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Japanese students spend a week on the Ruth Glacier for 20th annual Aurora Club

by Lorien Nettleton ~ April 9th, 2013

For years, a group of Japanese school children between ages 11 and 19 have come to Alaska to spend a week camping on the Ruth Glacier. KTNA’s Lorien Nettleton spoke with Brian McCullough about the 20th anniversary of the Aurora Club.

Famed wildlife photographer Michio Hoshino first brought children from Japan to the Ruth glacier 20 years ago. Flown in by Eric Denkewalter and Jay Hudson, the group camped in the amphitheater, spent days enjoying the cold weather, and stayed up all night photographing the aurora. After leading 5 annual trips to Alaska accompanied by schoolkids, Hoshino was killed by a grizzly while photographing bears in Kamchatka in 1996. Each year, a new group of youths come to Alaska to honor Hoshino’s memory and to experience for themselves some of the wild beauty that he became so immersed in.
Brian McCullough has been guiding the group since 1997, their first visit after Hoshino’s death. Last week he returned from the most recent trip, which was the 20th anniversary of Hoshino’s first visit.

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The week is spent camping out, playing soccer, sledding, skiing and climbing rock and ice. At night they stay up to photograph the Aurora. As a climbing guide, McCollough shows them how to rope up and climb one of the features in the glacier, known as Michio’s Rock.

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The camping isn’t a cakewalk, in Late March the Ruth Glacier is still very much a winter atmosphere, and there is hardship to endure. McCullough says this year it got down to 25 below.

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But despite the element of discomfort, the trip has a pull that some participants find irresistible. After a storm in 2008 forced the group to spend an extra nine days on the glacier, one kid saved his own money for five years to be able to make the trip a second time

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Every year, the group brings a personal item that belonged to Michio to honor his memory. McCollough says on that first trip in 1997, they brought his tent and set it up on the glacier in his memory.

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