Sunday, September 30, 2012

More Mount St. Helens Photos

View of Spirit Lake and Rainier
I still can't believe we were able to climb Mount St. Helens on such a beautiful day. The weather was perfect - it was warm but not hot, there was a breeze but it wasn't too windy, there was a lot of wildfire smoke, especially to the south, but that made the view of Rainier all the more special when we got to the top and were able to look north from the crater rim.

One thing I could not believe about this climb was that there were so many hikers who did not seem very prepared - people without backpacks or even water! Mount St. Helens is no easy day hike - it's a 4500-foot climb up steep boulder fields and exposed pumice slopes that takes anywhere from 7-12 hours. It stressed me out to see so many people who clearly weren't carrying basic supplies. On a long hike like that I always think it's safest to carry enough stuff that you could survive the night if you got lost or were injured (a warm jacket, extra food and water, and a basic first aid kit). It's easy to forget that if you got injured up on a mountain (with all the boulder climbing on this hike it wouldn't be too hard to sprain or break an ankle), it could be a long time before rescuers could get to you, let alone get you back to the trailhead (believe me, I'm married to a mountain rescue volunteer). This late in the season it's not a bad idea to also carry a headlamp since it gets dark so early. Mountain rescue groups spent a lot of time and energy "rescuing" people who simply ended up out after dark without flashlights. Alright, end of rant by the a rescue volunteer's spouse.

It really was an amazing day and quite the experience to stand on the rim of such a massive crater.

Ryan climbing solo to the real summit (the rest of us just stayed on the lower rim)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Climbing Mount St. Helens

The Mount St. Helens crater looking north toward Mount Rainier

The view south with wildfire smoke and Mount Hood peaking out

Heading down with Mt. Hood in the distance
Molly figuring out the best way up a lave fall in Ape Cave
Thursday after work we drove south to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. We arrived late and slept under clear skies at the climbers bivouac right at the trail head, enjoying the light of the harvest moon. We hit the trail at 8am the next morning accompanied by our friends Julie and Andrew. The first two miles of a trail were easy cruising along a well worn trail through the woods. At 4800 ft the conditions changed dramatically to scrambling through boulder fields and picking our way up a trail of loose rock and sandy pumice. 

When we were halfway up we could see people standing on the crater rim above. They seemed close but the last half of the climb is fairly grueling. Over the last 1000 vertical feet to the crater rim the ground is particularly loose; luckily we came prepared with trekking poles.

It took us just under four hours to reach the crater rim. The view was worth every bit of effort. The pictures don't do it justice; it was truly dramatic. It is hard to grasp the amount of energy the volcano released when it erupted, but the result was cataclysmic leaving behind a fascinating and rapidly evolving landscape.

The decent was tiring and very, very dusty. Showers and pizza hit the spot. After another night sleeping under the stars we were ready for more exploring.  On Saturday we headed to Ape Cave. We arrived before the crowds and hiked the entire 1.25 miles through the upper lava tube without seeing anyone else. Compared to the lave tubes we have explored in Hawaii and Lassen Volcanic National Park we were amazed at the difficulty of these caves. We were a bit tired from our climb the day before so bouldering through the lava tube was exhausting. At one point we had to scale an eight foot tall wall that probably causes some hikers to turn around.

After Ape Caves we had had enough hiking and decided the rest of our day would revolve around sightseeing and icecream.  We look the long way home, driving around the east side of the mountain, visiting Windy Ridge viewpoint, and driving the winding roads through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest north toward home.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dorothy Lake Backpacking Trip

Dorothy Lake
We had planned to go backpacking in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness this weekend through Deception Pass, but Friday morning when we drove through Snoqualmie Pass, we saw how smoky it was in Eastern Washington. After driving all the way to Roslyn, we decided to turn around and head back to the western side of the Cascades. We picked out another hike that starts up the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River.

On Friday we hiked up to Snoqualmie Lake and since that didn't take long, we continued past Deer and Bear Lakes, and down to Dorothy Lake. The ceiling was pretty low and Deer and Bear Lakes were completely in the clouds. Dorothy and Snoqualmie Lakes weren't too bad. The good thing about the cloud cover was that it didn't cool off at night.

We were all packed for a two-night trip, but when given that the weather wasn't great and there weren't many options for extending our hike from Dorothy Lake, we decided just to head back on Saturday. It was even foggier on the hike back! There were some cool waterfalls though, and it wasn't very cold.

