February 4, 2012

My Year So Far: Alaska

The first thing I did as part of my gap year and what also compelled me to continue gapping instead of going to school was living on a glacier in Alaska. Ever since I saw a glacier for the first time two years ago on my NOLS course in the Yukon, I had wanted to somehow explore and learn more about them. My cousin told me about the Juneau Icefield Research Program, and I found that with the help of Steve Kluge, a geology teacher from New York, they had started a cool Pre-College program, which I signed up for.

A few weeks later, I flew into Juneau, and after a night at the U of Alaska South-East, we hiked the challenging 8 miles through the trees, tundra, and ice up to Camp 17 on the Juneau Icefield, indicated on this map by the green arrow. On the left is the Ptarmigan Glacier and on the right is Lemon Creek Glacier.

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The lake you can see in the lower right-hand corner is called Lake Linda, I think. On July 18, the lake suddenly drained. We're talkin, a pretty darn big, maybe football-field sized lake. Three of the scientists living in Camp 17 were there researching this lake for the second or third summer in a row, to figure out where the water goes when it drains.

Kathleen and I lived here, in a cozy little shack called a "Jame's way". We were the only two girls so we had this building, which sleeps 8, to ourselves. To my surprise we had a light and even electricity!

Camp 17, like the dozen or so other camps on the icefield is made up of several buildings. There are four living cabins, two outhouses (one is a double-seater!), a generator shack/workshop, a library, and the main cookshack. Below is a picture of when we were practicing knots inside of the cookshack on a foggy day. There are skis every where, and some of the furniture is made of old skis, all belonging to Maynard Miller who founded JIRP in 1946.

We spent our days cooking and cleaning, learning how to travel and work safely on ice, and doing experiments and collecting data on the ice. Cooking in the shack was very fun. With limited fresh products, it was a lot like cooking on NOLS, but with larger quantities so there was more experimentation. We had a lot of pancakes, spam, pasta, and sandwiches, but also had a few special nights with cake, hot-dogs, and once I made a quiche!

Me, Kathleen, and Cameron taking a break from collecting measurements in the mass-balance pit we dug

We had mostly beautiful weather. No two days looked the same up there, though. Sometimes we would wake up to this:

And sometimes to this:

I brought my film camera along and am very pleased with how it captured some of the more ethereal sights. 

Fog rolling over Ptarmigan Ridge

It was a very cool, inspiring adventure, and I hope to return to the ice for two months the summer after this for the full JIRP program. 

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