Friday, 2 November 2012

SCHOLARSHIP DAY 64: Aurora Mountain, Vault Lake and my attempt at lighting Methane bubbles!

We were greeted by one- that's one- cherubic trick-or-treater last night, and are now left with a very large bowl of candy. We've all been going at it today; I've had my fair share of 'Mike and Ike Red Rageous' sweets, which here in America, seem to be very popular. How long the sweet supply will last, it's hard to tell, but at the current rate, I estimate a week. We'll have to wait and see.

Billie's Hostel has not just introduced sweets into the dining area. Long term hosteller, Jerry, has brought his TV from his house and now it sits in a position that looks like it was made for it, under the stairs. The problem with a television available, is that people think it's necessary for it to be on! For me, it's now a battle of volume between my laptop and the television.

It was to be another one of those seemingly 'too early' early starts; the 6:30am alarm sounded and I was up and making pancakes. The comforting feel of eating pancakes was somewhat cancelled out by the fact that outside, dawn hadn't even started and I knew that at any minute, I would have to venture outside myself. When I did though, it wasn't as cold as I thought it would be, eventhough there were clear skies, but maybe that's me finally acclimatised to the climate. Today is the first day of November, and I have to say, if it continues to be -20 degrees C for the next 18 days or so, I will be a happy traveller. From then on, it's a slow but sure southward journey, towards the balmy Los Angeles. Oh, how I can't wait!

The first day of November, for me, would be spent on Vault Lake with Allen and Jacob from the Geological Engineering Department. We have been to Vault Lake before, and started to record the bathymetry of the lake, but never finished, so today was our opportunity to complete the readings. Well, despite strict instructions from Allen that we had to meet at 8:45am, we didn't end up setting off until after 9:00am and suddenly the 6:30am alarm didn't seem that necessary. To add to this, Jacob wanted to pop to the ski hut on Aurora Mountain, to buy a season pass for this winter. Well, when we arrived to what we believed was the right place, the ski hut was closed. So, Jacob busied himself with trying to find some life force around the place, whilst I took a short walk to the edge of Aurora Mountain. The view here is amazing; you can see for miles.

Giving up, Jacob and I got back into the truck, and I had the distinct feeling the trip to Aurora Mountain had benefitted me more than him. We were now on a direct route to Vault Lake, and before long, we arrived. Since we visited last week, there has been considerable snow fall, and all our drilled holes were now buried deep under the snow cover. My first job was to sweep the snow off the lake; a task that I thought I handled pretty well, despite being maybe too small for the broom I was using!

With all the snow removed, after an hour of hard, yet warming work, we started to redrill the holes that had started to ice up again. It didn't take very much to distract us though, and soon, we had put down our tools, and were all staring at a figure high up in the trees. We debated for a while on what it actually was; in the end, we settled on an owl, but we guessed all sorts, including a hawk too. I think it is an owl, but for budding ornithologists reading, maybe you can confirm our suspicions.

The afternoon work seemed to whizz by, and we had completed all drilling and measuring of lakes by about 3:00pm, which fortunately gave us time to have some fun! Well, there's only so much you can do on a frozen lake. Ice skate? No. Make Ice Sculptures? No. Set Methane bubbles alight? Well, of course. Methane, when lit, produces some fantastic displays, or so I'm told.

It was decided that I would make the crack with a pick axe and Allen would set some dry grass alight and place it above the crack. All very sophisticated! Well, we tried and tried, but try as we might, we couldn't get this gas to create the colourful displays that were expected. Why it didn't work, I'm not exactly sure, but rest assured I left even more determined to try the next time. My dear reader, I shall not leave Alaska until I light a bubble, although if today was anything to go by, I might need a longer visa.

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