10 June 2013 Some Reflections on a Field Season From Seth
Tim asked me today how many km of radar data I have from this site and this got me thinking this morning while waiting for Tim and Dave to get picked up. I am on call with the land/air radio, VHF radio, and satellite phone to communicate with Erich at base camp for updates on weather, helicopter status, and when Dave and Tim may leave. The sling loads are ready to go and Dave and Tim are packed so now I can sit here and either process MORE data OR write a blog to update everyone. My eyes are tired of looking at radar data on the computer and I feel that a blog might be in order...so a blog it is...
Tim got me thinking… I am closing in on two total months of time up here at the drill site between this year and two of the seven previous seasons I’ve had here in Denali. The grand total is over 8 months of time in Denali on the glaciers; that’s 8 months of my life spent sleeping in a tent, skiing around on rope teams avoiding crevasses, towing radar systems, playing with fancy GPS equipment, digging snow pits and drilling shallow cores; it’s a lot of time. What I haven’t mentioned is that I have spent roughly 4-6 months per year away from home in the mountains on science related projects over the past 4 years. So, that’s 16-24 months away from home in 4 years… away from my wonderful wife (who by the way seems to travel nearly as much as me because she LOVES the same mountain and glacier experiences that I do… we are trying to match up our schedules more and as I said before she helped me up here last year), my awesome family, (mom, dad, sister, brother in law, and super cool niece and nephew, Paige and Campbell), my friends, and of course now my super cool puppy that is our new family addition (Kinley… and yes… her name is Kinley after Mount McKinley). Over the past six years I have had to call my mom from a satellite phone to wish her a happy birthday from Denali every year. I am looking forward to having a May off when I can actually spend time with her and my dad on her birthday. She knows I love what I do, and the time for being up here is very weather and season dependant (i.e. May-June) and I appreciate her patience with that… but as a son, I’m looking forward to next year being home with mum for her birthday.
I am sure some people wonder WHY? I know my family does sometimes, but I think they understand my natural draw to these places. One of the books Karl was reading up here had a fantastic bio of the author. She was a scientist who basically changed careers because approximately 22 people on the planet read her scientific articles whereas now her books are read worldwide. Unfortunately, I’m guessing that may be the same future for me (the low readership… not changing careers part) because it's not like everyone on the planet is interested in glaciers, radar, and the science that we do up here. There are many, many things that make it well worth it. The relationships you make in the field with people, living together in tents, cooking, cleaning, working long days, with no or minimal contact with the outside world… the amazing days up here with beautiful alpenglow sunsets across the mountains, being able to see hundreds of miles on clear days in every direction with rows upon rows of mountains and valleys… And…how many people actually get to come to these places… about 0.0000001% of the worlds population (that’s a guess because I really don’t know…).
Two years ago with colleagues from the University of Washington, Pacific Lutheran University, and Berkeley Geochronology Center, I hiked to the top of a small mountain on the border of the Foundation Ice Stream along the mountain spine of Antarctica (Trans-Antarctic Mountains), in the Pensacola Mountains (look the mountain range up online). We found a small summit register at the top of the mountain that was signed in the 1960’s (I think I remember) by the last three people who had been to the mountain… let me re-phrase that… by the ONLY three people to ever climb the small little mountain (which was basically like hiking half way way up Katahdin in Maine or Mount Washington in NH for my east coast friends). Nothing extreme by HIKING or CLIMBING standards but how amazing is it to have been the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th person to EVER stand on a mountain in this world and stare across a white ocean of ice for almost 1000 km with not a soul in the distance? This site on Mount Hunter, although not in Antarctica, is nearly as remote…. It’s beautiful… Foraker to the west, Denali and the main peak of Hunter to the north, Huntington and Mooses Tooth to the east with Mt Hayes and Deborah visible in the far distance on clear days past Fairbanks… it’s a perfect little perch in the mountains for enjoying science.
Hmmm… other benefits? Avoiding the hub-bub or TV news that seems to show some disaster, crisis, financial scandal, war, or other political debate… yes this is ALWAYS a benefit to being in the field I think. We will never get rich doing this job… (at least I highly doubt I will ever make the Forbes 500 list!) trying to advance science in some way, the learning, the experiences, the memories, and the time spent with other like minded individuals who are interested in learning about this awesome place we call earth… that makes this time away from home worth it. And, all for a little bit of science? There are certainly HARD HARD times, frustrations, challenges, and the like with this job, as with any job… but I certainly believe the good outweigh those “bad” by far…
Ok… enough reflections… back to some work… nice view of Foraker through the tent window while I start working on the radar processing again!