First Crack at the Glacier

The past few days have been busy with exploration.  Upon our arrival to the high altitudes, we spent a day at Gokyo (15,500 ft.), sorting gear and doing initial photo recon on some of the lake basins that we targeted in November 2012. Given the early thaw and relatively good weather, we decided to begin work on Spillway Lake earlier, before our foray to a small glacier at 17,500 ft.  So we crossed the glacier to Tangnak, a beautiful village near the start of the famous Cho La Pass.  The crossing took a bit longer than usual, as I kept stopping to take photos of the lakes and ice walls.

Glacier Wall!


I’m impressed at some of these ice wall collapses relatively early in the melt season.

Once at “base camp” in Tangnak, I proceeded to sort through more boxes and bags leftover from November’s expedition.  After all the sorting and troubleshooting some of the equipment, we carried over an inflatable kayak, courtesy of Dr. Sarah Thompson; a few cameras and solar panels; a laser rangefinder; and a mini weather station to the glacier.  Using a homemade paddle, courtesy of Lhakpa, the owner of Cho La Pass resort, we navigated the waters and set up the cameras, as well as made measurements on North and East-facing ice walls.  These walls don’t melt as fast as South and West-facing ones.  They are pretty much the only ones remaining, as many other ice walls in the region have been recently covered up with debris.  Thus, through survey work (May 2013/November 2013/May 2014) with a laser rangefinder, a camera to take hourly photos, and ground-control point determination, we are better able to track their demise through time.

We also set up a mini weather station in the region, to track rainfall, air temperature, relative humidity, and barometric pressure. All of these measurements are important for determining how quickly and at what magnitude the glacier and lakes change throughout the year.  We will be setting up a similar station a few days from now, at nearly 2,500 ft. higher, to see how much melting is occurring at higher elevations as well.   All of this work took quite a while, as the sites were far apart, the winds were a bit strong and there were strong currents in the lake at some of the choke points.  We got quite the workout with all the paddling and battling!

 Team at work

I conclude with some interesting findings.  At one of my measurements points, we discovered a bubbling “glacier geyser,” in front of a massive ice wall at over 80 feet (~25 meters) tall.  It was spouting cold water and didn’t show any sign of slowing.  I wonder what its source is and if it will keep it up throughout the melt season.  I’ll definitely keep my eye on it throughout the coming weeks.  In addition, we have witnessed a partial drain (about a 3.5 foot drop in water level) in one of the lake basins already.  There is no evidence to suggest that the water ended up in the next basin, so, likely, it has gone down-glacier through an outlet point.

Glacier Geyser

Spring 2013: The Journey Begins

As I sit in the Hong Kong Airport, awaiting my flight to Kathmandu, I can’t help but feel a bit of deja vu. On my first trip to the Himalaya (2008), I flew this same route as a bright-eyed kid, excited for the journey and with no idea how the trip would change me. At the time I was there simply for trekking – to make it to Everest base camp and, having read countless adventure books about it, to finally see the mountain for myself. But the trip had a more profound impact on me: the Khumbu glacier was not how I expected a glacier to look.  It seemed unhealthy: pock-marked with lakes and covered in rubble.  I needed to learn more.

So here I am in 2013, back again to the Himalaya, but now for research purposes.  My first two field seasons (June 2011; November 2012) were learning experiences in many capacities. There were difficulties I did not anticipate, and, at times, my abilities did not match my ambitions. So I learned, adapted, worked harder and smarter. The challenges will continue, of that I am sure. For me, this work extends beyond a PhD. I am driven by my love of nature, a desire to understand it, and a desire to protect it. This is a life-long journey for me. I feel ready – excited – for the next stage of this project!

Ulyana: One Week Out

We (the Black Ice team) are one week out from departing for Kathmandu, Nepal.  Upon arrival there, we will take a couple of days to get gear sorted and recover from jet lag.  Then, onwards to Lukla, where we will begin a long uphill journey to the Ngozumpa glacier, at the foot of Cho Oyu.

As I sit here on the floor of my apartment and write, surrounded by a massive pile of boxes filled with field gear and food, I cannot help but feel excited for what lies ahead.  True, many challenges await.   We have hundreds of pounds of gear and equipment to sort out and keep track of during our trip.  Just today I counted how many AA, AAA, C and D batteries we have.  Close to 100!

Weather reports coming back from Gokyo indicate that temperatures are already freezing. Equipment tests continue this week, while wearing gloves, so we know how to manage the instruments, despite sacrifices to manual dexterity.  Our kit includes GPS, sonar, water temperature sensors, buoys, an inflatable raft, a dredge, air temperature sensors, a field spectrometer, a laser rangefinder, and a lot of climbing gear (ice screws, pickets, ropes, etc.).  We will write more about the instrumentation as the project progresses, so stay tuned!