trip to west washmawapta glacier
map here
5-4-07 (20:02)
  • we left oakland on monday, april 30th. we (johnny) drove all day for two days until we got to golden, bc. we drove through tahoe, nevada, idaho, and montana. passing through the border stop was smooth.
  • since wednesday we've been essentially stuck in golden because some equipment that was being shipped here was stuck in customs. eventually things were sorted out at customs and fedex took them to calgary. at this point we don't know where they are and neither does fedex because they gave it to some secondary shipping company that handles their shipments in british columbia. this delay is also a pain for the helicopter company that's going to fly us onto the glacier because they're short of pilots after sunday. now we're just playing the waiting game.
  • yesterday we drove to calgary to get supplies from home depot and much of the food that we'll be taking to the glacier. while we were there the packages may have crossed our paths, but we'll never know.
  • getting out of calgary proved more difficult than it should have been. it was raining the entire time we were there and that led to an excess of water on the roads. we faced a one hour delay because of one shitty little puddle on our way to the trans-canada highway.
  • driving to and from calgary was nice because we went through banff and that's got plenty of good scenery.
  • wednesday was killed part of the day by driving to glacier national park and looking for grizzlies. we had intended to go on a hike, but the trails were closed because they had received more snowfall than any winter since 1958.

  • idaho

    5-6-07 (09:46)

  • yesterday we drove to glacier national park again and went snowshoeing. we packed avalanche beacons, shovels, gaiters, headlights, etc. and hit the road. about 10 minutes into our drive to the park johnny realized we had forgotten the most important of all our gadgets - the snowshoes. we hiked for about 3 hours and were in the valley for about 4. while there we looked at the scenery, talked about snow levees left by avalanches, and practiced avalanche rescue. the way up the valley was tough and had me winded pretty much the entire time. the way back was way easier and more fun. i need to get in shape.
  • after glacier national park we came back to golden and watched some hockey and ate.

  • glacier national park:

    golden, bc


    spiral tunnels. this is one, long train that you can see going in one part of the tunnel while the front is coming out another.

    rogers pass in glacier national park

    5-6-07 (19:47)

  • not satisfied with the way the photos have been coming out. meryl's camera is a 7.1 megapixel and mine is a 5 megapixel so i took hers. but hers compresses the image more and i think the quality suffers. oh well. photos have been added below.
  • today we went to the staging area to assess the situation. turned out to be a good thing because the road was blocked by snow. along the way we saw some deer and a moose. i also shot the shotgun in case i have to do that to ward off a grizzly while on the glacier.

  • this guy ran right in front of us while we were driving to the proposed staging area

    5-10-07 (14:15)

