Frequently Asked Questions


If your question isn't on here, make sure to send it to Annie ( We are constantly updating this list so as to provide incoming JIRPers the most helpful information possible.


JIRP? JIRPers? What do these words mean?

JIRP (pronounced as a word, with a soft "J" as in "Juneau" or "jaguar" and an "i" as in "chirp") is the Juneau Icefield Research Program. Participants in the program (staff, students, and faculty) are JIRPers. JIRPers take pride in being a welcoming crew of intrepid explorers and curious glacier scientists who go to great lengths to bring the wonders of the Icefield to the next generation of science students. 


How long are we on the Icefield? How often do we go into town?

The JIRP expedition is on the Icefield for six weeks. Students and staff do not leave the Icefield for this time (barring an emergency). Faculty rotate in and out every 1-2 weeks.


How does the camp numbering system work?

The Juneau Icefield Research Program (originally Project) began with efforts as far back as 1946. The original JIRPers numbered the camps and campsites in the order in which they established them. As the program evolved, the traverse route changed and some camps became favored for their location, infrastructure, and access. Today the large JIRP traverse starts at Camp 17, progresses on to Camp 10, then to Camp 18, Camp 26, and (finally) Camp 30, aka the JIRP building in Atlin, BC. Small groups will visit other, more remote camps and regularly used campsites throughout the summer.


How do we communicate with the outside world? Is there internet or phone access of the Icefield?

Most expedition participants, most days, will not have real time access to the off-Icefield world (internet or phone). Mail (snail mail) is delivered via helicopter on and off the Icefield more or less weekly. See the Contact page for postage instructions. The expedition will be maintaining a blog and an instagram account over the summer to keep the outside world up to date on our work; material is sent down by flash drive on the grocery helicopter. 

The JIRP Field Staff maintain twice daily contact with Juneau-based Logistics Staff via radio, satellite phone, or other satellite connection. These avenues are available to students and faculty in specific circumstances (family emergency, small children at home, etc.), please direct questions to the Program Manager if you feel you may need this set up in advance. 

If the family members of a participant need to contact that participant urgently during the field season, they can do so at any time through the Logistics Staff in Juneau at (907) 500-8913 or The Logistics Staff will communicate with the Icefield at a minimum every 12 hours, and can relay important messages or request the student call home on the satellite phone.


Can I access medical care during the field season?

The Field Staff are all trained to an Advanced Wilderness First Aid level, and many are Wilderness First Responder certified. Almost all parties leaving camp will travel with a Field Staffer, and they are the first responders in any medical situation. Additionally, we make every effort to have an M.D. or a P.A. traveling with the expedition at all times. Because the expedition is so spread out, this person may be several hours away. In the event that an expedition participant needs care we can't provide in the field, we will organize an evacuation by helicopter as soon as weather permits. 


Will we see the Northern Lights?

Most students, most summers see the Northern Lights either at Camp 18 or in Atlin. Until that point in the summer it's not really dark enough at night (plus it's often cloudy).


Is it light 24 hours a day during the summer on the Icefield?

Good question! Further north in Alaska and Canada there will be 24 hours of daylight around the summer solstice (June 21/22). The Juneau Icefield is a bit too far south for this, but we will have more daylight than most people are used to. In June the sun sets around 11 pm and rises around 3 am , but it won't ever get really, truly dark. By the end of the summer it will be dark-ish from 9 pm to 5 am.


What do all these jargon-y words mean? 

Backcountry: Sort of a synonym for the word "wilderness", except that "wilderness" comes with connotations of different levels of conservation and land protection in different parts of the world. Anywhere you're a significant distance from a major road - the woods, the desert, the mountains, the glaciers - is the backcountry. Contrast this with "frontcountry",  which is anywhere in town/the city/the suburbs/places with roads, cars, stores, and houses.

Snow machine: At JIRP and generally in Alaska we use the term "snow machine" to refer to the machines people in other places call snowmobiles, sleds, ski-doos, or scooters. It's a regional thing, plus we like to reserve "sled" for the things we fill with cargo and drag behind the snow machines.

Trail lunch: AKA brown bag lunch, lunch to eat on the trail.

Mountaineering: Mountaineering is a level up on hiking. Hiking is basically walking, albeit sometimes for a long day over mountains. Mountaineering involves using a combination of ropes, harnesses, carabiners, ice axes, and crampons to protect against dangerous conditions - usually falling into a crevasse or sliding down a steep slope. We'll teach you how to use all these tools during Safety Week!

Ski mountaineering: All the same mountaineering skills, modified to accommodate skis. Again, we'll teach you the specifics once we get up onto the Icefield.

Glacier vs. Icefield vs. Ice cap vs. Ice sheet: What's the difference?  The difference lies in the depth of the ice and the area it covers. A glacier is one stream of flowing ice, sort of like one river. An icefield is made up many glaciers, usually with a common area of accumulation in the middle(-ish). The glaciers of an icefield flows around the mountains, so many mountains are visible poking up between the glaciers. An icefield becomes an ice cap when the ice becomes significantly deeper and flows over the tops of the mountains, roughly out from the central accumulation area (picture the spokes of a wheel). An ice cap that gets very large (~50,000 sq. km) becomes an ice sheet.