The 11 Essentials

By Cullen Muerer (text) and Grace "June" Juneau (drawings)

When JIRPers go out on the glacier, they always bring the "ten essentials." These items are mandatory to have with you every time you leave camp to explore the icefield. By the end of the first week, all JIRP students have the essential items ingrained into their minds.

These items are as followed:

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1.     Navigation - A map and compass.

2.     Sun protection - Glacier glasses, to protect against snow blindness, and sunscreen, preferably with zinc, to prevent against scorching sunburns.

3.     Insulation – Extra clothing. Weather changes quickly and what starts as a warm day can quickly turn frigid.

4.     Illumination – A headlamp… even though Alaska is the land of the midnight sun.

5.     First aid supplies – Blisters are your worst enemy on the icefield and moleskin will save the day.

6.     Fire – A lighter.

7.     Repair kit – A roll of duct tape can go a long way.

8.     Nutrition – Trail lunch with ample amounts of GORP (fancy trail mix) is a must.

9.     Hydration – One liter of water is never enough, though you can add snow to make it last.

10.  Emergency shelter – A tarp, which can be used as an emergency bivouac shelter.

While we all bring these same items out into the field, everyone tends to have one extra item that they personally would never leave camp without. I asked JIRPers around camp, "What is your eleventh essential?"

Zak Horine (Student): Speaker

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While digging mass balance pits, Zak likes to crank up the tunes on his speaker.

Bradley Markle (Climate Scientist, JIRP Alumni & Faculty): Coffee

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When he goes out to collect isotope sample, Brad brings an extra thermos of hot coffee for those necessary boosts of energy throughout the day.

Scott Lakeram (Student): Camera

Scott never leaves camp without a camera. He loves to capture the candid moments of days out on the field.

Nadia Grisaru (Student): Too many layers

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Nadia runs cold, so she doesn’t leave camp without a few extra layers for those chilly days studying isotopes on the icefield.

Clem Taylor-Roth (Student): Buff

On long ski days to mass balance pits, Clem wears a buff over his neck as extra sun and wind protection.

Marisa Borreggine (Student): Sneakers

“I never hike in my ski boots," said Marisa. She brings a pair of sneakers with her every time she leaves camp to avoid the pains of walking down a steep hill in stiff telemark boots.

Eric Zhu (Student): Friends to laugh with

Although you’re never leave camp alone, Eric likes to bring friends to laugh with.

Alec Getraer (Student): Cards

Alec brings a pack of cards with him out on the icefield, because he enjoys playing and you never know when you might have time to kill.

Isabelle Henzmann (Student): Puffy skirt

Isabelle brings a puffy skirt with her to stay warm and look good out on the ice.

Andrew Opila (Student): Chapstick

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When Andrew goes out for a ten hour day on the glacier, he always had a stick of chapstick with him to protect against burnt lips.

Grace "June" Juneau (Student): Sketch book

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As the student artist in residence, June carries a small sketch book for scribbled notes and quick contour drawings.

Fuggering it out on the Juneau Icefield

By Alec Getraer

While making applesauce biscuits on my first cook shift at Camp 18, I discovered that the oven door was missing its handle. It seemed to have fallen off in a previous season. A loose screw protruding from the door provided a temporary means of entry for the biscuits, but the oven required a more permanent fix.

After breakfast, I gathered some tools and materials from the generator shed and cookshack: a phillips head screw driver, a pair of pliers, a wire cutter, a length or steel wire, a roll of duct tape, and scraps from a cardboard box. Fifteen minutes later, the oven door was screwed back on, sporting a satisfyingly functional handle.

 The makeshift handle on the Camp 18 oven is crude but highly functional! PC: Alex Getraer

The makeshift handle on the Camp 18 oven is crude but highly functional! PC: Alex Getraer

Things on JIRP break all the time. The harsh icefield environment and heavy use by dozens of expedition members causes significant wear on items every season. Equipment like ski bindings and poles are particularly susceptible to sudden failure, but larger things like ovens, snow machines, and even buildings, fall apart from time to time.