  • monday was the day we were supposed to head out to the glacier. early in the morning, johnny called the shipping company to confirm that the packages were going to be there by 3:30. we packed up all our stuff and took it to the helicopter place temporarily while we checked out of the hotel and ate breakfast. after hanging around at the helicopter place we took a load of our stuff up to the staging area which is about 1.5 hours away. the reason we took the stuff to a staging area rather than just flying it from the helicopter place was that it's a lot cheaper to have the helicopter take two short trips from the staging area to the glacier than two long trips from the helicopter hangar to the glacier. also, because two of the pilots were either off work this week, they had to call in a helicopter from another location.
  • so, we took a trip to the staging area, which is close to yoho national park, and left it there assuming no one would steal it - especially since we were going to be back in a few hours anyway.
  • when we got back to the helicopter place johnny called the shippers to make sure that the packages were on their way. at this point it was about 2 or 2:30 pm. after talking with them a bit he determined that the packages were not on their way, and that they were actually a 3 hour drive away from golden. so we had to call the pilot to determine whether or not they could fly us in the next day (tuesday). turns out they were free on tuesday so we had a new departure date. in the meantime we planned to hang out in golden, eat dinner, wait for the package to arrive (we arranged for a special delivery that night), and then head out to the staging area where all our clothes and thousands of dollars worth of research equipment was left earlier in the day.
  • we didn't get to the staging area until late that night. rather than setting up camp we decided to sleep in the truck. i slept in the cab and they slept in the bed. it was a long, cold night.
  • the next morning we went back into golden (another 1.5 hours in the car) and picked up the last of our stuff from the helicopter place, as well as one of their employees (ryan) who was going to drive the truck back into golden after we loaded everything onto the helicopter, including ourselves. since we had so much stuff we needed to take two trips with the helicopter. the first trip included the three of us and some of our belongings. the second trip included the last of the research equipment, including some stuff hanging in a sling from the bottom of the helicopter. i'll post pictures and video of the helicopter ride later.
  • the helicopter landed basically in the middle of a mountain range in the middle of nowhere; at least that's how it felt. after the second load was dropped off the helicopter left and we were on our own. it reminded me of the time vern and i were hitchhiking. we were in colfax shortly after accepting our first ride. we were resting at some fast food place and i was laying down on a bench wondering what the fuck we were doing. it was a sinking in moment. in this instance that sinking in moment was seeing the helicopter fly away.
  • it got progressively more and more windy as the night wore on. at this point it was about 5pm, but we still had plenty of daylight left. we set up a couple tents and organized our stuff. it was extremely difficult to do since it was so windy and vern and i were working together with tents that we hadn't set up before. eventually we got settled enough that we could get into one tent and start cooking some dinner. we had trail mix and soup. it started raining pretty much as soon as we got into the tent, so that was fortuitous timing.
  • conditions got increasingly bad. wind gusts and driving rain pelted the tent through most of the night and part of the early morning. we were in our sleeping bags right next to each other like sardines in a can. it was cold, but not extremely so. we boiled up some water and filled our nalgenes with it. these provided warmth to my feet and body throughout the night. we went to bed around 10:30, but none of us got more than 3-4 hours of sleep in the next 10 hours.
  • the next morning was beautiful. we went about establishing camp - we set up two more tents (one for vern and one as a kitchen), digging to the ground for a base for our bathroom tent, johnny organized all the equipment and food, and vern and i dug two holes - one six feet deep at a summer stream and one eight feet deep in the middle of a nearby lake - to look for running water; we found none. the rest of the day we did small tasks, rested and ate.
  • later that night johnny went to his tent and vern and i stayed in the kitchen tent to watch an episode of south park on his laptop while the water for our nalgene bottles boiled. we were having lots of problems with the stove not staying lit so we pumped it to make sure that there was enough pressure and we fiddled with all the knobs to no avail. finally we determined that there just wasn't enough fuel. there was enough to make a noise like it was flowing, but not enough to catch, apparently. so we filled it up and tried again. this time it caught almost immediately. i adjusted the flame and everything looked good, so we returned to our south park. in less than a minute the flame turned orange and started getting bigger. we went over to tend the stove and tried to adjust the flame, but it didn't respond. finally i turned it off, but it was still burning. worse yet, the flame got bigger and bigger. i started saying "vern, this isn't good" over and over. i took out the fuel supply because i worried that the flame might shoot up the supply line and catch the fuel tank on fire. at some point we took the pot off and vern carried the entire stove out of the kitchen tent. it burned for a few more minutes and then died. all in all it turned out to be a minor fire, but the tent got singed so now there's a hole in the ceiling to remind us of our near disaster.
  • last night i didn't sleep all that well. it was calm, but cold and my nalgene bottle wasn't filled with water as hot as the first night. i also slept in my own tent, which happens to be the first tent we set up, so it's not all that level.
  • we woke up earlier this morning and set off to work. as it turned out our work for the day was fairly easy. we needed to find two bolts which had been secured to bedrock in a previous trip. luckily we didn't have to do any digging through the ice and snow because the bolts were at high points that weren't covered at all. after we found the first one, vern and i set off for the second one. johnny stayed behind to set up the solar panel and gps equipment. vern and i found it in spite of some gps-related confusion. johnny followed with some more equipment and a snowboard and sled. after business was done johnny snowboarded down the mountain and vern and i took the sled down.
  • working outside in the sun is really rough. the snow reflects all the light right back at you. the bottom of my nose is sunburned despite my having applied sunscreen both yesterday and today. it also makes the temperature vary quite a bit. a cloud can make it cold one second and hot the next. add to this the fact that i'm out of shape and we're at elevation and you have a tough climb from camp to the glacier.