This is a good place to do an easy-access one night backpacking trip. It would have even been nice to hang out for another night if the views had been better. From the Middle Fork access though, the first six miles are easy (on an old logging road) but also not very exciting and the climb up to Snoqualmie Lake isn't too bad.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Plum Harvest

Our plum tree was covered in plums this year. I think it had more fruit than any of the other years we've lived in this house. Last year it did have quite a bit too, but the crows beat us to them. It was very sad. As a result, I've been determined all year to harvest every last piece of fruit before the crows get to them.

I've been eyeing them and eating a few here and there for the past two weeks, but now that Ryan is home I decided it was time to go for it. I got out the ladder and picked as many as I could reach and then handed it over to Ryan. I think he really did manage to get almost every plum. He even used the rake for the ones he couldn't reach.

Now our kitchen is overflowing with 30 lbs (!!!) of Italian plums and I'm ecstatic, if not a little intimidated by the canning marathon in the days ahead. Tonight, plum preserves, tomorrow plum jam and Chinese plum sauce.

It's a good apple year too in our back yard!

Ryan provides quality control

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Arriving Back in Port

Cory and I waiting to be transferred to the supply ship
The captain of the supply ship maneuvers the vessel close to a platform to unload supplies
Our room on the supply ship
Riding in a Tuk-tuk in Bangkok
September 15th
I am somewhere in the Gulf of Thailand.  Today Cory and I transferred to a platform and then onto a supply ship that will, at some point, deliver us to Songkhla. I can hear the bow thruster’s powerful rumbling so I can guess that we are at a platform delivering supplies.

This ship is less than a year old and seems quite nice but like the Miclyn Energy it was built in China and we are told that the steal is not high quality.  This ship is equipped with an enormous anchor handling winch with a steel cable two inches in diameter.  But one of the mates on the bridge told us that the first time they used it the spine broke, and they blame the low quality craftsmanship on the ships country of origin.

The last few days have been an awful spell of bad weather, especially yesterday.  The average wave height was 2 or 2.5 meters with maximum swell and waves combined of 3.5 meters.  We couldn’t get much work done and we spent a lot of time transiting as we could only travel roughly half speed.  Everyone tried their best and we worked for quite a while in marginal conditions with sustained wind speeds close to 30 knots.  But eventually the captain was unable to hold the boat on position and we had to quit.

Over the last two weeks we were able to collect all but two of the vibrocore samples.  Now the crew will continue on for another two weeks performing routine environmental monitoring. About half of the Thai science crew where the same as last year and again they were great to work with.  The crew was always happy and helpful sometimes to the point that I felt like they didn’t even need me there to use the vibrocorer.

September 16th
I woke this morning to the sound of the bow thruster.  A peak outside revealed that we were at PACPP still loaded and unloading supplies. By mid-morning we were headed for Songkhla.  For some reason we are not allowed to arrive at the pier before 6am tomorrow morning so instead of transiting at a normal 8 to 9 knots we are only making 5 to 6 knots thus extending the transit time from 12 hours to 18 hours.

I can’t really complain. I will be paid for my time and have been enjoying reading The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.  The book was a gift from my sister last Christmas and it is nice to finally have time to read. The truth is I do more recreational reading in these few weeks offshore then the rest of the year combined.  The first book I read on this trip, Derevnia's Daughters, was about the history of Afognak Village, Alaska in the late 1800s up through 1964. This 450 page book was quite interesting but not very well written and certainly not a page turner.  I’m glad I read it though and I’m certain I wouldn’t have made it through with the distractions of everyday life.

When we arrive in port tomorrow morning a Tetra Tech employee from the Bangkok office, Thagoon, will be meeting us.  This will be nice as we won’t have to worry about making local travel arrangements or hotel accommodations, although I feel confident I could manage on my own.

September 17th
This morning we arrived at port in Songkhla. Thagoon met us at the boat and had arranged for us to clear customs when they opened at 8am. When you leave the port for the Gulf of Thailand it is considered leaving the country, therefore it was important to document that we had legally returned to Thailand.

Cory and I flew to Bangkok in the afternoon.  We decided to spend a day being tourists in the city before flying back to the states.  From the airport we took the sky train towards the city center where we were told we could catch a cab to the hotel we had booked.  This is where things got tricky.  No cab drivers were willing to take us to the hotel from the train station.  It was only a few kilometers away but when I showed them the address (which I had Thagoon write down in both English and Thai) they shook their head and drove away. We were not sure if they didn’t want to drive that direction in traffic or if they didn’t know where the hotel was.

