Friday, October 16, 2009

Short interlude

Before we continue with NZ adventure photos... I have to tell you about my week here in Oregon/Washington.

Tuesday was my first ever time in a helicopter and I have to say, I didn't mind it at all. As I pointed out to the pilot, flying for the first time on a turbulent day was probably the best thing for me because it can only get better, right!?


Wednesday was hellacious. As the pilot was setting Rob and I down he yelled 'I cant see shit', into his microphone; never something you want to hear from your pilot on your third ever flight. It rained continually all day, but it wasn't all that bad until the winds picked up and continued to change direction so that the rain drove in sideways and felt like it was biting your inner core. About this time, I realised that the layer of trousers by my skin (my fourth layer) was soaking wet, my protective rain pants were no longer waterproof. Excellent. Around lunchtime the decision was made to pull out, so they told us that Danny and Nathan were to go first, then we were going to be picked up and then Andrew and Sol the last ones out. So we huddled down behind an outcrop, as there is very little to shelter you in the valley, and we had some tea; got to keep it civilised peeps! We waited, and we waited, but there was a little oversight in the plan, and that is that we only had very short range (500m line of sight) radio so in fact had no contact with the outside world. We waited and we waited and I swore I could hear the helicopter so we ran out into the middle of the valley but alas, no helicopter. Then a short while later we saw him coming, then we saw him banking hard and turning around a few hundred meters away from us, then he went out of sight. So at first we thought he had landed further downstream so we ran up to the top of the terrace and started quickly heading that way. But alas, no helicopter. So without communication and with very limited knowledge of helicopters, we deduced from this that conditions were too bad for him to land out there and that we had to make our own way out, so we begun considering our options; up into the mountains where it was sheltered and we could reach the road, but it would get colder with altitude and the pilot would not be able to see us should he return, or down through the valley where we were exposed but at least visible. About twenty minutes later, as the rain picked back up, the helicopter came round the corner and went straight over our heads; how could he not see us, we were wearing orange jackets. So we got onto our short range radios and attempted communication to tell him we were now behind him, so after circling a few times he saw us and managed to land just fine. When we got into the helicopter with a mixture of relief that he came back for us but trepidation about the journey back to base, he says 'tighten your seatbelts, its pretty scary out there'. Great. To be honest, it was not as scary as I had anticipated but we did do a lot of jumping up and down in height. When we set down at the helicopter pad he came over the radio with 'thank god that day is over'. From a New Zealand pilot, that's saying something! Soaked through I stripped down to my inner layer of trousers and jumped in the truck for the two hour journey back to Portland and a soy hot chai to warm me back up. My shower that night was most definitely the nicest thing to happen to me that day. We went straight to REI and I bought a pair of new rain pants!

Thursday was a glorious day with no wind, and so I came over the radio to tell James, our pilot, that it was rather nice in a helicopter when the weather was pleasant and he laughed at me. We worked hard to complete three sites thursday, more than we had done the rest of the week combined! The weather was lovely with just a small breeze. We were right up close to the crater of Mount St Helens and its growing dome. When I did the pebble count (just remind me, how much do I get paid to measure rocks!) I did note that the water in the stream all the way up there, was much warmer than the water 3 miles downstream, hmmmm.

I honestly never thought I would ever be that close to the crater of an active volcano. It was pretty cool!

The weather is set to be pretty bad on the mountain today and tomorrow, so we are taking our weekend early and working sunday instead. 2-4 inches rain in the next 36 hours apparently. So the rivers should look pretty different come sunday! Snow on tuesday, and temperatures around the early 40s for the rest of the week. Oh yes, that's why I get paid to measure rocks, because sometimes its not such a pleasant job!

So now its an early weekend. Unforunately we couldn't sleep in this morning because we have been getting up at 6am, so we still woke up early, but at least we dont have to rush around getting into icky fieldclothes. We plan to lounge around for two days and eat lots of food! Today we might head to some furniture stores to have a look around and tomorrow we will probably hit the cinema but that's about it really! We need a rest just to get mentally and physically prepared for the harsh conditions that are awaiting us next week!

My huge flight suit!

Flying up to our last site of the day.

This is not zoomed in, thats how close we were to the crater of Mount St Helens, which erupted May 18th 1980.

Lewitt Falls coming out of the crater.

Spirit Lake across the valley from the crater.

Check out the size of the people for scale. These are the sides of the valley. What you have to remember is that all of this was deposited in 1980 from the eruption. Some of it is ash, some of it is lahar (mud flow). That was the lowest point 30 years ago. The river has cut down through this to its current elevation and moved all of that sediment downstream. To survey the cross-section Danny had to rapel down the sides with the helicopter as his anchor at the top!

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