At work and play in CO

2:14 p.m. on September 1, 2017 (EDT)
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I had the (paid-for) privilege of spending the month of July at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab (RMBL, pronounced Rumble) near Crested Butte. We had an ambitious work schedule collecting branches of aspen trees at different elevations, measuring photosynthesis in the field, then bringing leaves back to the lab for weighing, drying, and other analyses. My main partner in crime was my Master's student, Jolanta, who hails from Latvia and will write her thesis using the mass of data we generated.
IMG_6703.jpgJolanta in aspens
44932256_Unknown.jpgJolanta running the gas exchange system

IMG_6604.jpgHard at work in my TS cap

Most days we headed up the hill early, did our field work, then spent most of the afternoon in the lab processing leaf samples -- a good way to beat the more or less daily afternoon rain showers. We collected samples using a pole slingshot to fire a line over a branch, then using a wire survival saw or just trying to otherwise break the end of the branch off -- crude but effective.
IMG_0082.jpgSlingshot action

The lab is on the site of the old mining town of Gothic, with the old town hall converted into a visitor center. There are couple of big new buildings -- a well-equipped lab, a community center where meals are served, some older buildings with meeting rooms, and dozens of cabins of various size and comfort level.
GRS01052.jpgLooking down on RMBL from Gothic Mtn.

You apply for and are assigned a room in one of the cabins, sometimes with a roommate, and pay fees for the use of the facilities. I had a solo room in a cabin with a very basic kitchen so I could do my own food. At peak there can be 180 people living there -- scientists, grad students, field assistants, support staff. Quite a scene. There are also lots of animals wandering about, many of them under study.
IMG_1318.jpgA ferocious guard marmot that lives under the porch of one of the cabins
GRS00923.jpgWhat does the fox say?
44932544_Unknown.jpgOh, deer

And, compared to Norway, the wildflower diversity is stunning (lots more where these came from).
IMG_6558.jpgBlue columbine
IMG_6705.jpgMariposa lily
GRS00998.jpgRock jasmine

One weekend day we had a group hike up Ruby Peak near Crested Butte.
IMG_1327.jpgThe Ruby Gang
IMG_1329.jpgBen has a little surprise on top of Ruby
44933536_Unknown.jpgDecent descent -- we also got in some high-speed sit-glissades. Wisht I had my ice axe.

At one point I planned a three-day hike around the Maroon Bells but work and weather intervened so I did some morning hikes to three peaks/ridges around the lab, and kept up the work flow in the afternoons. The first was Bellview, where we had our highest elevation sites, up around 12,000 feet (3759 m). I hiked partway up in the evening, got up at the crack of dawn, stashed my overnight gear in the trees after breakfast, traversed in to where we had stashed the research equipment the day before, humped it up to our highest elevation site, continued up to the summit,...
IMG_6719.jpgThe ridge to Bellview, summit on the right

...came back down and put in a good 5 hours doing measurements,... 
IMG_6741.jpgHigh-elevation gas exchange

...carried all the research equipment down to where I had stashed the overnight gear, combined loads and ended up with a 70 pound load with my Atmos piggybacked on a freighter frame going back down the 2 mile jeep road to the car.
IMG_6748.jpgI'm supposed to be too old and wise to carry loads like this anymore -- at least it wasn't far.

Other solos included Peak and the ridge leading to Whiterock mountain, which I didn't summit due to time and safety constraints -- the looseness of the summit rock on a lot of these peaks is pretty unnerving.
GRS00973.jpgAvery ridge
GRS00989.jpgWhiterock ridge

My grand finale was a two-summit day, Baldy and Gothic, the latter being the steep peak right above the lab. I didn't GPS the whole thing but I think it was about 20 km and 1600 m, not bad for an old goat.
GRS01044.jpgBen and Rozi at work on Baldy
GRS01042.jpgCrumbled siltstone on the Baldy ridge
GRS01048.jpgThe view from Gothic

I flew in and out of Tucson, where I am based for the next year, and drove to CO, stopped at Petrified Forest for a look-see, got to put my National Parks Senile Pass to good use. I'll be going back up with my wife in a couple weeks, nominally to retrieve some dataloggers but we'll also be doing some hiking. CO is new territory for me, like any mountains the Rockies have their own unique flavor, and I'm looking forward to more tasting.

2:32 p.m. on September 1, 2017 (EDT)
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When you have an outdoor career, there are days you can't believe you are getting paid, and other days when they can't pay you enough. 

I lived in Colorado for about 5 years and really liked the place. I left because there was a recession. Over the years I worked on several projects in enjoyed it most of the time. The best was a mine site above Creed.  Our first water monitoring station was at 12,000 feet. 

8:47 p.m. on September 4, 2017 (EDT)
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When you have an outdoor career, there are days you can't believe you are getting paid, and other days when they can't pay you enough.

Ppine - I couldn't agree more. We make a similar statement about every other week in our office as we schedule and plan our field work or debrief from the week before...from slashing through briers all day to surveying along rivers for birds its both extremes and everything in between! I don't get out west for work but have enjoyed working along the Blue Ridge Parkway several times and am managing a project in a local national forest now.

BigRed - Great photos...that is an awesome research trip and glad you were able to get out and about for fun a little as well.  I think Ben should take some time to meet with Patman sometime as they both seem to enjoy hauling watermelons up mountains - must be some sort of disorder!

10:40 a.m. on September 5, 2017 (EDT)
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You get it Phil. Always good to hear from you.

Two more observations. I have had field seasons when we were in the field more than two thirds of the time. That is too much. It is hard to have a normal life with a spouse.  A vacation comes around and the last thing I would want to do is "go camping." It makes the world very confusing, when your vocation and avocation are the same thing. 

In early days of doing environmental work in the early 1970s, every project was a challenge because the process was brand new. Over the decades, there was a lot of repetition and contracts became much more competitive. By the  1990s, we were always in a hurry, and worked really long hours. The fun was out of it by 2000. We got paid in sunsets some of the time, but I would still do it all over again.  

1:20 p.m. on September 5, 2017 (EDT)
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FlipNC said:

 I think Ben should take some time to meet with Patman sometime as they both seem to enjoy hauling watermelons up mountains - must be some sort of disorder!

 When I was working WMNF trail crew years ago we camped out 5 days a week and came out for the weekends. We used to carry in big loads and accumulated supplies over the summer. My old avatar is from those days, packing out at the end of the summer:

One week I was pretty well stocked up for food so I stuck a big watermelon in the bottom of my pack and left it hidden there until midweek. When we got back to amp after a hot Wednesday at work I went into the pack tent and came out with the watermelon and a big grin on my face: "Anybody want some watermelon?" After everybody had a piece or two I took the rest of it out to the trail -- our camp was high up on the Rattle River Trail on Mt, Moriah -- and doled it out to passing hikers, who received it with surprise and pleasure.

Some years later I carried two watermelons up to Madison Springs hut. But that's a different story.

Nowadays I am too old and wise to do stunts like that, I just let the youngsters like Ben -- or maybe Patman -- carry watermelon for me.

April 4, 2020
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