In a remote field camp with limited supplies, finding a simple yet effective fix for these failures is crucial but not easy. When the ideal tools or materials aren’t available, a little creativity and make-shifting is required to restore functionality, if not aesthetic appeal. We call this 'fuggering,' a riff off the name of our larger organization, FGER, the Foundation for Glacier and Environmental Research. 

Looking around the JIRP camps, the fuggering of past expeditions is evident everywhere. Bunkhouse shelves made from wooden gasoline crates adorn sleeping quarters in Camp 10; rearview mirrors borrowed from old cars are repurposed for the Camp 18 bathrooms. These fuggerized additions make the most out of icefield scraps, and lend a uniquely quaint vibe to the JIRP camps.

Every summer on one day of the traverse, everyone makes something. On July 25th, we celebrate JIPRmas with a ‘secret snowflake’ gift swap. Student and staff gift each other wonderfully fuggered creations made from scrap material found around camp. JIRPmas, a highly anticipated event on the icefield, is a great opportunity to embrace the creative spirit of the summer.

This JIRPmas, I carved a wooden dagger from a piece of firewood, replete with a duct tape sheath. Student Cullen Meurer used an empty tin can and some pebbles to make a ‘rain-maker' for his gift. A particularly ambitious past JIRPers built a meticulous cardboard replica of the Camp 10 outhouse, 'Petunia,' which still lives here. 

 JIRPmas gifts past and present on display at Camp 18. PC: Alec Getraer

JIRPmas gifts past and present on display at Camp 18. PC: Alec Getraer

Across the years, JIRPers have built some wonderfully functional and creative things. Some of these efforts endure season after season, while others simply bring a smile to their JIRPmas recipients. But all of these creations add to the creative and resourceful spirit of the expedition.

A Home on a Mountain Ridge

By Isabelle Henzmann, University of Zurich

On the ridge between the Ptarmigan and Lemon Creek glacier, the weather changes every few minutes. The winds are cold and rough. The only thing that makes this wild ridge hospitable is Camp 17, built around 1953 by the first JIRPers, under the lead of founder Dr. Maynard Malcom Miller and his wife Joan Miller.

One day, I left the cook shack - the only heated building in camp - and the sky started clearing. For the first time I spotted the beautiful, huge Lemon Creek Glacier. On the other side of the ridge, in between the many clouds, I saw the ocean. I ran inside to grab my camera.

Going back outside, I found myself again stuck in a misty cloud. What I saw only few minutes ago nothing more than a “sucker hole” - an ephemeral parting of the clouds that quickly closes, dashing the hopes of us "suckers."

Why are the conditions at Camp 17 so rough? In the same way that us JIRPers hiked up from Juneau a few days ago, the humid air climbs from the ocean to Camp 17. Water condenses to form clouds during this rising process. But when it rises, air cools, and cool air has less ability to store humidity than warm air. Once the saturated clouds reach the Camp 17 ridge, they are happy to rain out. The vegetation here is sparse because of this exposure to the weather and winds, and our elevation at 1340 meters.

This landscape is also relatively young. It's assumed that parts of this ridge were covered with glacial ice back in the Little Ice Age, hundreds of years ago. While we have to hike down to the glacier from Camp 17, because the ice is receding, back in the days they could ski right off the nunatak.

The glaciers around Camp 17 were not the first objects of interest on the icefield. The pioneer JIRPers, focused primarily on the Taku glacier. But when they realized that the Taku's large scale made it difficult to observe the glacier's dynamics, they migrated to the Lemon Creek Glacier, a much smaller and manageable research area.

For this reason, Ed LaChapelle and Austin Post started building Camp 17 with a group of JIRPers on this beautiful, exposed ridge between the Ptarmigan and the Lemon Creek Glacier. The first building - the Jamesway, now living quarters for students - was built in 1953. Now, more than sixty years later, there are five buildings and two outhouses. JIRPers, like myself as I write this, gather in the warm cook shack, grateful for the shelter from the turbulent weather. This place is magic and I have already fallen in love with it.