  • in front of alpine helicopters. life finds a way.

    camping out in the truck the morning before being helicoptered onto the glacier

    the helicopter, a 407, arrives.

    shot from the helicopter on our way to the glacier

    cornice formations above the glacier

    shot of the valley to the north of the glacier. the glacier is just to the left of this picture.

    5-12-07 (15:25)

  • the days are long when you're camping. everything requires more effort, but expectations are also different. it takes longer to make dinner, it takes longer to wash the dishes, it takes longer to walk (because, especially in the daytime, you sink deep into the snow), etc. but you also expect to fall thigh deep into the snow as you walk and you know that your dinner isn't going to be fine cuisine or that your dishes will be clean; generally licking the silverware gets the job done to your satisfaction.
  • we've woken up earlier every day since the first morning. today we got up before 6 and tried to beat the sun to the glacier. at midday the temperature was 40 degrees and we were all hot. i had my long-sleeved shirt on, but could have been wearing short sleeves comfortably.
  • the last couple days we've gone to the glacier we've set up the gps equipment, two meteorology stations and several poles at specific points on the glacier.
  • trudging up to the glacier is the worst part of the day; luckily we get it out of the way quickly.
  • there are dozens of avalanches a day up here. none of them are at all worrisome since we don't get that close to the edge of the mountain, but they're nice to watch. most are small, yet loud, though we sometimes get to see some good sized ones. nothing, though, like the ones you see on natural disaster tv shows.
  • our tents are on snow with pieces of plywood under them. as the days pass the snow melts thereby exposing the rocks that anchor our tents and undermining the plywood foundation. a couple times a day i'll take a few minutes to shovel snow back onto the rocks or shore up the foundation.
  • i don't think i've had a good night's sleep in over a month.

  • this area later became a small pond (which looked beautiful on the helicopter ride out) because of warming and johnny's heavy step which broke through the thin ice

    a view of the head wall, below that is the glacier, and below that is our camp

    johnny finishes off the last of the black bean juice from two (large) cans

    johnny reads an archie comic

    the glacier by night

    5-14-07 (14:57)

  • yesterday we didn't do any work on the glacier. the wind kicked up quite a bit and brought about four inches of snow along with it. we spent most of the day in the kitchen tent just talking, eating, and playing grand theft auto on the computers. we also got to sleep in, which was nice. johnny showed vern and i how to do some basic rescue in case anyone were to fall into a crevasse while on the glacier. most of this involved learning a few knots and how to use some of our climbing equipment.
  • we woke up around 6 today and went onto the glacier. it takes about 20 minutes to get to the middle of the glacier because it's an uphill trek. vern and i took some gps readings for 20 minutes per station while johnny worked on fixing the met stations. it was a relatively short first half of the day. we're going to go back up again soon to see if we can get a cornice to fall while vern films it.
  • i've started reading desert solitaire by edward abbey and i quite enjoy it. it's the perfect kind of reading for being in a place like this.
  • slept fairly well last night.

