Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Packing stuff... mostly fun stuff

Only 3 days until an alpine adventure!

Not much left to do, but its been a reasonably busy week gathering all the necessary equipment and gear that I need for next week in Italy.  The main issue being the amount of stuff I'm taking compared to the amount I actually need next week is quite large.  As I will be flying to the field site on successive occasions, I need to take all (or most) of the bulky or heavy items in a lovely two day car journey (incl. stop over and ferry) between Newcastle and Courmayeur on Saturday.

The kit list is made even bigger by the concerns over safety when on the glacier.  Those who remember the crevasse safety course and my beautiful figure 8's from last weeks blog will know that crevassing on part of the glacier is an issue enough to take harnesses and some standard climbing/crevasse rescue gear.  Considering the snow conditions and the current and predicted weather (accessed from the Italian Snow and avalanche forecasts), crevasses on the upper regions of the glacier aren't going to be an issue really, but it's nevertheless better to have the equipment and not need it that vice versa etc etc....

No, the main trouble is the risk of avalanches which is commonplace among skiers and alpine trekkers in such mountainous regions, particularly at this time of year when rising temperatures develop hand in hand with continued solid precipitation (snow).  As a result, the department at Northumbria University has invested in some avalanche safety gear, which typically consists of a transceiver/beacon, the size of a large 90's phone which makes a lot of beeping noises when nearby to someone trapped under avalanche snow,  a trusty extendable prodding stick known better as an avalanche probe and a lightweight pack away snow shovel.. to erm... shovel?
Whilst the risks associated with avalanche dangers are much higher than other glacier related risks for this small trip, all necessary precautions will be taken, summing up the level of risk from forecasts as well as with common sense and observations at the time.  Conditions can change reasonably quickly, which then may boost up the level of danger associated with snow sliding very quickly down a slope!  We all know that weather forecasts aren't 100% accurate... right??  So of course, it makes sense to keep up to date with new forecasts as close to the time as possible when weather predictions are the most accurate, and therefore, the assessment of avalanche risk is as well.

Anyway... back to the original point.... lots of equipment to think about this week.  Though most of it is now in boxes and taped up with labels (such as 'big ass battery' and the like).

It was a fair amount of work to organise all this... so I needed a posing shovel picture.  

Generally, what we have (assuming you can see the numbers) is:

1) The highly untrustworthy 2 metre tripods which I discussed a few weeks back (9 in total in the TomCave)

2) A box full of all safety equipment including crevasse rescue kits, snow anchors, snow avalanche transceivers, shovels and probes as well as spare batteries for all equipment

3) A Kovacs ice drill complete with 6 flights (extensions) and a lovely handle.... fun for all the family

4) A box full of different sized (MET20/MET21) radiation shields to house the temperature sensors

5) All temperature/science equipment for the stations and automatic weather stations (the box underneath has a neat little solar panel to take to Italy (hoping for some sun!)

6) Another new addition to the Northumbria family of toys... A SnowSled expedition Pulka to pull the equipment up to the glacier (I had a quick trial of this one in the office... See below)

7) All the rest of the stuff... GPSs, metal to stabilise tripods, bolts, beer, porn mags, man stuff! (joking about 2 of the previous... let you decide which).  Finally some long white PVC plastic water pipes acquired from B&Q:

I'm not trying to re-route the glacial meltwater to my own little camp (though this a good idea!), but instead using these 2m pipes as ablation stakes to measure and quantify melt of the glacier at the surface compared to what we are predicting to happen.  And that's where the drill comes into it.  

Also like to point people toward a great blog post I was reading last year on Antarctic fieldwork by Bethan Davies (read it here), and all the planning and logistics involved (most certainly more than this instance)... It is a nice summary and some great pictures too... worth a read if you are thinking about any kind of fieldwork loosely similar to this.  

I should most certainly give credit of these shots of me in my day-to-day activities to my friend and colleague Mark Allan, who also challenged me to wear my new climbing helmet all day around the office and the university grounds for the reward of £10!

It was going well, until I realised I wasn't undertaking a full day of work anyway, and the bet was rendered void.

I lasted 90 minutes.

Now... on to fieldwork!

Assuming I'm not left buried under mountains of snow next week, my next blog post will be some nice pretty pictures.

Until then... Arrivederci

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