Listening to Nature

By Annie Chien, Occidental College

I always thought I was a strong hiker, but maybe that was because I’d never hiked up a glacier.

During my undergraduate study abroad experience, I trekked around fifty miles through the Himalayas in Nepal, sometimes ascending ten to twelve kilometers a day. I thought I was prepared to handle any hike.

During Juneau Week, we completed long day hikes to the Herbert and Mendenhall glaciers to test our gear and practice hiking with a pack. The terrain was challenging, but I felt strong, confident and jazzed for the legendary hike to Camp 17, a 10 to 12 hour ascent to the ridge between the Lemon Creek and Ptarmigan glaciers. Little did I know that this hike was going to be as physically challenging as it was mentally.

 The terminus of the Herbert Glacier, on a hike during Juneau Week. Photo Credit: Annie Chen.

The terminus of the Herbert Glacier, on a hike during Juneau Week. Photo Credit: Annie Chen.

Our seven-person trail party started our hike behind the Juneau Home Depot at 7 am. My feet were blister-less and ready for action. Juneau sits in the largest national forest, the Tongass National Forest, in a temperate zone. This means that temperatures only vary from around 46 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and precipitation is above 28 feet annually. We hiked through gargantuan skunk cabbage, hemlock and spruce trees. As the wetness increased, so did our falling and slipping.

 Faculty Andrew Morries, and staffers Andrew Hollyday and Kate Bartell, observe the vegetation in the "vertical swamp" of the Lemon Creek Trail. Photo Credit: Annie Chen.

Faculty Andrew Morries, and staffers Andrew Hollyday and Kate Bartell, observe the vegetation in the "vertical swamp" of the Lemon Creek Trail. Photo Credit: Annie Chen.

We finally hit the first steep incline, also described to us as the “vertical swamp”: a steep, 300-meter ascent full of boot-ruining bog mud, and shrubby eye-level trees that were perfect for face slapping.

We slowly climbed into the low alpine ecosystem (LAE). A LAE is defined by low-lying shrubs, a cooler and dryer climate, and more protruding bedrock. Less soil tends to form at higher elevations, giving the land a pointy and bare look. 

 A trail party idles in the low alpine ecosystem. Photo credit: Annie Chen.

A trail party idles in the low alpine ecosystem. Photo credit: Annie Chen.

By this time, I was sure that my heavy backpack was on wrong as every movement caused sharp pain in my shoulders and the feeling of fire in my legs. I had the balance of a newly born giraffe. I was so tired and delirious, and trying so hard not get in my head about the various pains and discomforts in my body, that I wasn't paying attention when our leaders described deepness of the mud in this section of the hike. I was desperate to get to camp 17, still many hours and steps away.

I assumed the vegetation around a boggy pond was on solid ground and went to go step on it. I plunged thigh-deep into cold, anoxic bog water that probably has not been disturbed for years and that smelled like farts. Instinctively, I stuck my other foot into the bog to stabilize myself.

I came out with two boots full of water and dead plant material. For hours I felt the water slosh around and around as I climbed higher and higher, the water slowly freezing as my feet pruned. Needless to say, I was miserable. Each step grew harder than the last, which began to affect my mental fortitude.

The last fifty feet up to Camp 17 was both a mental and physical challenge. I almost didn’t think I could complete the trek up the Ptarmigan glacier. Were it not for my trail party hyping me up, and the promise of warm and dry feet just fifty feet above us at camp, I would have simply sat down in the snow.

 Camp 17 in a cloud a bank. Photo Credit: Annie Chen.

Camp 17 in a cloud a bank. Photo Credit: Annie Chen.

Maynard Miller, founder and director of JIRP for many years, used to say “Nature is screaming at you!” When I stepped into that bog without paying attention, when I stopped to look at the landscape before tripping on a root, and when I crossed a roaring river with a weighty pack, I felt and heard nature screaming at me. Finally, I'm learning to listen, and despite the tough hike, I feel ready for a summer full of traverses and adventures.

