Aaron Elkins: Icy Clutches

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Aaron Elkins Icy Clutches
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    Icy Clutches
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Icy Clutches

Aaron Elkins


Skagway Herald, July 27, 1960


Four scientists are believed dead in an avalanche near the foot of Johns Hopkins Inlet in the northeastern arm of Glacier Bay, Alaska. The avalanche, apparently triggered by yesterday's earthquake tremors, is believed to have ended the lives of all four members of a botanical survey team from the University of Washington headed by Professor Melvin A. Tremaine, chairman of the Department of Botany. The team was making its way across a spur of low-lying Tirku Glacier when the earthquake struck. They had been studying periglacial vegetation in the Glacier Bay region.

In addition to Professor Tremaine, 40, the other missing members are graduate students James Pratt, 24, Jocelyn Yount, 25, and Miss Yount's fiance, Steven Fisk, also 25.

A fifth member of the project, Assistant Professor Walter Judd, is uninjured. Judd, 30, accompanied the others on the flight to Johns Hopkins Inlet from Gustavus, but became ill shortly after landing and remained at the shoreline, a mile from the path of the avalanche.

Three other members, including the assistant director, Dr. Anna Henckel, 31, a research associate at the university, had remained behind at the project's headquarters in Gustavus.

Aerial search missions for the missing scientists are continuing, but little hope of finding them exists, according to Glacier Bay National Monument Superintendent Albert Stutfield.


Skagway Herald, July 28, 1960


In what was termed a “miracle stroke of luck,” Melvin A. Tremaine, leader of the botanical survey team believed lost in Tuesday's avalanche at Glacier Bay, was discovered alive late this morning. Tremaine, who had survived for over 21 hours trapped in a glacial crevasse, was found when a search plane pilot spotted his red parka from the air.

The scientist, who was unconscious when rescuers reached him at 11:00 A.M., was wedged into a shallow 90-foot-long cleft in the ice. He was flown to Bartlett Memorial Hospital in Juneau, where his condition is listed as critical. According to a hospital spokesman, Tremaine's injuries include lacerations, frostbite, internal injuries, and fractures of the skull, leg, and both arms.

The search for other survivors is continuing.


Skagway Herald, July 30, 1960


Glacier Bay Monument Superintendent A. D. Stutfield announced late yesterday that the search for survivors of last Tuesday's avalanche has been called off after three days.

"We've done our best,” Stutfield said in commenting on the termination of the search. “There is absolutely no chance of anyone still being alive."

The sole survivor, expedition director Melvin A. Tremaine, remains at Juneau's Bartlett Memorial Hospital. His condition is listed as serious but stable. According to hospital spokesman Raymond Stouby, Tremaine is now intermittently conscious. He is expected to regain full use of his faculties.


Anchorage Daily News, September 8, 1964


GLACIER BAY-A man's platinum ring engraved with the inscription “To Steve, Love Forever, Jocelyn” has led to the solution of a grisly mystery. National Monument officials have now confirmed reports that the fragmentary human remains recently discovered at the terminus of Tirku Glacier are those of members of a botanical research party killed in a 1960 avalanche. The ring, found in association with a small number of bone fragments and some tattered items of clothing and equipment, was identified by Robert Fisk of Boise, Idaho, as belonging to his brother, Steven Fisk, a member of the ill-fated Tirku survey team. The ring had been a gift from his fiancee, Jocelyn Yount, also killed in the avalanche.

According to A. D. Stutfield, monument supervisor, the remains washed out of the glacier after being locked in the ice since 1960. “They may have been lying out in the open for months,” he said. “It's not an area that gets much in the way of foot traffic."

A skeletal-identification expert has subsequently identified the bones as those of Fisk and James Pratt, both graduate students at the University of Washington, No trace of Miss Yount is believed to have been recovered.

Reached at his home in Seattle by telephone, the expedition director, Professor Melvin A. Tremaine of the University of Washington, said that he was “too overwhelmed with emotion by this new development to offer meaningful comment.” Tremaine himself was trapped in a glacial crevasse for 21 hours in the avalanche's aftermath.

The assistant director, Dr. Anna M. Henckel, was unavailable for comment.

Chapter 1


Glacier Bay Lodge, September 10, 1989

"I think it only fitting,” Professor Tremaine said, rising with a feline grace not often seen in a man of sixty-nine, “I think it only fitting that we conclude our first dinner together with a toast."

He inclined his handsome, scarred face downward while the waiter glided noiselessly around the table with a towel-wrapped magnum of Piper Heidsieck, the third of the evening. When each of the six fluted glasses had received its portion of champagne, Professor Tremaine lifted his head. With a tanned and graceful hand he casually brushed back the lock of thick, strikingly white hair that fell so often and so artlessly over his brow. His lean shoulders under the cashmere jacket were squared, his back straight. He raised his glass.

"To the memory of three young people,” he said, “three brave young people who gave their lives-so full of promise-in the pursuit of the advancement of human knowledge. To Jocelyn Yount, to Steven Fisk, to James Pratt. We who remain behind…remain and grow old…we salute you."

He made as if to speak further, then stopped with a small shake of his head and raised his glass.

Five glasses besides his own were raised. Five throats besides his own gurgled with champagne. Here and there an eye glistened. It was a poignant moment, a moment satisfactorily replete with memories and emotions. It would, Professor Tremaine thought serenely, make a moving opening to his book, far better than the one he'd been planning.

In mid-September of 1989, in a warm and pleasant dining room, I looked out-make that gazed out. Make that gazed pensively out-across a chill, gray Bartlett Cove toward the ice-choked inlet where it had all happened so many years ago. I raised my glass. “To the memory of three young people,” I said, “three brave young people who-"

His train of thought interrupted, Professor Tremaine scowled. “What?"

No one responded, but he knew what he'd heard. “What a crock of shit,” somebody had said.

And unless he was very much mistaken, it had been uttered in the distinctly Teutonic tones of the eminent Dr. Anna M. Henckel.


The subsequent angry thump with which Professor Tremaine set his glass on the table was not quite loud enough to carry to the far end of the Glacier Bay Lodge dining room. There, at the only other occupied table-actually four tables pushed together-sat twelve men and two women in the gray and green uniforms of the National Park Service. And one tall, quiet man in cotton slacks and a much-laundered, pale blue sweatshirt. Most of those in uniform were engaged in a vigorous after-dinner argument on the merits of the conventional prusik sliding-friction knot versus those of the Kleimheist. The lone civilian, by contrast, was gazing (abstractedly rather than pensively) out the window at the placid, darkening waters of Bartlett Cove and the sunset-reddened glaciers of the Fairweathers beyond. Occasionally he lifted his coffee cup to his lips, or sighed, or crossed his restless legs, or uncrossed them.

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