Eclipse Icefield and Mount Logan:  Bad Weather, Good Reading, and Fun Science!

 

I have lots of writing to catch up on, including three field project reports.  I’m going to work in reverse though and will need a little more time to explain the science of each project because I have lots of catch up now that I’m back in internet land.  But here is a teaser for this most recent trip to Eclipse Icefield and Mount Logan in the Yukon Territory of Canada.

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The terminus of kaskawulsh glacier near Kluane as we fly in towards Eclipse Icefield.

Karl Kreutz and I are now sitting in the Vancouver Airport reminiscing about this field season to Eclipse Icefield in Kluane National Park of the Canadian Yukon for the second year in a row.  We also visited another site that was new to both of us, Mount Logan.  To be honest, of all the projects I’ve worked on over the past decade, Mount Logan was one of the most exciting.  See, many people claim that Mount Logan represents the largest volume of any mountain in the world.  Logan is also the second highest mountain in North America, second only to Denali, which Kristin and I climbed last year with our good friends Blaine and Patrick to measure ice thicknesses at the summit and install a new USGS survey marker.  The exciting thing about Logan to me is that is far more remote and less publicized than Denali.  It makes you feel like you are much more on your own.  In fact, when Karl and I were waiting for our final flight back to Kluane National Park after our season, we were over 70 miles from the nearest person in any single direction across some of the most rugged mountains and glaciers in the world.  To sit and wait for a plane ride knowing this, to me is more inspiring than sitting at similar remote sites in Antarctica where you are surrounded by flat white for hundreds of miles around.  For some reason, the great Alaska and Canadian mountains have always been a mystical place for me.  Their ruggedness, broken crevassed surfaces, and seemingly impenetrable boundaries, surrounded by tumbling rivers of glacial melt water, ice falls, and towering walls that in many cases reach over a mile high, can be quite humbling.

Prior to the Mount Logan portion of our trip, Karl and I had two other students, Brittany Main and Will Kochtitzky from University of Ottawa and University of Maine, respectively, join us for about a week of work at Eclipse Icefield where we also spent a month last year.  We collected some more radar data for both of their respective graduate work and a 17-m long ice core for one of Karl’s new graduate students who will start this fall at Maine.  One particularly fine experience during our week with Brittany and Will included a 6-mile traverse down Donjek glacier towing three separate radar systems to measure ice thicknesses and look at layering within the snow and firn.  Radar results showed ice as deep as 750 meters along the traverse.  We dropped about 3000 feet in elevation and then climbed back up to the ice divide, making a very long day for all of us.  Brittany and Will were troopers and worked hard towing their respective radar systems all day long.  We also had an artist, Leslie Sobel, join us for the week.  Karl and I are looking forward to seeing results from her photographs and plan to work with Leslie on some outreach material in the future.

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Skiing with Will, Brittany, and Karl out to a rock outcrop near Eclipse Icefield to retrieve a temperature logger which recorded air temperatures through the winter.

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Karl and team processing core samples from the 17-m deep ice core.  

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Sometimes when the weather was nice, we had some great sunsets!

Prior to our departure from Eclipse Icefield (and during our time at the icefield for that matter) weather was consistently poor.  In fact, relative to last year, it was horrible.  I think in 2016 we had a couple non-working days during the entire month at the site, whereas this year, we worked maybe ½ of the days because of poor visibility, wind, and snow.  After Will, Brittany, and Leslie departed, Karl and I were planning to fly immediately to Mount Logan to meet two others, Adam Toolanen and Aaron Chesler.  Both I met as students of mine on the Juneau Icefield Research Program in 2011, and both have been steadily moving up in the world with their education and career.  Chesler is now a PhD student working with Karl and other professors at Maine while Adam completed his degree in Aerospace Engineering and just completed training as a commercial helicopter pilot.  Unfortunately, weather had different plans for meeting Adam and Chesler immediately.  Karl and I waited for the weather to clear for at least 3 days before we met with Chesler and Adam.  After a few feet of snow, we were transported by Icefield Discovery plane to Mount Logan to meet the others.  I wish I could say that was the end of the poor weather but it wasn’t.  We averaged about 3 to 5 days of poor weather to every one good day which resulted in completing about ½ of the objectives on Mount Logan unfortunately.  We were ultimately able to reach King Col at 13500 feet above sea level where a Japanese team had extracted an ice core from in 2002.  At this site, we collected about 4.5 km of radar data (see attached unprocessed example) collected some snow samples in a pit that Karl dug.  The radar showed over 250 meters of ice at its deepest location which was impressive to us considering the site was only 500 meters wide from valley wall to valley wall!

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Base camp view down glacier at the King Trench Route of Mount Logan

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Aaron Chesler on a ridge climb we used near base camp to help everyone acclimatize to the higher elevations.

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Looking up glacier towards King Col from Camp 1 at 10800 feet above sea level.  King Col is at the saddle in this photo below the sun.  It may not look like it, but that little hill is almost 3000 feet in elevation gain!

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A Panorama of King Peak (left of the sun) and Mount Logan (right of the sun) from the southern side of King Col at 13500 feet above sea level, looking north.  BEAUTIFUL!

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King Peak!  Impressive mountain if it wasn’t for the fact that its attached to the second highest mountain in North America!

One positive for the bad weather is that I read several great books while being tent-bound.  Over the past few years I’ve been chugging through many classics with hopes of redeeming myself to my awesome high school English and literature teachers.  I may not have been as studious and focused in high school as I am now so I hope Mrs. Stafford and Mr. Walsh forgive me for my younger age and are proud to know I’m reading or re-reading many classics now!  Over the past few months I’ve read, amongst other less well known books, To Kill a Mockingbird and Harper Lee’s sequel that she wrote before Mockingbird but didn’t publish until the year before her death, Go set a Watchman, Old Man and the Sea, Slaughterhouse 5, Cats Cradle, Catcher and the Rye, 1984, The Illiad, and about ½ of Catch-22. I’m having a hard time getting into the last book!  Other great reads which relate a bit more to our location were Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez (who doesn’t want to read about Arctic exploration, Arctic societies, Narwhals, and Polar Bears!) and Escape from Lucania, a classic true story mountaineering epic about Bob Bate’s and Brad Washburn’s traverse to the summit and off nearby Mount’s Lucania and Steele, and back to Kluane on foot over 125 miles when their plane didn’t return for them because the snowpack was too unstable to land on.

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100 MHz radar profile across King Col showing ice thicknesses of the glacier to over 250 meters deep.  Lots of crazy stuff in the shallower snow and ice layers that Ill study and try to explain later!

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Chesler and Adam extracting a 13.5 m deep core on the King Trench Route.  Karl’s new student will analyze this core along with samples from several other locations across Canada and Alaska for her MS degree starting in September.

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Karl reading while waiting for our flight off the glacier, 70 miles from anyone…

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Pickup by Icefield Discovery at the end of our field season on Logan.  Thanks Sian, Lance, and Tom!

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A lake on Kaskawulsh Glacier that our colleague Gwenn Flowers (from Simon Fraser University) and team are studying in Kluane.  They are curious about the timing of lake drainage and where that water goes when it drains under the ice.

Anyway,  Ill dive a little more into the sciences and science results from our projects once I have a little more free time this summer, but for now, enjoy some great photos of this year’s research at Eclipse and Logan!  Thanks so much to Will, Brittany, Leslie, Adam, Chesler, the team at Icefield Discovery and Kluane, and Kluane National Park for your help this season!

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Adam, Karl, myself, and Chesler at the Whitehorse Airport, end of the season!  

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