The Juneau to Atlin Traverse
Every summer, the members of the Juneau Icefield Research Program make a complete traverse of the Juneau Icefield from Juneau, Alaska to Atlin, British Columbia. In doing so, we cover 140 miles of terrain ranging from the lush, temperate rain forest surrounding Juneau, to the frozen and barren interior of the Icefield, and finally to the relatively dry and warm continental climate of Atlin. Our trip even takes us over the watershed divide from which the Yukon River begins its 2,000 mile trip to the Bering Sea.

This series of photographs show some of the sights to be seen on the Juneau Icefield between Juneau, Alaska and Atlin, British Columbia.

 

 

A spectacular view from the summit of Mt. Moore

From the summit of Mt. Moore, it is possible to see nearly the full extent of the Juneau Icefield, as shown in this 360 panorama. Our traverse of the Icefield takes us from the far left-hand distance, then across the Taku and Matthes Glaciers in the middle foreground, to the right-hand distance on the Llewellyn Glacier. If you're lucky enough to have multiple monitors hooked up to your computer, stretch your Web browser horizontally across all the displays, and then sit back and enjoy the view!

 

 

Alaska (courtesy of Molenaar Landform Maps)

The Juneau Icefield is located in the southeast panhandle of the state and occupies the eastern third of the black box.

 

The Juneau Icefield (courtesy of Molenaar Landform Maps)

The Juneau Icefield is located along the crest of the Coast Mountain Range and extends from Taku Inlet in the south to Skagway in the north. Every summer, JIRP members make a south to north traverse of the Icefield over the course of two months. Lynn Canal fills a fjord along the southwestern margin of the Icefield. Juneau, Alaska is located at the bottom center of the map. Atlin Lake, and the town of Atlin, British Columbia, are located in the upper right corner.

 

Geology lecture at the Mendenhall Glacier

The traverse of the Icefield begins in Juneau, however students spend the first few days engaged in orientation activities such as this field trip to the Mendenhall Glacier. Here, Dr. Maynard Miller conducts a glacial geology lecture at the terminus of the glacier.

 

Things grow big in the coastal rain forest!

The first few miles of our journey takes us through the lush coastal rain forest. With long summertime days and all the rain that falls, it's no wonder that the local vegetation grows to such sizes. These skunk cabbage leaves are large enough that you could easily build a shelter with them to escape the rain!

 

A small clearing in the forest

As we climb higher through the forest, occasional small clearings allow a view toward the Icefield. Here, the Thomas Glacier is visible in the distance.

 

Taking a break along the trail

The trail from Juneau to the first camp on the Icefield rises 4,200 feet. Here, we have just emerged from the forest into the alpine tundra. We often take a break here to enjoy the scenery and all the green before we head higher up into the ice and snow.

 

Entering the Ptarmigan Valley

Farther up the trail, we cross over a peak and drop down into the Ptarmigan Glacier valley. Snow conditions on the Icefield can be determined by how much snow is remaining in this valley at the beginning of July. In July 1988, the valley floor was still covered with 8 feet of snow! Notice the people crossing the patch of snow.

 

Camp 17A overlooking the cascading terminus of the Lemon Glacier

This is the near the terminus of the Lemon Glacier as it plunges over a cliff into the valley bottom below. The small building is one of the research camps utilized by the Juneau Icefield Research Program.

 

Lynn Canal and the Chilkat Range

After a long day's hike, the reward comes when we arrive at Camp 17 and are presented with this view. At 4,200 feet above Lynn Canal, the view is spectacular. The Juneau airport is visible in the lower left corner of the photo.

 

A nice day at Camp 17

This is Camp 17. It sits on a ridge between the Lemon Glacier on the left and the Ptarmigan Glacier on the right. The blue tarps on the snow serve as our water system for melting snow.

 

On the trail across the Thomas Glacier

After leaving Camp 17, the route takes us up even higher; over Nugget Peak and down to a tent site on a small nunatak. It's a rare day indeed when the weather is this nice at this location. While we're in bright sunshine, Juneau endures yet another rainy day below the clouds.

 

Relaxing at Camp 13 after a hard day of skiing

The trail from Camp 17 to Camp 10 requires a 2-day ski. This is an intermediate tent camp that provides a nice place to rest and relax. The scenery's not bad either.

 

A nice sunset

Here's a nice sunset taken from the tent camp that is shown in the previous photo.

 

The northwest branch of the Taku Glacier

This is the northwest branch of the Taku Glacier. The source area of the Mendenhall Glacier is just out of the photo to the right. If you click the photo you'll see in the larger version a small dot on the glacier in the lower left corner. This is one of our over snow vehicles headed toward the big snow-covered peak to do some mass balance work.

 

Still more skiing!

After leaving Camp 10, the route takes us around the base of a peak called Taku C. Usually, we stay in the middle of the glaciers, as the crevasse danger in those areas in negligible. Sometimes however, we'll take advantage of clear weather to find a shortcut around the base of a peak, as shown here. These areas also present minimal crevasse danger. This is because ice flowing down the steeper slopes of the mountain gets compressed at the base where the slope lessens. The result: no crevasses!

 

The thickest ice outside of Greenland and Antarctica

This is a view looking west to the northwest branch of the Taku Glacier. Recent seismic reflection studies reveal the ice to be approximately 1,645 meters (5,400 feet) thick in the center distance. This puts the bed of the glacier at 175 meters (575 feet) below sea level. If the Taku Glacier were to completely melt, this area would be either a fiord or a huge lake.

