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First Trip to “Hoth” aka the Absarokas in Winter

November 27, 2011

This past Wednesday was the first trip into the snowy mountains. This trip was to give heart rate monitors to the first of my two fall semester courses. They were in the Absaroka Range which at the moment is covered in about 3 feet of snow. My first Fall course and another course that was in Lander contracted Giardia and several students were extremely ill which lead to a longer and more logistically complicated trip than we anticipated. We had to take in a student who delayed her trip to the Absarokas due to illness, drop off heart rate monitors, drop off medication for the Giardia infected students, pick up a different student from that course to evac her out (she was very ill), and then deliver medication to the other Giardia infected course. All of this was to be accomplished by snowmobile and sled, and I have to say this is far and away the highlight of this entire field work experience.

The Beautiful Absarokas (The Ice Planet of Hoth)

More Beauty

I have never been on a snowmobile before, yes, I know, I am a terrible Michigander. John Gookin (the research manager at NOLS who has made this entire project possible) and Ryan Hutchins (who camped out with my last year during my pilot study) were my drivers on this trip and these two are legends, pure legends!

I assumed that driving a snowmobile was like driving a car, you steer and the machine goes where you steer. Yeah, I was so very very wrong about that. So much of driving one of these machines depends on how you move your body and where you position your weight. It is far more athletic than I expected. Anyway, all of this hauling had to be done with two snowmobiles, one could not really handle two riders so the other had two riders and pulled a dogsled that carried all the gear and a third rider. I volunteered to ride the dogsled behind the snowmobile. I thought it entailed just standing there, oh no! I had to help steer the sled which also helped steer the snowmobile. This entails standing on a slippery metal platform and throwing my weight around without falling off (which I did…only once). The whole trip was successful and went far better than I expected. The scenery was snow covered and gorgeous though oddly reminded me of Hoth – letting the nerd come out here. It was also a surprisingly warm day, so I didn’t have to wear the absurd snow jacket I borrowed from NOLS, though I did have to wear the pants.

The ridiculous tree-trunk boot covers - made me feel like an Ent + the Leakey Foundation measuring scale

Giant Smurf Snow Suit

What I actually wore, though the pants were so big, the crotch of them hung halfway down my thighs.

It is rather hard to describe the feeling of going about 25 mph on a dog sled through 3 feet of snow, shifting from side to side to keep the sled in line, feeling the cold wind whipping my face, and the thrill of feeling the sled almost tip or slip and using your own strength to right it again. It is exhilarating and exhausting but really the best description is BAD ASS! The morning after the ride out, I get to do it again this coming Wednesday for my other course, and I can’t wait!

This is THE face of Science!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Kay permalink
    December 10, 2011 9:13 pm

    What an unbelievable experience! I don’t envy it, but am very glad you got to do it! Can hardly wait to hear details in person…..

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