We are back at Base after a week in Pika Camp. Last Sunday saw us depart with almost surprising punctuality as we hitched a ride with our new friends Scott and Cole (U. of Alberta), who were on a mission to check the bear-beaten weather stations that dot Pika Valley (final score was bear: 3 / stations: 4).
The long hike with our heavily loaded packs was like a snail race up the hill (John being by far the fastest snail, and me by even farther the slowest one), following the tracks of bears and moose and wishing we were agile like them. In the end we all made it across the ridge, and seeing the familiar little white igloo down in the valley heartened us as we hurried towards it to set up camp.
The strenuous walking was far from being over, as John and I spent the next two days trudging up and down a 700 m elevation gradient to set up and monitor a herbivory experiment. Luckily, we were rewarded with sightings of porcupines, marmots, pikas, ground squirrels and ptarmigans, and the view from the top of East Peak was in itself largely worth the effort.
Meanwhile, Haydn and Eleanor were so busy collecting traits and litter samples that they would forget to have lunch, and then make up for it by ransacking our supplies of snacks and Country Time.
On the third day our spirits were – quite literally – dampened as a stormy front settled over the valley. After a morning of cold, wet and not particularly efficient fieldwork, we all retreated to the Pod for a lengthy lunch break. The lack of external forms of entertainment or mental stimulation were first felt when Haydn had the brilliant idea of naming each of this year’s cohort of 300 willows in the common garden with a name beginning with D, which led us to brainstorm 78 of them (suggestions anyone?). One thing leading to another, John was next challenging Haydn and I to name over a hundred Harry Potter characters. (We managed 216, if anyone wants to take up the challenge – or you could just do like Eleanor and go for a nap after the first 25.)
After this cheerful nerdy break, we went out again for more sampling and before we knew it, we were all sitting in front of our last meal in Pika Camp. This was the perfect opportunity to celebrate John’s graduation from his Ecological and Environmental Sciences degree, which was officially taking place in Edinburgh last weekend. We all solemnly applauded as he put on his robe (made of a garbage bag lined with duct tape and flagging tape and complete with a toilet paper faux-fur collar), got hit on the head by Haydn’s beanie (for those familiar with Edinburgh graduation customs, the beanie got the top of East Peak, which is as close as we could get it to space) and received a hand-made certificate signed by all of us. Congratulations John!
We made good time on the way down the following morning, fuelled by the promise of hot showers, cold beers and snug cabins waiting for us at Base. With two hours to spare before our agreed pick-up time (yes, we were that excited), we engaged in a heated pétanque match on the sandy roadside. It is now time to get back to work as there are dozens of willows to be rooted and hundreds of seeds to be germinated. Stay tuned for scientific discoveries!