Icefield Inventions: Hand-Churned Ice Cream

by Carly Onnik

‘’Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." -Theodore Roosevelt

This quote is a JIRP mantra, and it comes in handy while living on a remote nunatak for two months with fifty scientists. It drives us to improvise to reach our goals. Looking around camp, it doesn’t take long to see such improvisations, which we affectionately describe  as ‘’JIRP-y.’’ The benches and counters are made of wooden skis; parachute-cord becomes clothes lines; rocks are seats; and used cans are mugs for students who've forgotten theirs.

Cooking on the icefield is no exception to this improvisation. We have a set inventory of food in each helicopter load with which the cooks can play. Between meals, we snack on pilot bread- round, hard crackers- topped with peanut butter and jelly. To spice up our diet, sometimes JIRPers have to get creative with our limited resources.

 A helicopter bringing in a fresh load of food to help the cooks with their improvisation.

A helicopter bringing in a fresh load of food to help the cooks with their improvisation.

At Camp 17, myself and a staffer, Allie Strel, decided to put a dream into action: to make hand churned ice cream. Molly Peek, Lead Logistician based in Juneau, had hiked in for a quick visit, hauling with her a gallon of heavy whipping cream in her pack. Allie and I set our sights on vanilla chai flavoring.

Each camp is home to a mix of antique machinery, objects and parts, legacies of JIRP's many years of programming. During staff training, Allie had discovered two ice cream makers at C17—one with a broken crank and one with a broken barrel.

We took the good crank, and the good barrel, and got to work.

Step 1: Scrub the rust from the inner barrel with vinegar and vigor.

Step 2: Reinforce the outer wooden barrel with metal wire for structural integrity.

Step 3: Affix the currently mismatched crank and barrel together, with a power tool to cut notches in the wooden barrel.

Step 4: Grease the crank with WD40 for smooth churning.

Step 5:  Guess the rock salt to snow ratio for the slurry that goes in between the inner and outer barrel.

Step 6: Insert ingredients into inner barrel, and churn!

 Author Carly Onnink and Grace Stephenson finish cranking the ice cream maker as excited JIRPers cue for ice cream. Photo by Hannah P Mode.

Author Carly Onnink and Grace Stephenson finish cranking the ice cream maker as excited JIRPers cue for ice cream. Photo by Hannah P Mode.

Like any true scientific experiment, we did not succeed first time. I had to explain to many JIRPers that the promised ice cream simply hadn't churned—yet.  Ally and I brainstormed possible variables and ways to set up our next trial. We decided to add more rock salt. A lot more rock salt.

We took turns churning, and as we did, asked each other, "Should it be creamy yet? Should we add more salt? Is this the right churning rate?" After half an hour, the creamy mixture was getting harder and harder to cranker. A third person needed to hold the lid down while we cranked, and then the ice cream was oozing out of the container.

 Carly Onnink celebrates a successful batch of ice cream on the icefield. Photo by Hannah P Mode.

Carly Onnink celebrates a successful batch of ice cream on the icefield. Photo by Hannah P Mode.

A sweet victory. JIRPers lined up with their mugs. We shovelled ice cream in. The sun was setting over the Ptarmigan side of the nunatak, and the moment seemed to capture another of my favorite JIRP mantras: 

success = talent x hard work [squared]

Outhouse Scribbles and Glacier Science

By Alex Cox, Princeton University

“What would you do for a Klondike bar?”

Everywhere you look on the walls of JIRP Camps, you can piece together a history of the expedition and its participants through scribbles and graffiti. In the outhouse at Camp 17, an anonymous JIRPer asked the above question - "What would you do for a Klondike bar?"

“Jump in Lake Linda,” someone wrote in reply.

Lake Linda is an ice-dammed lake at the southern end of Lemon Creek Glacier, which itself flows from south to north. It is visible from Camp 17 and from the outhouse window. It seems counter-intuitive to have a liquid lake this far from the terminus of the glacier, but it is all due to the slope of the ice.

 A profile view of Lemon Creek Glacier, showing the high point roughly 1 km from the lake, and the direction of water flow in the glacier.

A profile view of Lemon Creek Glacier, showing the high point roughly 1 km from the lake, and the direction of water flow in the glacier.

