Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Not your average ski trip

I study marmots, a hibernating, mountain-dwelling furry critter. Marmots are found all over the world at high elevations, but the animals I study make their home 9500 feet high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The scenery is breathtaking and our study site is unlike any other, however, studying hibernating animals in a remote location can be a bit challenging...

Matt, Raquel, and I stop and pose for a group photo. In retrospect, perhaps pausing for portraits in front of an avalanche sit wasn’t the best idea (above).

Marmots spend the winter sleeping soundly in their underground burrows, safely protected from the cold snow and harsh weather conditions. Unfortunately, early season researchers are not so lucky. Every year, marmoteers from the Blumstein lab arrive at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in April, when the ground is completely blanketed with snow and storms continue to frequent the area. We dedicated researchers must arrive before the marmots awake from hibernation in order to note emergence date. Emergence date (the day the marmot awakes from it’s winter slumber) is an important event in a marmot’s life and we must therefore arrive early enough to gather this crucial piece of data.

Now let me clarify that “arrive” is a euphemism for “ski in all our clothes, equipment, food, and gear using backpacks and harness sleds over miles and miles of snow-covered terrain”. Yes, that’s right, the roads to the field site are not plowed and any supplies needed for life, research, etc. must therefore be skied in.

Initially, I thought this sounded like quite the adventure. Skiing is fun, right? Well, in theory, yes it is. However, skiing with thirty plus pounds of gear on your back makes it quite hard to stop once you get going. I quickly realized that the only way to decelerate once gravity begins to accelerate you downhill is to fall (not always gracefully).

We eventually made it to our cabin safe and sound, with only a few bruises and lots of funny stories. It’s one of those experiences you silently curse while it’s happening, but look back on fondly once the swelling in your ankles has gone down. Ah, the life of a marmot researcher.

We finally arrive safe, sound, and exhausted at our cabin in the mountains. Time to rest up for marmot observations (below).

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