Sunday, August 14, 2011

Day 75: Flying

I received a surprise last night from LeeAnn. Last night, she asked if I wanted to go up in a helicopter tomorrow. I had to ask if she was serious. I had given up any hope of going in a helicopter this summer, so I was blown away and surprised that I might be able to! Ryan and the GeoExplorer group were going out to Wapusk today by helicopter and had an extra spot on the heli, which wouldn't cost them anything extra for me to sit in. 

LeeAnn told me last night that I would get to go up, but having been told that I could go up in a helicopter before and not having things work out, I didn't tell anyone. I didn't quite want to get my hopes up. But at 8:30, when we drove the bus down Ramsay road to the helicopter pad... it was real.

This is a jet ranger helicopter. It is a bit smaller than the long
ranger, seating three in the back and the pilot and one passenger
in the front and it can't take as much weight. This is the one I
got to fly in! A brief safety thing: only approach the helicopter
from the front so the pilot can see you and you avoid the rotor
on the tail. Then you have to bend down a bit to approach the
cabin so the top rotor doesn't catch you in it's dipping path.
Then other details about the seat belts, doors, emergency sat phones,
etc. I was put in the back in the middle because of weight
balancing, but I was in a helicopter! 

We were about 300 ft above the ground and going around
120 km/hr. I thought that the helicopter would be a lot smoother
than the planes, which in some ways it was since we didn't fly
high enough to go through cloud turbulence. But the rotors
vibrated the entire craft and you can feel through the thin metal
walls how hard it is to travel through air. It is absolutely amazing
how a helicopter works! And the landscape was so amazing!

This was our destination for the day, Nester 1, in
Wapusk National Park. You can see the two storage
sheds, the cabin with bunk beds, the one room kitchen,
the look out tower, the solar panels on the generator roof,
the outhouse and normal bathrooms, and of course the fence
to keep polar bears out and crazy researchers in. You
can also see the long ranger helicopter that carried most
of the supplies. I've heard so much about Nester 1 and all the
parties and amazing wildlife that go on there, especially from
Celia, but from Lauren and Jill and Emilie as well. What
an amazing place to stay. A little compound on the vast,
flat tundra. (They also have a basketball net set up right by
the fence. This causes problems because the ball goes over the
fence - I somehow managed not to do that today, though many
close calls while shooting. When it does, you have to go get a
bear monitor, one of the park's guys, to go out with you as you
get it. Otherwise the gate is closed at all times. Polar Bears...)

Above the dinning room table in the kitchen. I obliged.

For the outhouse. Remember to grab the
seat before doing your thing. And don't
to hang it up afterwards - bears have tried to
eat it...

Caribou tracks! I went out of the compound with the high school
GeoExplorers group who were sampling at two sites today. They
are measuring the active layer depth and trying to see if the
surface vegetation can have an effect on the depth of the
permafrost active layer. They measure out a transect and every
meter they probe the soil to find out how far down they have
to go before hitting ice. Then they look at what the vegetation is
around the probing point. Of course, the vegetation and the
active layer depth are predicted to change with climate change
which makes this study really interesting. I wish I could have
done this as a high school student!

Wolf tracks!

Dryas on a slight hillside.

Caribou in the distance, grazing.

I went back with the pilot after staying for a late dinner that I
helped to make at Nester 1. We got back around 8 and the
way the sun shone was so beautiful on all the lakes. It takes
about 18 minutes to get from Nester 1 to CNSC, but it went
by as though it were only 5 minutes.

And back at the study centre! A long day of setting up tents
and roaming the tundra (I may have gotten sun burned....)
and I am quite exhausted. I wonder what further adventure will
come in this last week and a half!
(p.s. I was flying in a HELICOPTER!!!!!!)

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Helicopter ride AND the polar bear compound? So happy for you. And awesome photos :)