The tundra is cold

August, 2017

Up in the Ruby Range, beyond the treeline and where even the shrubby birches and rugged willows struggle to grow, it is snowing. The clouds are low, unfurling over the mountaintops, and thick snow is falling in fat flakes that rapidly turn the rocky ground white. Everywhere around the peaks have disappeared into a milky haze, earth and sky no longer distinguishable. It is a beautiful sight. Or at least, it would be if we didn’t still have eight hours of fieldwork to do.

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The tundra is cold. Perhaps that is stating the obvious just a little bit, but after two weeks working in blazing sunshine and working on our tan lines, it is helpful (though not at all pleasant) to be reminded of the fact. Right now Team Kluane is camped out in the Ruby Range to the east of Kluane Lake, and it is very cold indeed. We have to brush the snow off the tent to open it up, and leave a deep trail of footprints as we walk to ‘the pod’, the white (and growing ever whiter) dome of comfort left over from when Pika Camp was a bustling hubbub of research activity. Even as the kettle whistles and fills the room with a column of steam (or is that just our breath?) we realise that our research for the day is in jeopardy as the seeds Matt and Cameron have to find for Anna Hargreaves’ herbivory experiment are soon to be completely lost under the blizzard.

Up here there is little time to rest, and when you do it gets even colder. The solution is simply to get on with it. We warm up as the day does, and the snow gradually recedes from the mountainside as the sun climbs just a little higher. Soon the leaves emerge once more and it is simply chilly. I even take off my hat. Briefly.

There is respite in the afternoon as we rest against the pod wall watching the cloud billow through the passes and listen out for snowy owls on the hillside. But all too soon the evening creeps up – not quite day but not quite dark. We retreat inside where the wind can’t reach us and mugs of hot chocolate await.

When we wake the next morning things are looking up. Peeking out of the folds in the sleeping bag there seems to be no snow on the roof of the tent. Nor is the wind that somehow pierces our many layers blowing. In fact, the tent doesn’t seem to be moving at all. As we open the tent, a snap and crackle of crystals soon tell us why – it has frozen solid. As I said, the tundra is cold.

By Haydn

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