6 July, 2000
July 6, 2000
Matanuska Glacier, Alaska
As the past few days have unfolded Iíve begun to get a better idea of whatís going on at this camp. Coming in I only knew that there would initially be some students here working on their masters research projects or related works. And yet from what I observed I was a bit confused as to how some of the tasks that were being performed related to their work. Yesterday I found that part of their duties here are to collect data for the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab (CRREL). A message had come in to deploy more ISCOís in strategic locations. It turns out that quite a bit of the daily routine that Justin Pierce, Ben Cashman and Josh Lawson perform is centered around gathering this data. In addition to downloading electronic data there are also water samples that are filtered, dried and weighed before going into storage for possible future use in sediment discharge analysis.
After helping to set up more ISCO stations in the morning Ben Burnette and I were taken out onto the glacier by Ben Cashman to look for moulins. Moulins are basically holes in the glacier that the surface meltwater drains into, much like streets drain into sewer systems. The sun and rising temperatures of summer cause the surface ice to melt at an ever increasing rate and the ice becomes quite slick when wet. I bought a pair of ice crampons in Anchorage the other day before heading out to the glacier. Crampons are devices that strap onto the soles of hiking boots and allow a person to maintain good footing on ice. Projecting out from the bottom of the crampons are somewhat sharp points of steel that penetrate just slightly into the ice to provide secure traction. After getting a few very good instructions from Ben C. about some of the finer points of walking on ice with crampons we headed out across the glacier. I realized very quickly how much these things help as we scrambled up what would otherwise have been a challenging slope in ordinary hiking boots. And it didnít take too long to realize that it would be very easy to turn an ankle if you didnít concentrate on where you were placing your feet at times. On ice that was not relatively smooth I found myself trying to step on small mounds as opposed to small dips. Now this is quite opposite from what I would normally do in hiking boots on a slick surface, be it mud or ice. In slick situations I always looked to avoid the high spots for fear of the foot slipping off. Rather, the low depressions seemed the safest spot to place a foot. But I noticed early on that if I stepped in narrow depressions on ice that certain spikes dig in first and dictate what the rest of the foot will do. And so it would be very easy to sprain an ankle if I were to place a foot off-center in a depression. One side of the foot would grip on the high side first and the rest would turn and quickly plant on the low side. Most of the time this was not a problem.
We walked over a variety of slopes and ice in order to get accustomed to this new experience. Eventually we arrived at a very pretty and interesting glacial lake. The walls on the far side contained many different shades of blue and the water draining into and out of this lake produced some spectacular shapes. After a short break here we headed off to find the moulins that Ben C. had found last week. As I said before, moulins are holes in the glacier into which surface meltwater will drain. The first one we came to was quite large and a good flow of water was rushing in. The ice sloped gradually into the moulin in some places and yet was quite steep in others. I felt very safe walking around looking into the depths of this hole. It was quite deep and we could not even see the bottom from the best viewing angle. Without crampons this parcticular moulin would have to be viewed from a much greater distance. We saw several other moulins on our way, each one unique and interesting in its own way, but much smaller than the first one. Once we were back on relatively flat ice we removed the crampons. Ben C. warned us to be careful walking now without the crampons. It was a little strange to walk on this ice now and getting the sensation that it was quite slick. We had crossed this same ice earlier without the crampons and it just didnít seem so slick the first time. After a short time we were used to it and walking normally once again. Along the way Ben B. and I discussed some possible strategies for starting our project which we hope to begin tomorrow. Till then.....
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