 

There's a dead glacier down below

This is a view north to the Gilkey and Bucher Glaciers from a vantage point on the northwest branch of the Taku Glacier. Referring to the previous photo, this picture was taken from a ridge shown along the right-hand side of the photo. The glacier in the valley 900 meters below is rapidly downwasting and is heavily covered with debris. Looking south from this vantage point is the Taku Glacier as seen in the previous photo.

 

The scenery is spectacular everywhere on the Icefield

Here's a small camp located midway between two of the main camps. This one is located about 8 miles from the Alaska/Canada border on the Alaska side. While these small camps are far from luxurious, they are much more comfortable than a flapping tent!

 

View of the Gilkey Glacier and Camp 18

Continuing across the Icefield, we come to Camp 18, pictured here. This camp is situated on a nunatak high above the Gilkey Glacier.

 

Sunset over the Gilkey Trench

Here's another view of the Gilkey Glacier from Camp 18. This was taken just as a storm was breaking. The portion of the glacier to the left of the medial moraine has an excellent series of band ogives. These are formed by the Vaughan Lewis Icefall near Camp 18.

 

Descending the Cleaver into the Gilkey Trench

The majority of our time on the Icefield is spent in the accumulation area. This is the area in which the snow on the glacier never completely melts. The Gilkey Glacier, shown here, provides an opportunity to carry out research in the ablation zone. Being 2,000 feet lower in elevation than the surrounding Icefield, the ice is exposed. This allows us to study the englacial structures and hydrology of the glacier. The Gilkey Glacier is a mile wide at this location.

 

Going down to the Gilkey Glacier

Field work takes us into areas that are off the main traverse route. Here, we're descending into the Gilkey Trench to conduct surface movement surveys. While this climb is technically rated at only about 5.4, it does require the use of fixed ropes and belaying for safety. It is quite interesting to do this route with a survey tripod and 8-foot survey stakes strapped to your backpack. Notice the two people near the center of the photo.

 

Descending into the Gilkey Trench

Here's another view of the route down into the Gilkey Trench. While this isn't a highly technical route, fixed ropes are still required to ensure safety. Notice the medial moraines in the background. Although not fully visible in this photo, six individual glaciers converge at the base of this nunatak to form the Gilkey Glacier.

 

Lenticulars forming over the Storm Range

This is a view of the Vaughan Lewis Icefall from the Gilkey Trench. This is the icefall that generates the spectacular wave bulges at its base. The fog is starting to form on the glacier above the icefall and lenticular clouds are forming over the Storm Range.

 

Moonrise over Mt. Moore

This area is just a few kilometers on the Alaska side of the international border. The moonrise over Mt. Moore and the last rays from the setting sun illuminate the metal sheathed building at Camp 8.

 

Camp 8 commands a fine view of the Juneau Icefield

A closer view of Camp 8, looking in the direction of Camp 18, from which the previous photo was taken. Camp 8 commands a superb view of the Icefield in all directions.

 

The best ski day I've ever had on the Icefield

We're now more than halfway across the Icefield. Here we are taking a rest break on the upper Llewellyn Glacier. Several days previously a storm had dropped about a meter of new snow on the glacier. This made the surface absolutely smooth, and with the previous night being cold and clear, the surface was frozen hard. What normally is a 10 hour ski over this area took only 6 hours this day. The route takes us through the gap between the mountains on the horizon.

 

Negotiating a crevasse zone on the lower Llewellyn Glacier

After leaving the accumulation area, we must take off our skis and walk on the ice itself. Even though there are numerous crevasses, traveling through this area is actually very safe. This is because all the crevasses are fully exposed and there are no snow bridges to fall through. It is easy enough to just walk around the crevasses, as in this photo.

 

Nearing the northern edge of the Icefield

We're now on the lower Llewellyn Glacier, below the firn line. The surface here is ice rather than snow, making travel very safe -- crevasses aren't hidden under snow bridges, they're in plain sight. The surface of the ice here is relatively stagnant, making travel very easy. The terminus of the glacier is only 2 kilometers distant.

 

Off the ice and back to the green world

After nearly 2 months on the Icefield, it's a pleasure to see and smell vegetation again, although it is rather disheartening to take that last final step off the ice. The final leg of the traverse under our own power takes us from Camp 26 to Atlin Lake, a distance of 24 kilometers. Taking advantage of a nice day, here we are taking a well-deserved break along the shore of the lake at the terminus of the Llewellyn Glacier. Only 5 kilometers remain to Atlin Lake.

 

A dramatic sunset over Atlin Lake

And here's Atlin Lake. After a short walk down to the shore and spending one last night under the stars, a boat will pick us up in the morning and take us the remaining 50 kilometers to Atlin.

 

A world-class rock glacier

This is a world-class rock glacier near Atlin. Composed of rock, with only a bit of ice in the spaces between rocks, it flows much slower than a glacier and has a much steeper gradient.

 

Looking south the to northern side of the Icefield

Looking back toward the Icefield, we can see where we've come from. The route took us over the divide between the distant peaks on the skyline and down the glacier toward the right-hand side of the photo, and then down to Atlin Lake, seen in the foreground.

 

The town of Atlin, British Columbia

Here's the entire town of Atlin. Although it's a small town, after two months on the Icefield it seems like a booming metropolis.

 

Lenticular clouds over Atlin Lake, British Columbia

This textbook example of lenticular clouds was taken from the northern side of the Juneau Icefield at Atlin, British Columbia. Notice too the thin, wispy clouds which provide evidence of mountain waves. These cloud formations are indicative of high wind at altitude.

 

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow

Ah, civilization! What's at the end of the rainbow? A pot of gold, of course. But since the rainbow ends at the Atlin Inn, the pot of gold is actually a long-dreamed of ice cold beer! After two months on the Icefield, the summer's participants will soon break up and head back home, only to meet in Juneau the following summer to do the traverse all over again.