We came across a Starbucks; it was like a little sanctuary for us north westerners.  Cool and quiet inside, we sat down and tried to come up with a plan.  We decided to walk a few blocks and get on a road that led in the direction of the hotel hoping we would have more luck with the taxis.  When we got to the intersection we stood there holding our map and staring at the street sign.  We probably looked lost.  A tuk tuk driver pulled up and asked us where we were going.  It took some convincing on our part that we really knew where we wanted to go.  Eventually he agreed to take us there for 200 Bhat (~7USD) and we were happy to pay.  First we had to stop and ask his friend for better directions, but soon we were on our way and it couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes before we arrived.  The hotel seems to be a good find; we are close to a lot of the main city attractions and there are clearly a lot of other tourists around.  Tomorrow should be a fun day of sightseeing.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Huckleberries and Mountain Beavers

On Thursday one of my fellow grad students, Joyce, graciously took me out to her top secret huckleberry picking location/research site. Her dissertation is on the modern and ancient use of huckleberry patches in the Cascades.

We had an amazing day that still felt like summer. We picked huckleberries for five hours straight. There were some fantastic patches of the regular huckleberries as well as red huckleberries (cherry berries) and blue berries. I learned some really cool things from Joyce about plants in that area. I also learned about the existence of mountain beavers - I had never heard of them before! They're an ancient rodent that only lives in the Cascades and Sierras. They are pretty unique little critters and they're actually not really very closely related to the North American beaver. It appears that their ancestors split around 80 million years ago.

Mountain beavers live in burrows and we saw bunches of them in the huckleberry patches. The mountain beavers require a lot of water anywhere they live because they can't produce concentrated urine (I'm not exactly sure why or what that means other than that they need ample moisture). The lake bed at Joyce's research site always seems to be dry, but the presence of mountain beavers suggests that there actually must be a decent amount of water somewhere nearby underground. And that might explain why the huckleberries are so abundant in this one area, but not in other areas nearby. Pretty cool!

Joyce at her research site (I doubt anyone would be able to figure out where this is!)

Black huckleberry, red huckleberry, and blueberry

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Are there too many people with college degrees?

I heard this story on NPR last week: "Are Today's Millennials the 'Screwed Generation'? and it made my blood boil. Not because I disagree with the title and the main point Joel Kotkin makes - that young people coming of age are facing a terrible economy and poor job prospects - but I disagree with his notion that we could help the situation by sending fewer people to college.

Kotkin thinks far too many people have college degrees these days and the debt that often comes along with them. I completely agree that student loans are crippling to a lot of Americans. And lots of those students have a hard time finding good jobs, especially good jobs in their field of study. And to be honest, Kotkin is right, a college degree just isn't what it used to be - but that's because a much higher percentage of the population has a bachelor's degree than ever before, not because attending college is pointless.

The reason that so many people have college degrees is because universities have become more accessible to people from middle and lower income families. Do we really want to go back to a time when only the most privileged, only the wealthiest Americans, could afford to send their children to college? No thank you.

I also take issue with Kotkin's notion that part of the problem is that a lot of young people are whiners, they feel entitled, and their parents don't make them get jobs in the summer. I take offense, of course, because I am a millennial. I'm pretty sure parents still make their teenagers get summer jobs, at least mine did. But I am a little whiny, I'm whiny about the price of a college education. It is way too high. Students should not have to take out tens of thousands of dollars worth of loans to attain a bachelor's degree, let alone an advanced degree. And maybe I do feel entitled, I do think the government owes me an economy strong enough to have the promise of a job with a decent salary, health insurance, a retirement plan.

I also think people with Kotkin's point of view need to consider the population of students that are now going to college. In the past it was mostly white, upper and upper-middle class students who had well-educated parents and had gone to the best public or private schools available. Today, tons of people are attending college who will be the first in their families to earn a bachelor's degree. Many of those people did not attend the best elementary and secondary schools and their parents couldn't help prepare them for college. A lot of student who have been through public elementary and high school in recent years have also felt the effects of budget cuts - I never had to write a paper over 3 pages in high school because my English teachers had such large classes they couldn't grade anything longer. So I went to college never having written a long research paper. Does that make me a whiny, entitled student? I don't think so. It just makes me a person who went to a middle-of-the-road public school, but is no less capable than someone who went to a fantastic school.