The highest point on the Lemon Creek Glacier is not at its top. Instead, the glacier rises from its southern end before gently falling to the terminus. On a glacier, water flows in the direction of the ice surface, regardless of the glacier's underlying rocks or where the water is located within the glacier.

The water that accumulates between the start of the Lemon Creek and the ice's highest point, about 1 km further down the glacier, therefore, pools into Lake Linda. This means that water is actually forced uphill at the base of the Lemon Creek into the lake, because the ice surface flows to Lake Linda even though the underlying topography does not.

When JIRPers arrive at C17 in mid-June and after a period of rain, the lake is usually full, at about 200m in diameter.

The conversation in the outhouse continued. In response to "Jump in Lake Linda," someone else had written: "But it's gone."

It's true - Lake Linda empties every summer, and if JIRPers are lucky, they witness this phenomenon. This year, we observed the lake drop dramatically over five days. We know for certain that the lake doesn’t solely disappear by evaporation, which means it must have a drainage. But where is the drainage? And where does the water go once it drains?

Glacial lakes like Linda offer scientists the opportunity to learn more about how water flows through a glacier.  This year, Dr. Kiya Riverman, returning faculty and member of JIRP's academic council, and Dr. Colin Meyer, both from the University of Oregon, joined us at C17. One of their first tasks at camp was to place a pressure sensor at the lake's bottom. Previous studies on similar lakes show a variety of ways that they can drain, and Linda is a mystery they would like to solve.

Here today; gone tomorrow-Lake Linda on 06/28 (left) and 07/03 (right) credit: Gryphen Goss) 

Pressure sensors can be as cheap as twenty dollars, and provide an accurate measurement of depth. This cheap tool gives us insight into the nature of lake drainage. Rivermen and Meyer's theory is that some kind of siphon is created when a channel in the glacier opens up. Much like a fuel siphon, this means that as long as the outlet of the channel is at a lower elevation than the start, then water will flow out the drainage, regardless of if it must go uphill.

The data they retrieved seems to back up this initial hypothesis and goes some way to explaining the mystery of this lake. The rate of drainage increased over the four days that the sensor was in place, which suggests that the area of the channel that drains the lake also increases over time.

"Don't worry, it'll be back," is the last addition to the outhouse wall conversation. As predictably as it drains, Lake Linda will fill again for another cohort of JIRP students to observe and inquire about.

But what we have shown in just a few days with a cheap sensor, is that a testable hypothesis can go a long way in answering a scientific question.

I’ll have my Klondike bar now.

 Outhouse ponderings- graffiti on the wall of the ‘double-wide’ outhouse, Camp 17.

Outhouse ponderings- graffiti on the wall of the ‘double-wide’ outhouse, Camp 17.

#1 Tip for Life at Camp 17

By Marisa Borreggine, Harvard University

There’s little that can prepare you for life at Camp 17. The days here are tinted with transition, as we adjust to the weather, the chores, the nonstop outdoor activities, and living with each other. Surviving and thriving in this unfamiliar environment is a fine art, so I asked both seasoned and new JIRPers, "What is your best piece of advice for thriving at Camp 17?"

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Annika Ord, current camp manager / field staff – “Don’t let the weather get you down. Without these conditions, we wouldn’t have these glaciers or these mountains. You have to appreciate the constant storm that is Camp 17, take it in stride, and still have the best time. There’s something about being out in a storm that makes you feel so alive, and it makes the sunny days total gems.”

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Carly Onnink, UNC Chapel Hill ’20 – “Have a 15 degree rated sleeping bag liner, that way you can sleep in less clothes and then you will stay warm and your clothes won’t get nasty.”

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Andrew Opila – “If it’s not raining, sleep outside.”

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Eric Zhu, UNC Chapel Hill ’20 – “Keep one pair of dry, relatively clean long underwear to wear as your camp clothes, that way you can be dry when you get off the glacier.”

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Bertie Miller, Williams College ’18 – “Gotta have a funky shirt.”

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Grace Juneau, Skidmore College ’20 – “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.”

