weather was cold and sprinkling, but staying on the move kept everyone warm as we quietly walked along the medial moraine watching the sunrise.

“ The Great Blue Landscape of my Wildest Dreams ”  (Photo by: Elizabeth  “ Lizzie ”  Kenny)

The Great Blue Landscape of my Wildest Dreams (Photo by: Elizabeth Lizzie Kenny)

The sun was fighting the gray sky, casting long and sharp shadows into every corner of my vision. The crunch of crampons under our feet and the whipping wind was all that could be heard at first, and all around was the lonely morning light illuminating the colorful, sharp peaks jutting from their ice covered feet. Small meandering streams trickled along atop the glacier, joining forces as wild rivers, drilling deep and roaring holes down into the dark blue depths of the glaciers’ heart. Some places were as clear as glass, with a colorful variety of sediments locked in place, others areas were filled with a variety of stripes and swirls of every shade of blue imaginable, and everywhere there was a sense of slow and steady change. Giant, unimaginably deep crevasses were all around, and we slowly made our way through the groaning maze toward the lake and beyond the mountains ahead.

The journey takes us beyond ourselves, and into another world (Photo by: Elizabeth  “ Lizzie ”  Kenny).

The journey takes us beyond ourselves, and into another world (Photo by: Elizabeth Lizzie Kenny).

One last step and the ice would be behind us. I stood there for a second, looking ahead to the outwash plain, and then over my shoulder, looking back not just to the blue ice behind me, not just to the long challenging weeks on the icefield, but back at all the things that brought me here; all the hard work, all the risks, all the right choices and all the wrong ones. All the people who have helped me along, all the times I looked out the window and didn’t go, and all the times I opened the door and left. They were all there with me, and with a deep and satisfying breath, I wiped the tears from my face, turned and stepped off the ice. With an exciting strength the group hiked on, through rocks and sediment of every shape, size and color imaginable. Chatting with each other to make the time pass we moved swiftly through the quickly changing landscape, through a variety of ecosystems with their exciting and forgotten scents. Trees! Beautiful trees and shrubs creeping in around us until we were fighting our way through, which isn’t an easy task with new blisters and tall skis sticking out from the tops of our packs, but the sound of laughter and encouraging words kept the group going.

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   Trees! Finally back to the land of plants (Photo by: Elizabeth “Lizzie” Kenny)!

Trees! Finally back to the land of plants (Photo by: Elizabeth “Lizzie” Kenny)!

Dry boots were a thing of the past once we hit the marsh, and people were just tromping through creeks now with reckless abandon. Beaver dams, lynx and bear tracks, birds and squirrels were all welcoming signs that the Atlin Lake inlet was near! One last break on top of the ridge with a view of the now far-off glacier, one last group picture full of smiles and pride, one last hoist of the overstuffed and heavy packs, and on we went, dropping down into the woods. The forest was like a good long hug from an old friend, deep green pines, bright green mosses, the sound of water and wind through the aspen leaves, all so familiar. The last few steps brought us to the shore of the lake, and in that moment we had crossed the Juneau Icefield, traversed from Juneau to Atlin inlet on what will always be for many of us, the greatest journey of our lifetime.  

The team says one last goodbye to the Juneau Icefield (Photo By: Matt Pickart)!

The team says one last goodbye to the Juneau Icefield (Photo By: Matt Pickart)!

The Wet Traverse: Adventures of Trail Party 1

by Elizabeth Kenny, Bowdoin College

After over a week of safety training, it was finally time to traverse to Camp 10. Everyone was excited to see a new part of the icefield. We waited in anticipation for a helicopter to come in and transport some of our gear to Camp 10 so that select staffers could open camp before we arrived. There was a days delay due to the weather, but the following day at 5 in the morning the first trail party (Kirsten, Lindsey, Elias, Luc, Alex Z, and I along with safety staff Zach and Jon) was off. It was a perfect morning, with blue sky and amazing snow conditions for skiing!

Kirsten, Elias, and Alex beginning the traverse.  Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

Kirsten, Elias, and Alex beginning the traverse.  Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

Excitement was high as we rapidly made our way down the Lemon Creek Glacier towards an area where the snow had melted away, revealing beautiful blue glacier ice. As it was a bit slippery, we took off our skis and slowly crossed.

Crossing the ice on the Lemon Creek glacier.  Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

Crossing the ice on the Lemon Creek glacier.  Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

Looking back on the Lemon Creek glacier.  Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

Looking back on the Lemon Creek glacier.  Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

However, as we began our ascent of Nugget Ridge, ominous clouds began to move in from Juneau. As we split into two four-man rope teams in order to safely cross a crevasse zone, the storm was drawing nearer. It soon became so socked in that you could hardly see the person in front of you on the rope. As the first party, we were responsible for setting a safe track for the following trail parties. This proved to be a difficult task, and we ended up going in a very large loop, spending nearly two hours skiing roped up. The rain was coming down harder and the wind was picking up as we made our way down the other side of the ridge.

Roped up while making our way through a crevasse zone in a white out.  Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

Roped up while making our way through a crevasse zone in a white out.  Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

This was the type of weather we had been hoping to avoid. Had we known that it was coming, we probably would not have started our traverse that day. However, weather on the icefield is unpredictable. At that point our only option was to continue on to a cache that had been set up to support our night of camping on the glacier. It was slow going as we made our way across Death Valley in the rain, with sun cups on the snow significantly restricting our progress. Finally we reached the Norris Icefall, our last obstacle before the cache. Not one item of clothing was dry as we roped up once again, but we did so quickly in an effort to keep everyone warm. After reaching the top of the icefall, it was a short ski to the cache, where we were finally able to stop for the night. After almost 15 hours on the trail everyone was exhausted, so after a quick dinner of chili it was off to bed. The second trail party arrived at camp shortly after us, equally wet and tired.

                  Unfortunately, the tents we had were no match for the pouring rain outside. The next morning the majority of us woke up just as wet, if not wetter, than we had been the night before. It was still raining, and once again poor visibility prevented us from seeing any of the surrounding icefield. We learned that the next trail parties decided not to head out that day due to the weather, but once again, we had no choice but to power on. After scarfing down some oatmeal and hot chocolate, both groups began to travel together on the last stretch of the traverse. It felt like we were on a white treadmill, with nothing visible except for the skiers in front of us. Despite the cold and rain, everyone remained in relatively high spirits. The day was long and tiring, but just when we thought we couldn’t go any farther, Camp 10 appeared through the fog!

Camp 10 finally appearing! Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

Camp 10 finally appearing! Photo by Elizabeth Kenny

Cheers of excitement arose as we made our way to the base of the nunatak. The short climb to camp felt like quite an ordeal after skiing so much for the past two days, but at least we were finally there. Wet clothes were quickly shed and hung up to dry as we moved into our new bunks, and after a warm and filling dinner followed by a quick camp tour, we could finally rest at our new home. This traverse was a classic example of Type B fun on the icefield – it may not have been fun while we were doing it, but it is certainly something we will never forget.