Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Flash Flooding in Great Basin Nat'l Park

My first 8-day project was at Great Basin National Park, which is about 6 hours north of Vegas and right on the border with Utah. The first day consisted of driving there and working for a few hours, clearing some trees from the sides of the road up to our campsite, then going and setting up camp. Our campsite was about 30 minutes from the main road, up a dirt road into the mountains. The whole drive up the road, and the whole way to the park initially, I was just staring out the window at all the beautiful mountain scenery. Everywhere I go around here is so different than anything I'm used to on the east coast, and I find myself constantly mesmerized by the beauty of the mountains and the cool colors of the rock. At first it was almost like being on another planet. I'm getting more used to it now, but I still think it's amazing to look at.

Day 2 turned into quite an adventure. In the morning we had to drive about an hour to get to the site where we were working, then we had to hike about 2 miles carrying our tools. Then we worked for about 4 hours maintaining a trail that was starting to get overgrown, then we hiked back the 2 miles to the trucks, leaving our tools cached at the work site so we could come back to them the next day. As we got back to the trucks it started to rain, so we tried to get out as quickly as we could. While we were driving down the dirt road, we started to see water flowing over the road from the hill on one side, which was worrying because of the potential for a flash flood. We thought we were doing good and were going to beat the water down the mountain until we came around a corner and saw tons of water coming down the mountain from the road that was about to intersect with ours. We stopped to assess the situation and it turned out that the huge flash flood, although not a danger to us where we were parked, came dangerously close to the road a little bit farther down, so we couldn't drive past it. We radioed to the park rangers to see if they could come pick us up, and it turned out that the flood had washed out a part of the road farther down so the rangers couldn't get all the way to where we were. The only solution was to leave the trucks where they were and hike down the road to where the rangers could pick us up. By that time the flood had calmed down a little but had not died down completely, so it wasn't dangerous to walk but debris had been pushed onto the road by the water so we couldn't drive to where the rangers were; walking was the only option. We made it to the rangers without any incident, found a safe place to jump across the water, and they drove us back to our campsite.

Then the next day was a little of a logistical nightmare because we had no trucks and still had tools stuck at the work site. The plan we came up with was for the project partner to shuttle us by crew back to the trucks and then we'd go back to the work site to get the tools. But since the trucks were about an hour away from our campsite the shuttling process took hours, the first few of which my crew spent waiting at our campsite for the project partner to come back for us. Once we got back to the trucks we only really had time to make the hike to the campsite, get the tools, and then leave again, so that's pretty much the only thing my crew accomplished for the whole 10-hour work day. Those two days reinforced yet again how much plans can change in this type of work.

Day 4 was back to actually getting projects done. We didn't go back to the original work site for obvious reasons, so we moved on to the next project. This one involved hiking 4.5 miles from our campsite over a mountain and into the valley on the other side. The hike was really steep on the way up and the way down, and it took us over 2 hours of the hardest hiking I'd ever done to actually get to where we were working. Once we got there, we worked on removing downed trees that were blocking a path so that more work could be done on the trail later on. Then we had to hike the same 4.5 miles back over the mountain. So after hiking 9 miles, we were all pretty tired at the end of the day.

Day 5 we hiked the same hike again, but this time it took less time. I think we all went faster just so we could get it over with sooner. The work was pretty much the same, but it rained for parts of the day so we were all slightly less enthusiastic because of that. Rain is never very motivating when you have to be outside all day. Day 6 we hiked the same mountain for a third time, and this time was by far the hardest because I was so tired from the other 2 days of the same hike. By that point in the week we had hiked almost 40 miles altogether, so I was really struggling. On the way back up the mountain in the afternoon I felt like I had to stop every 2 minutes to catch my breath. I had learned in the past few days that I was one of the slowest hikers in the group on the steep uphill sections, and that last day was even worse than usual. But eventually I made it, and was really happy that it was the last time I had to do that hike.

The last 2 days we did more of what we'd done the first day - clearing trees from the sides of the road. The last day we only did about an hour of work because we had to drive back to Vegas and then do about 2 hours of "de-rig" once we got there. It was a long, tiring, but good week, and the 5 days off afterwards were great. There were challenges and ups and downs, but all-in-all it was a great start to the year at the NCC.

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