I am proud to attend and teach at a University that has a strong emphasis on admitting students who will be the first in their families to attend a four-year college. In fact, over 40% of the incoming class at UW will fall into that category this year. And I can tell you, without a doubt, that those students are going to work their butts off at UW. They are students who haven't had anything handed to them, who know the value of a college education because no one in their family has ever had one. Sure, I've had my fair share of whiny students who want an easy A, but that is not the majority. Most of the students I've taught at UW know that they are attending a top-notch University and want to make the most of that opportunity - they are almost all smart, hard-working, idealistic, and many of them are dedicated to changing the world.

I don't think the answer to our current situation is to discourage people from attending college. Sure, some degrees - anthropology for example - are never going to get you a great job straight out of a undergrad - but no one majors in anthropology for the job, they major in anthropology to become a better citizen of the world. A college education should be more affordable and more accessible, not less.

News from The Gulf of Thailand

The ROV inside the tether management system
The captain maneuvering the vessel near one of the platforms
Sunset from the gas fields of the Gulf of Thailand

One of the central processing platforms
Video from the ROV showing the Van Veen grab sampler on the seabed
Sediment Profile Imaging camera

September 9th 2012
Today is our 6th day of survey in the Gulf of Thailand and the work continues to progress relatively smoothly. There is a large crew of Thai Scientists this year so there is often very little work for me to do when we are not using the Vibrocorer. I help out when I can but mostly I just read and wait for the times when I am needed.

The first few days we had some fairly marginal weather conditions. The sea-state was certainly not unsafe for a vessel of this size but rough enough to make launching and recovering our equipment difficult. With the swells and short period waves combined the seas were up to three meters. When the vessel was oriented with its stern to the seas the deck would go awash and we would often get wet. For the last 24 hours it has been quite calm with seas less than 1 meter, now it hardly feels like the vessel is moving. The downside to nice weather is that it’s also sunny and blazingly hot during the afternoon.

We have been sampling very close to some of the central processing platforms and using the ROV to verify the location of pipelines and observe the sampling equipment. The live video that the ROV provides has been very interesting. With the ROV we have observed many kinds of fish including parrot fish and a sting ray. The fish are often found hiding around the pipelines as this is the only place where corals grow. The ROV has also been able to observe the sampling equipment and determine if the sample is good before we bring it back to the surface. When the ROV operator is observing the vibrocorer he has been able to inform me over the radio the penetration depth of the core barrel so I know when to stop and recover the sample.

I have been working from noon to midnight so I am been enjoying nice sunsets, despite the fact that there is almost always a well platform or supply ship on the horizon. This oil and gas field continues to be developed quickly and I have noticed new structures this year that were not hear last. When I see a big thirst for oil and gas like this developing I am always wondering how long it will last. And what will we do when it is gone?  And when I say “we” I don’t mean the United States I mean the world.  Oil and gas exploration/exploitation is a global issue, I don’t want to sound too down trodden but I just can’t fathom how we will meet our future energy needs as oil and gas become less and less abundant. I suppose we will adapt and find alternatives as we will have no other choice, after all we are humans and that’s what we are good at - using our big brains to survive for millions of years and populate just about every corner of this planet.

September 10th
We are headed into Songkla to offload the ROV and the ROV operators. Also departing will be the two operators of the sediment profile imaging (SPI) camera along with their equipment.  I haven’t talked about this piece of equipment yet but it is worth mentioning because I am very impressed with its design and performance. The SPI can be described as an upside down parascope.  The main components of the SPI are a downward looking digital camera mounted inside a pressure housing with a mirror and a glass plate. The SPI captures a photo of the sediment profile by probing down 8 to 10 inches into the seabed. Of course there is a lot more to the equipment to make it all possible but I won’t get into the details. The image the SPI captures can then be studied to learn about the sediment and the animals that live in it. Very cool!

It has continued to be clear, calm, and HOT! I have yet to find a thermometer on this vessel but some of the surveyors estimated it was 40C today. For me 40C might be just as bad as -40C especially when you are required to wear so much PPE. It feels like standing in a banya with all your closes on.  It doesn’t take long to become soaking wet from your own sweat. I am looking forward to the mild temperatures of fall in Seattle.

