Hiking Back to “Civilization” (Blogging From the Field #48)

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Post and photos by Kristin Timm

[This post is part of a series of real-time communication from participants in the 2012 Juneau Icefield Research Program.  The program begins June 23rd and concludes August 18th.] 

It has been 45 days since I left Juneau for the hike to our first camp on the edge of the icefield, and three days ago we began the bittersweet trek off.

After leaving radio duty at Camp-8, I returned to Camp-18 for one night. I got up early the next morning and was part of a large trail party that skied down to Camp-26. Camp-26 is near the glacier’s equilibrium line, where the snow that falls in the winter melts in the summer revealing beautiful blue ice. All of our time on the icefield up until that time had been above this line, where several feet of snow persists all summer long and eventually turns into glacier ice that continues to feed the ice mass.

Saying goodbye to Camp-26, from Llewellyn glacier.

I stayed one night at Camp-26 and was part of the first trail party to descend from the icefield down to the shore of Atlin Lake. It has been a long three days—I have covered close to 30 miles of terrain that varied from skiing on a few inches of fast fresh snow, walking on blue glacier ice, scrambling up and down rocky moraines, slogging through alder swamps, and eventually hiking on trails through forests of large spruce and pine trees. Traversing from ice to dense forests, my senses were overwhelmed with the smell of life—soil, trees, and wildflowers.

Traveling down the glacier on our trek off the icefield. The scale of everything on the glacier is so huge it is hard to perceive what lies ahead. A belt of moraine is in the foreground, and various glaciers flow into the Llewellyn in the background.

We arrived at the lakeshore around 9 PM after a long 12-hour day, and I jumped into the icy waters of Atlin Lake in celebration. We did it—we traversed the icefield! I built a camp fire, and our group ate mac and cheese, relaxed, and one-by-one proceeded to crawl off to our sleeping bags for a night under the stars. In the morning, a boat picked us up and carried our gear and ourselves across the lake to the small community of Atlin.

Arriving in Atlin yesterday, it was a great day of catching up on things that were missed while on the expedition: toast, eggs over easy, shower, laundry, telephone, root beer, and laying in the grass, reading and soaking up some sunshine (without the harsh glare and intensity of the sunshine on the snow).

It’s hard to believe it’s over, and we’re off the icefield. In the beginning, it seemed like we had an eternity ahead of us. I felt like a kid on summer vacation, with the whole summer ahead. In reality, it went by like a flash. Our last week will be spent in Atlin, travelling to Juneau, and with a couple days in Juneau.

The icefield fades out of view as we travel across Atlin Lake. The icefield gave me challenges and joys, and it was hard to look away as it faded from our view.

Hiking off the icefield was bittersweet, because this summer has been fun and an amazing intellectual experience but presented physical and intellectual challenges to overcome. I have seen a beautiful place, and feel so privileged to have had this opportunity, and it’s hard to leave the place behind. That being said, everything I have learned, the people I have met, and the work that was done has given me a real sense of excitement and energy for the work that lies ahead of me this year.


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August 14, 2012

Thank you VERY much for your dedication and all the blogs you wrote this summer. I am sure a lot of other JIRP parents would agree; your blogs kept us in touch and provided us with an idea of your day-to-day activities. Your photos and stories were all excellent. Well done!