  • a morning shot taken from inside the "shitter" tent

    just sitting

    5-16-07 (16:09)

  • yesterday we finished the last of the glacier work. vern and i took some snow density measurements while johnny tried to fix one of the snow melt sensors. we ended up not attempting a cornice failure because of safety concerns.
  • a couple days ago we dug a hole four meters deep in an attempt to find a tunnel that goes under the glacier. after all that digging we exposed a small area of ground, but not the area where the tunnel is. the handheld gps equipment is nice, but not accurate enough for this application.
  • this morning we planned on going for a long hike. i opted out because i didn't get much sleep, was tired, dehydrated and felt like i'd just hold them back.
  • today was warm until the wind kicked up. it's amazing how quickly the temperature can change because of the wind or a cloud or the setting of the sun.
  • tomorrow we plan on breaking camp and taking inventory of the food. the day after that we should leave, but that is subject to the availability of the helicopters.

  • bacon and cheese sandwiches for dinner. vern and johnny chose to have their bread cooked in the leftover grease from one pound of bacon. i chose to leave my bread un"toasted"

    5-22-07 (10:08)

  • the last two days involved taking down the tents and organizing camp. we slept in johnny's tent the last night and only the bathroom tent and kitchen tent were up for us to take down on the last day. we also took food inventory on that day. we had hoped to be flown out as early as noon on the last day, but there wasn't a free helicopter until 5pm. much of the last day was spent sitting and waiting. we didn't talk much.
  • the helicopter arrived about 30 minutes early. we loaded it up and vern and i got in first. i got the front seat because vern apparently didn't have a preference. the second trip back was taken soley by johnny and the remaining luggage.
  • after the short helicopter ride we got reacquainted with ryan, alpine helicopters' lackey. he told us all the news we missed in the 10 or so days that we were on the glacier. stuff like local mudslides that trapped people in golden for a couple days, the playoff hockey updates, etc. ryan drove us back to golden from the staging area at a quick clip. it's a dirt road for half the way and he was going 60mph during much of it, johnny generally did about 40. ryan's a bit crazy. it also didn't take long for ryan to start talking about banging chicks. he's a funny kid.
  • when we arrived in golden we loaded up the tacoma and went to the hotel. we unloaded the truck and all took showers at the same time, different showers (johnny and i used the two showers in the sauna). shortly thereafter we went to dinner with ryan and paul (another alpine helicopters employee) and paul's girlfriend (and cl wife) rene. it was a good time. we talked about all sorts of things and it made me somewhat sad that they couldn't be friends of mine beyond that single day. in general i'd say i'm a fan of canada and its people.
  • golden changed a lot while we were gone. all the poplar trees were gray and leafless when we left, but had sprouted and were a light shade of green upon our return. the kicking horse river had also changed. it was green from glacial silt deposits when we left, but it was more muddy in color (and two feet higher) when we returned because there had been so much snow melt.
  • that night, while in the hotel room, two girls walked by the window and started taking pictures of vern. we invited them in so they would get a decent picture. we talked for a few minutes. they were from saskatoon and they thought we were from austrailia, even after we pointed out the california plates on the truck. despite having started drinking before 10am, vern still wasn't in the mood to make a move on either girl and johnny and i are attached so that wasn't even a remote option. it provided a good story to tell ryan the next morning, though. he called us his heroes, which made me think even more that all his previous stories of sexual conquest were mostly fantasy. after stopping by that morning to tell him the story and check out his impotent model helicopter, we flew the coop.
  • we had planned on going through the middle of washington and seeing mt. rainer national park on our way back home. at some point between deciding this two days ago and our arriving in washington, johnny and vern changed their minds. vern wanted to get back home quickly for some reason and johnny was in a crappy mood and probably wanted to get back to leigh. once it was decided that we were skipping mt. rainer the question became whether we should camp out or stay in a hotel room for the night. at some point the question changed from whether we should sleep in a hotel room or at home (driving continuously through washington and oregon until we got to the bay area). at this point i wanted the trip to be over as quickly as possible. i wasn't talking with them and they weren't talking with me and decisions were being modified and discarded faster than i could keep up so i figured it was best to return home quickly. we got home the next morning before 10am. it took about 24 hours to get from golden to oakland.

  • last picture i took of the last night

    first picture i took of the last day

    on our way out