September 11th
We are in port today. I was able to call Molly and check my email but other than that it is just another day on the boat. I won’t be going ashore as there is really no reason to do so and I don’t have a vehicle to get out of the port. By tonight we should be headed out again for the last few days of work. I am hoping we take on a little bit of fresh food but mostly I am hoping for some ice cream. The request was made to the “camp boss” in charge of the food orders so I will cross my fingers and check the freezer tonight.  Either way these last few days should go by quickly.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Last of Summer

Stephanie and I on her dock on Lake Union

Today I believe is the first day this year that I have seen 80 degrees. And I think tomorrow will be the last of this hot spell. But I'm glad I made it back to Seattle while it's still warm. I'm making the most of it too since I'm not usually here!

Luckily I have a friend who lives on a cottage on a dock in Lake Union, so this afternoon I went for a swim off her dock. I was pleasantly surprised at the water temperature - it's amazing not being in Alaska!

On Wednesday I enjoyed hanging out on the beach for my friend Jennie's birthday. It's an easy life when the weather is predictably gorgeous every day. We are about to come very close to breaking the record for the longest stretch of days without rain in Seattle. I have to say, I'm actually a little glad I wasn't here for all of it - it's a lot of work to put sun screen on every day when you're as white as I am. I think by next week, I will be happy to see a cloud or two.

The birthday girl and her husband, frying up some beer-battered Alaskan halibut

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hiking in Snoqualmie Pass

On our way up to pick huckleberries
Last weekend I had the chance to enjoy some of this amazing weather in the Cascades up in Snoqualmie Pass. I've never really spent any time here at the end of August or beginning of September and that's the best time to go hiking because the snow has finally melted but it's still warm (even hot sometimes).

On Saturday we checked out my favorite (ok, my only) huckleberry patch in a clear cut on the Mt. Margaret trail. We found lots of berries but a lot of them weren't ripe yet. I think in another week or two they will be at their peak.

On Sunday Stephanie and I did a 12 mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail from Snoqualmie Pass to the Kendall Katwalk and Gravel Lake. The first ~3 1/2 miles of this hike are in the woods. It was nice to be in the shade. Even though this hike gains a lot of elevation (2700' I think), it's a really nice trail with an easy grade. Once you get up high to break out into talus and meadow slopes with amazing views of Mt. Rainier and the peaks near Snoqualmie Pass.

The Kendall Katwalk is a ledge along a rock face that was blasted by dynamite crews suspended from ropes. It was very cool and the trail was wider than I expected it to be, but it is still not for anyone scared of heights!

We kept going after the katwalk another mile down to Gravel Lake, another turquoise alpine lake with crystal clear water. It had perfect rocks to jump off of, so after lunch I took a dive - shockingly cold of course, but it was easy to warm up in the sunshine.

Stephanie and I on the Kendall Katwalk
Stephanie on the Katwalk

Gravel Lake

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hat Yai, Thailand

Airavata, a mythological three headed elephant who carries the Hindu god Indra

Waiting to board the cable car.

Cory practicing being Buddhist for an hour

Statue of Buddha

Budai (Laughing Buddha) at the Chinese Temple

Dried food at the Hat Yai market

Hat Yai market
I have returned to southern Thailand for the second year in a row to work on an environmental sampling project in the Gulf of Thailand. I am ready to head offshore but there has been a delay in preparing the remotely operated vehicle that will be used on the vessel, thus we found ourselves with entire free day to spend exploring the near by city of Hat Yai.

Suksan, a Tetra Tech employee who normally works in Bangkok was kind enough to be our guide.  We used a hired van and driver to take us to a few destinations.  The first stop was atop a small mountain overlooking the city of Hat Yai.  Here we visited a Hindu temple and then took a cable car to a Buddhist temple, from there we were able to walk partway down the mountain to a Chinese Temple. I was impressed that the temples of all of these eastern religions share the same mountain.

Suksan claimed he didn't know much about religion but explained to us that in Thailand many people feel it is important to respect all the peoples religion.  This of course sounds familiar, but in Thailand 95% of the people follow Buddhism, 5% Islam and less than 1% are Christan.  I found all of three of the temples we visited very friendly and inviting.  This is in contrast Christan churches both old and new I have visited in the the U.S. and elsewhere where I sometimes feel awkward, like I am intruding into a place I do not belong. 

Our next stop was the market in Hat Yai were we ate lunch and wandered down busy streets and narrow corridors browsing the vast selections of trinkets and food.  I don't think Hat Yai gets a lot of tourists so we got a lot of funny looks with us four white guys a head taller than anyone else wandered along.

Tomorrow we will board the survey vessel and if all goes well begin the sixteen hour transit to our first survey location.