I Made it Through the Wilderness

Sep 26, 2010 1 comments

Literally.  I bet Madonna can't say that.  Anyway, so, yeah, the wilderness...  not as scary as I thought it would be.  I seriously thought I would die during the first day of walking 9 miles just to get to our campsite.  Surprisingly, that was far from the truth.  It wasn't difficult at all.  In fact, I might even say it was easy.  This is due in part to the fact that there was hardly any elevation change (about a couple hundred feet or so) and also because I didn't carry much at all.  My coworkers all decided that they would bring their backpacking packs and carry about 45 lbs. each.  Why, I do not know, considering we had these guys to carry in our stuff for us.

My backpack weighed around 23 lbs.  And let me tell you, it makes a huge difference.  I never regretted my decision to pack light, but everyone else was saying stuff like, "Oh I shouldn't have carried all my clothes in my backpack."  Ummm.... ya think?   

There were several opportunities to take pictures on the way up, but the first thing I took a picture of was something I thought Matt might be interested in.  It's the remnants of a downed plane.  The plane was being used for drug trafficking so it's not like there were any heroic feats going on, but it's interesting nonetheless.

This is your plane on drugs (I thought of that about 2 minutes after taking this picture)

For the most part, all the scenery while coming up was just trees trees trees, and it was hard to see much else.  But there were a few rare times that we were able to see some stuff like this.

There were two main things that we were uncertain about at our chosen destination.  We knew that there would be a cabin, but we had no idea what the state of it would be.  Would it be a livable place to keep dry in a rainstorm or would it be a dilapidated, run-down shack?  We also knew based on the topo map that there wasn't a lot of room to pitch 5 tents around the cabin, so that was going to be tricky.  The other thing we weren't sure about was the state of the springs surrounding the cabin.  There were several on the map but in New Mexico that doesn't mean very much.  The spring could be flowing marvelously or it could be completely dried up.  We didn't know.

When the packers passed us on the trail as they were going back down, they said the spring looked good.  Actually, I think their words were "Not good enough for horses, but good enough for you," in terms of the amount that would be available to us.

It wasn't much longer before we reached the cabin and the spring, but when I saw the spring, I'm pretty sure I said, "wait, that's it?"

Upon seeing it, my boss was also a little concerned about our water supply.  Luckily, it looked like it would recharge itself if we pumped it.  Then, one of my other coworkers continued down the trail a little way and found a second spring that seemed to be a little bigger.  The only problem was, it was dirtier.

Mosquito larvae infested mud water.  Yummy!

We used a variety of different pumps and filters to get our drinking water from the puddles to our water bottles.   There were two PUR filters and then another one from MSR.  They all clogged within minutes after we started pumping.  It was a good thing we had a lot of replacement filters.  The MSR one was the weirdest because it let you know it was clogged by squirting water out of a little hole in the front.  At one point I got sprayed in the face because the pump was clogged and the spout was facing the wrong way.  That was fun.  Anyway, so if you want to know anything more about water filters and pumps, I know a little bit more about them now than I did two weeks ago, which totally makes me an expert.

That's basically how I spent my first day in the wilderness, and how we dealt with the water situation.  I'll have to write more about the living situation later because somehow my long weekend is already over and I have to get ready to go back to the field tomorrow.  It's a never ending cycle.


The Weekend In Pictures

Sep 12, 2010 5 comments

This weekend, the weekend before the death march, I decided to relax by climbing to the top of a mountain.

Ok, I didn't actually climb it.  I took the tram.  Albuquerque has the longest tramway in the world.  It was built by the Swiss (so it has to be good) and goes all the way up to the top of the Sandia Mountains.   Pretty cool, huh?

The most amazing part about being on the top of the Sandias is that you're in the wilderness (aka no road access) but you can see the city at the same time.  It's wild.

We stayed up there pretty much all day just enjoying the scenery and taking pictures.

I told Matt to smile in subsequent pictures but this one had the best background scenery

Afterward, we went back down on the tram and had dinner at Sandiago's, which is just at the bottom of the tram.  It's amazing.  I didn't take any pictures because we were really hungry, apparently, and ate everything as soon as it was put down in front of us.  We had Mahi Mahi and cilantro pesto shrimp.  MMMMMM!!!

And today, there was nothing more to do than relax on the patio with strawberries and a glass of champagne.  

I got the glasses last weekend when I went to the New Mexico Wine Festival with some co-workers.  That was pretty interesting too.  Lots of free samples from wine vendors all over the state.  Plus, I got to take the railrunner, which was cool, minus the SCREAMING child the entire way.  

I guess that's enough relaxing.  Time to get ready for the wilderness. 


Surviving the Great Outdoors

Sep 10, 2010 6 comments

As those of you who read this on a regular basis already know, I spend a lot of time outdoors.  It's part of the job description.  There are so many things I like about being outside.  Waking up to the rippling sounds of a stream with the sun shining in my tent is very relaxing.  In the forest, there is beauty all around in the form of vibrantly colored flowers of all types and tall trees stretching up into the clear blue sky.  Sitting around the campfire with a cold beer is the perfect ending to a long day.

A lot of people, when I tell them what I do, are very envious of my job.  I get to be outside all the time, and get paid for it!  But I'm here to tell you that it isn't all sunshine and roses.  There are monsoons, often with hail.  The temperature can go from scorching hot to freezing cold in what seems like minutes.  I have to drive between 4-6 hours just to get to the part of the forest I'm working in, often alone.  Even though waking up to the sounds of the stream is relaxing, the real wake up call is crawling out of my sleeping bag and into the cold morning, bright and early, to go to work.

I get the impression that many people think I get to frolic around in the forest willy-nilly, doing whatever I want like it's no big deal.  But there are a lot of things to think about in my position.  First and foremost is safety.  Out in the woods, there is the potential to fall off a cliff, get your vehicle stuck in the mud, be bitten by a poisonous spider or a rattlesnake, get heat stroke, or hypothermia, get a cut that could become infected, and so much more.

About a month ago, a girl I met in a training last year was killed in an ATV accident while at work.  It's been on my mind ever since.  Also recently, a University of Michigan student fell to her death while descending from a peak in the Grand Tetons.  She got ahead of her hiking partner who thought she had already made it back to the camp.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of sticking with your hiking partner at all times.  In potentially dangerous situations, two heads are always better than one.  Plus you never know what could happen along the trail, and by the time the person ahead of or behind you figures out what's going on, it could be too late.  Some of my co-workers do not follow this policy and it really bothers me.  While it is important to finish the job in a timely manner, nothing will get done if you get too excited and make careless mistakes.

I'm not telling you all this to scare you away from ever going outside again.  The world is a beautiful place with lots to explore.  But it can also be a dangerous place if you don't know what you are doing, and even if you do (or think you do).  I've been camping and hiking regularly for several years now and I still make plenty of mistakes.  Luckily, none of them have been too serious, but it has made me aware that problems can and do occur.

That said, if you don't hear from me for a while, it's because I'm off to the wilderness for an extended pack trip starting on Monday.  I should be back the following Tuesday night, and then I will have five wonderful days off!  Something to look forward to.