Overcoming Low Visibility and Finding a Way Back to Oregon

The day of our departure finally came, Wednesday August 2nd! Based on our schedule, we would be finishing all work that Sunday, giving us two days to pack and wrap up any loose ends. As it turned out, these two days were invaluable. We were able to collect several more “independent moss collections”, sample three sites which were only 3 meters from the road, take some road/soil collections and finally give Kali time to work on her protocol for her soil sampling. All in all, from the months’ work of data we will have quite a bit to work with!

Now the only question was if we were going to be able to leave on the 2nd. Wednesday came and it was a dim foggy morning, exactly what we dreaded. Time inched along with frequent calls to Peter, with each party affirming their readiness the moment the weather cleared. The frequent question was: “can you see the top of the mountain to the SE of the airstrip?” To which I replied early on, “I can’t see the airstrip”. Things did not look good, we waited around in the TV room with the other people who were grounded by the weather. They had many jokes for us “don’t think you guys are leaving today…hahaha”.

Finally, around 10 am we could almost see the top of the mountain, I called Peter and we set the wheels in motion. He called Rick (our NPS pilot), we called the mine to get a ride with all our gear to the airstrip. 10 minutes later, were standing on the airstrip, I call Peter again on the satellite phone. Things have gone awry, he cannot get ahold of Rick and is not sure if the other pilot has left or not. We realize priority number one, if there is only one plane the samples must be taken out first with one person to ensure they get back to Oregon safely. Two people will need to stay until Saturday if that is the case. We decide Kali should be the one to go. We quickly exchange all contact info for her to be able to return the gear in Kotzebue, and get on the Alaska airlines flight the following day.

After waiting some time with no planes in sight, we are forced to return to camp as our truck driver will soon need to shuttle other people. At this point, no one knows if the pilot will make it there, and we decide to bring all our gear back to camp and unload. As soon as we are almost done unloading, someone from inside the camp comes out and says that the red dog tower said our plane has arrived! We are ecstatic and immediately reverse our actions putting all the gear back in the truck. Once at the airstrip, there are in fact two planes! It seems as if the other pilot did in fact come, and yet we see no pilots? After some time, we realize the pilots are in the red dog tower waiting out the weather and we now gather that the NPS pilot did not come, but the original second pilot who we hadn’t heard from along with a co-worker of his is there. He explains that “he was in the area” and thought he would come by with a second pilot. It now appeared that we would be able to leave, except that the weather took a turn and we only had two flight vests (with a personal locator beacon-PLB). After some confusion about what the regulations are, we found out fortunately that there only need be one PLB per plane-phew! Now if only the weather would clear. Finally, at around 3 pm, after a few instances of the pilots telling us that they might just leave without us- (less problems without passengers) the weather cleared just enough for us to leave!

Kali and Beth went in one plane, and I went in the second and we took off! Away we went, after that all logistical issues were a piece of cake.

Now that we are back in Corvallis, we will each take a well-earned break. After that, there will be much work to do. This will include, organizing all lichen samples and identifying them to species. Once this is done the species lists will need to be updated. At the same time, Kali and I will begin processing the frozen moss tissue samples to eventually begin analyzing their metal contents. I look forward to all the following stages in this project and am excited to say that we completed a successful and fruitful field season all thanks to the tireless efforts of Beth, Kali, myself and Peter. Go Team Lichen 2017!


Loose ends

As with any field work hitch, we have some loose ends to tie up on out last day at Red Dog. Today will be our last trip into Cape Krusenstern. We will collect a couple of moss samples a few meters away from the side of the road, and will visit one plot where our data file seemed to have been corrupted. All of this work should only take a few hours, and will leave plenty of time for us to try and clean all of the dust caked onto our gear, to pack, to eat (it is taco Tuesday tonight!!!), and to say our goodbyes to our new friends around the camp.

I think that we will all miss the beautiful tundra and interesting people of Red Dog. However, we are all very excited to be free of the Red Dog Mining Camp, and of the potential grizzly encounters (we’ve seen over 20 to date).

Stay tuned for another posting about what the next phase of this project will look like!

Over and out,