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Alex Cox, Princeton University ’20 – “Bring food that comforts you. For me, it was Cadbury dairy milk and tea.”

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Abby Case, University of Aberdeen ’22 – “Pain is temporary.”

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Alex Burkhart, Field Staff – “Dry your socks.”

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Marisa Borreggine, Harvard University – “Any time I’m feeling down, or tired, or sore, or hungry, I remind myself to look around and appreciate the people living this experience with me. JIRP is about the Juneau Icefield, but it’s the people that make it all worth it.”

Staff Week 2018

Hello from Juneau! This is Molly Peek, Lead Logistician for this field season, checking in from the JIRP headquarters at the Eagle Valley Center (EVC) in Juneau. It is the 4th day of Staff Week and the JIRP staff are hard at work at the EVC setting up for the summer, doing Wilderness Advanced First Aid (WAFA) training, planning helicopter trips, and getting ready to welcome our students in 12 short days!

The 2018 Field Season is shaping up to be a wonderful one, already saturated in Alaska magic: despite an original forecast of 10 days of pouring rain, we have already had four days of sunshine (with only a little bit of that Southeast Alaska fog and rain)! After long days of first aid training, the staff have enjoyed beautiful walks through the woods to see whales and eagles at the beach. Dixie, the dog of our Program Manager Annie, has also benefited, getting plenty of sticks thrown for her and a few cold swims in the ocean.

 Staffers Allie Strel, Alex Burkhart, Kate Bollen, and Nigel Krumdieck enjoy some goofiness at Eagle Beach after a post-dinner sunset walk.

Staffers Allie Strel, Alex Burkhart, Kate Bollen, and Nigel Krumdieck enjoy some goofiness at Eagle Beach after a post-dinner sunset walk.

As the field staff learn about wilderness first aid and prepare to hike up to Camp 17 for glacier safety training, Annie and I are busy setting up the Juneau office for the summer. Coordinating student gear rentals, organizing faculty research schedules, and planning summer helicopter flights are high on our to-do lists this week. We are also enjoying overhearing WAFA instructor Steve educate the field staff and share some of his best stories of backcountry medicine.

While life during Staff Week can be quite different from routines in the heat of the field season, we are still enjoying some of the best parts of the JIRP lifestyle. Staff dinners have been delicious, with homemade ice cream from frozen dessert enthusiasts Allie Strel and Alex Burkhart (future JIRPers: we can’t promise this kind of deluxe food on the icefield, but I can assure you that the passion for food will be the same).

 Meal planning is a hugely important part of keeping things running at JIRP. Field Staffers Kate Bollen, Annika Ord, and Andrew Hollyday plan meals for staff week. I go to Costco to fulfill the lists with large bulk grocery runs. While Spam is an Icefield staple, this week’s meal planners have decided to save it up for meals on the glacier, enjoying plenty of uncanned food while we are still close to Costco. (NOTE: don’t worry! Kate and Andrew's “head injuries” are just left over from WAFA training! No staffers were harmed in the making of these grocery lists.)

Meal planning is a hugely important part of keeping things running at JIRP. Field Staffers Kate Bollen, Annika Ord, and Andrew Hollyday plan meals for staff week. I go to Costco to fulfill the lists with large bulk grocery runs. While Spam is an Icefield staple, this week’s meal planners have decided to save it up for meals on the glacier, enjoying plenty of uncanned food while we are still close to Costco. (NOTE: don’t worry! Kate and Andrew's “head injuries” are just left over from WAFA training! No staffers were harmed in the making of these grocery lists.)

We are looking forward to the arrival of students and faculty next week to officially kick off the 2018 field season! Keep checking the blog, as well as Facebook and Instagram (@JuneauIcefieldResearchProgram) for updates throughout the summer!


2018 Staff Week by the Numbers

Staff: 16

Instagram Posts: 2

Planned Helicopter Flights: 15

Days left in the Field Season: 71

On-glacier projects: 6

Icefield Camps: 11

Costco Runs: 2

Cans of Spam eaten: 0

Whales Spotted: 4