Film making on Juneau Icefield

Recently, Bethan Davies participated as faculty in an expedition across Juneau Icefield with the Juneau Icefield Research Program. In this blog post, Caroline Wexler, a student on the program, reflects on her experiences on the icefield and how it has helped her towards her goal of a professional science communicator using the medium of film and videography.

Filming an expedition

Filming a glacier expedition isn’t an easy task. On top of the physical and mental aspects of the trip, you need to be ready to film whatever comes your way. In the constant wet and cold environment, you also need to make sure your camera is waterproof—whether that be stuffing it into your rain jacket or sealing it in a plastic bag. I did both, because my camera case alone couldn’t stand up to the natural elements.

Caroline filming in Iceland. Filming conditions can be tough. Credit: Caroline Wexler

I got the wonderful opportunity to be a student on the Juneau Icefield Research Program’s (JIRP) 2022 expedition. This program, run through the University of Maine and the University of Southeast Alaska, is a two-month scientific ski-mountaineering expedition across the Juneau Icefield for students interested in earth and polar sciences. Throughout the two months, we ski 75 miles from Juneau, Alaska to Atlin, British Columbia. During the expedition, students work closely with faculty from around the world to perform glacier field research.

Students gathered for an evening lecture at Camp 10, Juneau Icefield. Credit: Bethan Davies

Documenting the expedition

Before starting the Juneau Icefield Research Program’s 2022 expedition, I wanted to document the trip in some way where it will be preserved in its truest, most memorable form. Filming was my medium of choice, combining stunning visuals with immersive sounds and music, all wrapped in a compelling narrative. It is a story about a vast land of ice harboring dreams in scientific research and exploration. The purpose of my short documentary was to highlight the importance of science communication, to get more people involved in the polar sciences, and to gain a better appreciation for the environment. In addition, I wanted to showcase the lasting impact JIRP has on our lives as a unique educational expeditionary program.

The JIRP Traverse, from Juneau to Atlin. Credit: American Alpine Club

Balancing the load

Coming into the program as both a student and a hobbyist filmmaker, I worried that my creative project would hinder my experience. How could I balance my research projects, social life, physical, and mental health on top of this video? Instead of it being a burden, however, my documentary evolved into a way to reflect on the icefield expedition. I became more observant of the natural landscapes. By the end, my journal entries that I wrote over the expedition turned into a narrative framework for the documentary.

Here is an excerpt from my film, focusing on the joyful experience of skiing at Camp 10

Skiing at Camp 10, on Taku Glacier, Juneau Icefield. Caroline Wexler

The film will follow along the JIRP traverse from the perspective of several JIRPers, each with their unique story. My journal entries will serve as the main narrative to connect the experiences together. I hope to show the mental, emotional and physical evolution of the group and its relation to the natural environment.

I will conclude with a short excerpt from a reflection I wrote on the ferry ride back home as I watched the icefield shrink into the distance:

Caroline with her camera. Credit: Caroline Wexler

Every night, I dream of a land so vast in size, and a place so unthinkably hostile, constructed of ice and rock thousands of years ago.

I close my eyes and listen to the silence that muffles my ears. Listen closely, and you may hear the rumble of snow fall, or the crack of the ice echoing down the frozen valley.

I am reminded of my ragged breathes step after step, gliding across this blank canvas. With sweat dripping down my burning face, the sun followed my every move.

Caroline Wexler

Capturing the beauty

Traversing the icefield by ski is a large part of the experience. Credit: Bethan Davies

On blue bird days when the skies were endless and the traverse days were long, the flat terrain made for a mental game. And yet, at the very core of this land is a beauty so raw, it beckons us to continue onward. The snowy expanse gives us room for thought and leaves us with our minds full of questions: What is this place, full of mystery? What is it’s past, present, and future? And how can we find out?

About the author

Caroline Wexler

I’m Caroline Wexler, an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut studying Geoscience and Geoscience Communication & Visual Media. I was a student on the Juneau Icefield Research Program in 2022, performing field research with other students and faculty. After receiving my undergraduate degree, I plan to pursue a graduate degree to continue field research.

I am particularly intrigued, both as a scientist and an artist, by the Arctic and Antarctic. By using creative means, such as filmmaking, I can teach and hopefully inspire the general public about scientific issues around the polar regions that otherwise may be hard to access or understand.

You can see some of Caroline’s photography on her website: carolinewexler.com/photo-work/ or by following her on Instagram: @_carolinewexler.

Caroline Wexler at Camp 18, Juneau Icefield

Find out more

Are you interested in participating in JIRP, as either staff, faculty or as a student? JIRP is an international organisation with people involved from all over the world. Find out more here. Information on applying as a student is here. Students range from those who have just finished high school to PhD students and graduate students, with a huge array of experience, from many different nationalities. JIRP is proud to support a diverse range of students, with those from traditionally excluded backgrounds particularly encouraged to apply.

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