24 July, 1999

July 24

Last night was a grind. We drove into Glennallen at 10:00 PM. All of the motels were full. We had no option but to continue driving. The next town was Palmer - 150 miles away. We arrived at Palmer and checked into a dive of a motel at 2:00 AM. Beds! A shower! It had been a couple of weeks since we had experienced these niceties. I conked out on the floor of one of the rooms before I managed to peal off my pants.

When PI Andrew Fountain and I were in McCarthy a couple of days ago, Andrew got a message that one of the regional mountaineering schools wanted to speak with him. They had lost a student climber in a moulin on the Matanuska Glacier (see photo from 7/10 journal entry). A moulin is a cavity which drains water into the interior of a glacier. While setting up a camp with two others, the climbing student went off to fetch water. The only trace of him was a half-filled pot of water at the mouth of the moulin. We viewed a videotape of the scene where the accident had occurred. A good sized stream flowed into the moulin, which had clearly hampered any rescue efforts.

The mountaineering school was based in Palmer, so PI Andrew Fountain gave them a call this morning and we drove over to talk with them. Originally, we thought that they were interested in utilizing our borehole camera to look for the body. But, as it turns out, a geotechnical company had already lowered their camera about 500 feet into the moulin, and had not observed the body. As an expert in glacier hydrology, the representatives wanted to speak with PI Fountain about the structure and evolution of moulins. They were frustrated that the lost climbing student had not been located during previous efforts. Andrew explained that moulins typically cascade into a glacier via a "plunge-pool" mechanism. They will flow straight down for a relatively short distance, form a small pool, flow horizontally for a distance, and then plunge vertically again. This stair-step type mechanism can continue for quite some distance. What is most puzzling is that moulins neck down - the diameter of the hole gets smaller with depth. It was likely that the body was not down as far as the original camera had extended. Perhaps the climber had maneuvered into a side cavity to develop a survival strategy. Active glacier melting and subsequent surface runoff into the moulin will cease later in the fall when the glacier returns to its freezing mode. It is likely that another recovery effort will be attempted at that time.

After this somber discussion at the climbing school, we proceeded to Anchorage to unload equipment. First, we stopped at Dwight Bradley's farm to drop off the hot water drill. The same welcoming committee was there waiting for us - two horses, two llamas, and two chickens. We proceeded to the Anchorage field office of the U.S. Geological Survey to return the stream gauge. We then delivered the rest of the equipment to the shipping company to be shipped to Portland State University. Tomorrow the glacier crew will disband. PI Joe Walder, St. Olaf undergrad Andrew Malm, and PSU grad students Michelle Cunico and Don Lindsay will head for home. PI Andrew Fountain and I will be heading to Fairbanks. ARCUS (Arctic Research Consortium of the United States), which is based in Fairbanks, is hosting us for a tour of Arctic research facilities in the Fairbanks area.

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