gwiles July 5th, 2016
Guest bloggers: Andrew Wayrynen and Jeff Gunderson
We take our berry picking very seriously
Oh so you thought you got rid of Team Alaska, didn’t you? Yeah well, just as there are as many cedar sites in Juneau as there are cruise ship tourists, we’re back with part 2. Now where were we?
After our Kayak at McBride Glacier amongst the massive icebergs in the fjord, we— Jesse Wiles, Dr. Wiles, Jeff Gunderson, Andrew Wayrynen, and Nick Weisenberg— decided to take to the ice by foot. As such, the following day we made the short kayak to the outwash plain at the terminus of Riggs Glacier, a massively cold testament to what the coastal Alaskan climate can do. While on the glacier, it was impossible not to feel humbled and awe-struck by its enormity. It was a friendly and welcome reminder as to why the science truly matters.
A Jeff for scale at Riggs Glacier
Exploring Riggs glacier was a wonderful experience, but the time soon came for another dendroclimatological expedition. Our goal was to search for wood in the recently vacated valley where once Riggs and McBride Glaciers connected. To our pleasure there was hardly any alders, which made the mission less trying, yet there was no shortage of braided streams that provided ample opportunities for a boot full of freezing glacier water. Unfortunately, there was only one log to be found and sampled in the entire valley. As sure as the bugs did bite, we brought it home.
Dr. Wiles coring the lone log in the valley
The following day, an all-too-familiar gray haze took command of the skies that dripped upon us a rather watery substance called rain. As the bold, rugged mountain-worn scientists slated to bridge that 2000-year gap, we took the day off. We explored our camp cove and admired huge beached icebergs.
Andrew investigates the dead ice
That day at our camp in Muir Inlet would prove to be our last, as Todd, the wise NPS boat captain, arrived in late morning of the following day with Dan Lawson to take us to Tlingit Point. However, we made a historically significant stop along the way. Before navigating Glacier Bay’s icy waters, Todd worked in Yosemite Valley in California, inadvertently following John Muir’s footsteps in his late 19th century search for glaciers. Much to Andrew’s excitement, he guided us to the site of John Muir’s cabin, which was built in 1879 by Muir and friends. Having been so busy as geologists, our crew relished in the opportunity to have a stab at archaeology.
John Muir’s cabin in the late 19th century where the terminus of Muir Glacier once was (left) and the same cabin today (right)
Now camped at Tlingit Point, we had our sights on the Mountain Hemlock situated atop the hills above us. The climb up was incredible in practically every sense of the word. While ascending, the chances of peering out to the bay and soaking in the gorgeous vistas were about the same as falling into patch of delicious wild strawberries. Near the top, the alders thinned and the brush only came up to ankle-height, but alas the bugs persisted, hungrier than ever. Once amid the old growth, we cored the mighty hemlocks and safely tucked away the obtained samples.
Andrew tries his hand at coring for the first time
Mountain goats became new friends to the Wooster Geology Department
Things we learned: Giant Hogweed makes your skin more susceptible to UV rays and can cause third degree sunburns (no, those puss bubbles on your hand aren’t spider bites, Jeff). It doesn’t really rain in Alaska- spare your wallet and don’t buy rain gear if you go. Apparently, Alaskan mosquitoes are wildly undernourished. Dendrochronology/Dendroclimatology is amazing. Our favorite rock is becoming a tree.
The view from the top of Tlingit Point marked the end of an awesome field season