Transportation on the Icefield
One of the most frequent questions I get is "How do you get around on the Icefield?" Mostly, we ski. When doing research projects however, we often use a small fleet of tracked oversnow vehicles and snowmachines. There are a few places where we leave the skis and vehicles behind and walk. Helicopters provide an efficient, if costly, method of transporting food, fuel, and supplies to the Icefield. This series of photos gives a glimpse of how we get around.



It takes a special kind of skis to get across the Icefield

Our main form of transportation is by ski. All the students selected for the program, and most of the staff members and researchers make the full traverse of the Icefield from Juneau to Atlin Lake under their own power. A boat then takes us the remaining 40 miles from the lakeshore to Atlin.


On the Southwest Branch of the Taku Glacier

When doing the survey work, we use tracked oversnow vehicles as much as possible. Sometimes crevasse conditions are such that we must leave the vehicle behind and go on skis, such as in this photo.


Through the crevasse zone

Here's a nice photo of some of the crevasse zones we must negotiate. This is on the route between Camp 17 and Camp 10.


Flying high...

The skiing we do on the Icefield is usually fairly boring. Basically, it involves getting from one place to another while carrying a full backpack. There's not much you can do with 50 or so pounds on your back, so when we get to a camp and shed the pack, it's time to have some fun...


...and about to crash!

...which sometimes has dire consequences (no permanent damage was done).


The Moth flying down the trail

When not skiing from camp to camp, we use oversnow vehicles such as this one. These vehicles allow us to accomplish much more survey work than we could if we had to do all the work on skis. All the vehicles have names -- this one is the Moth. It once fell 60 feet into a crevasse, where several JIRPers spent a couple of weeks taking it apart and hauling it to the surface. It was then reassembled and has been roaming the Icefield ever since.


Delivering fuel to Camp 10

The oversnow vehicles are powered by small gasoline engines. This photo shows how the gasoline is delivered to the Icefield. Here a helicopter is depositing four 55 gallon barrels of fuel at Camp 10. The fuel is purchased in Juneau, delivered to the heliport, and then flown to the Icefield.


An Icefield gas station. There are no attendants here -- you pump it yourself!

And here's the gas station. Vehicles are fueled with a simple hand pump, straight from the barrel. Although the sign says "Gas -- $4.99 per gallon" -- the actual total cost of a gallon of gas is much higher when taking into account the cost of transporting it to the Icefield and the cost of flying the empty barrels back out to Juneau for reuse.



Fueling a vehicle in preparation for a day of surveying

Here's one of our gas station attendants/surveyors pumping gas in preparation for heading out for a long day of survey work. This vehicle is named the Rolls.


A research party travelling up the Taku Glacier

Occasionally, a research project may take us to some of the more remote portions of the Icefield. In these cases, it's necessary to get everyone involved there quickly. Here, one of the vehicles is traveling up the Taku Glacier with several skiers on a tow rope. It's not as exciting as it sounds -- because of suncups on the surface of the glacier, the vehicle can go only about 4-5 miles per hour.


Broken springs are not an uncommon sight on the Icefield

This is the unpleasant result of trying to go too fast. Suncups on the Icefield range from just a few centimeters to nearly a meter from the trough to the crest. This puts extreme stress on the springs, which sometimes snap.


All roads meet at the 8/18 Junction

When traveling between camps, we always stay on established, safe trails. Here, multiple trails meet at the Icefield version of a highway interchange. Individual research teams usually are composed of only a few people, so when meeting others on the trail it's a perfect time for a break and to see what the others are up to.


An illegally parked vehicle!

All vehicles remain on the Icefield throughout the winter. If left outside, they would quickly become buried and lost. For this reason, we have garages at the main camps for vehicle storage, such as the one shown here. During the summer, these garages serve as bunkhouses for the members of the program.


Delivering a load of supplies

During the course of the summer research season we make a complete north/south traverse of the Icefield from Juneau, Alaska to Atlin, British Columbia. This requires logistical support from both sides of the Juneau Icefield. Here, our Atlin pilot delivers some supplies to one of the camps on the Canadian side. The rudder on the load helps to stabilize it and prevent it from spinning.


Flying over the Juneau Icefield

Occasionally, it is necessary to fly over the Juneau Icefield in a small plane. This view is looking southeast to Devil's Paw, the highest mountain on the Icefield at 2,616 meters (8,584 feet).