Thursday, 20 June 2013

Planes, trains, and automobiles North.

Last week I was in the NWT doing some community consultations and some scouting.  We are in the process of gearing up for a small summer heli-portable program in the Sahtu and some new exploration blocks were just posted in the far northern Sahtu and southern Gwichin.  It was a classic northern trip: whirlwind-y, discombobulated, and in a constant state of flux right up till when it was done.  The trip also covered a huge amount of ground using a variety of interesting modes of transportation.
Day 1: Drove from Pincher to Calgary in the K Kart.  Drove from Calgary to Edmonton with my boss, Al, in a rented Jetta.  The K Kart drives like a gem, but has no muffler (no exhaust system, actually) so is really loud.  I’ve decided to wear ear plugs while driving rather than fix the little guy.  But hey, at least it’s registered.  Jettas suck.
Day 2, part 1: Flew from Edmonton to Yellowknife to Norman Wells  in a Boeing 737 Combi.  This is a half passenger – half cargo plane that’s really uncomfortable.  But, it gets the job done.  On the plus side Canadian North still serves a full meal en route and it’s not half bad.  In Yellowknife we picked up Marty, our northern affairs guy, and about 100 lbs of steaks for consultations.
Day 2, part 2: Flew from Norman Wells to Tulita in a Twin Otter.  I’d never flown in one of these before and it was awesome.  I swear we only needed about 200 feet of runway before we were airborne.  In the evening we hosted a BBQ in Tulita.

Overseeing.  And looking fab.

There’s an old bone yard in Tulita down by the river with lots of awesome old oilfield trucks and machinery.

All oilfield vehicles get permit numbers.  One of the last numbers issued was 5705. 
Day 3: Flew from Tulita to Norman Wells in an Astar 350 B2 via a detour to the Carcajou River.

The Mackenzie Mts in the distance.  One of our lines up front.

Day 4: Rode some bikes around Norman Wells.
The only sensible way to travel at 3 am.
Day 5, part 1: Flew from Norman Wells back to Tulita in that same Astar to pick up some elders to show them some of our seismic program from the past couple years.
Day 5, part 2: Dropped the elders off in Tulita and flew back to Norman Wells and then on to Inuvik.  En route from NWs to Inuvik we did a preliminary scout of some new lease blocks that were just posted by the NWT & Feds for exploration.  We saw some pretty spectacular country.
The Mountain River
The Ramparts River
The Arctic Red River
Melting permafrost makes for pretty epic slumps. 
The country in this part of the world is stunning. Honestly, I'm not sure I've ever been to a place this remote. In all the time I've spent outside in my life, this may be the first time I've ever been somewhere with nothing.  Nada. 

This is a shale formation cut by the Arctic Red River.
I’m not a geologist, but this is very likely the same or related shale to the one being explored right now near Norman Wells and Tulita. When I crushed up this shale and threw it into the river, it produced a hydrocarbon sheen.

The other major shale oil formations being produced right now, like the Bakken in the Dakotas, Montana, Sask., and AB and the Eagle Ford in Texas, are about 8 m thick. 
Day 6, part 1: Flew from Inuvik to Edmonton to Calgary in the same Boeing Combi.  This time it was full of people; no cargo.
Day 6, part 2: Picked-up Bry-dog (Andrea’s brother) at the Calgary airport and headed back in Pincher in the K Kart.
All and all the trip was about 5,500 km; from almost the southern border with the US to almost the Beaufort Sea. 

All in a mere 6 days.  And it was really fun. 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Truchas Patagónicas

Patagonia always sounded to me like an impossibly distant place, conjuring images of endless desolation, horses, and slabs of steak. The trout, introduced a century ago to South America, was reason enough to do some long distance coordination, pack gear, and spend a few solid hours in the air heading more or less straight south.

Flying in to Buenos Aires you parallel the Río de la Plata, but this wasn't the water we were looking for. We headed south by bus to Bariloche, rented a car, and took to Ruta 40. This is the longest road in Argentina, stretching from the Bolivian border to Río Gallegos, almost in Tierra del Fuego, all the while hugging the eastern slope of the Andes. 

The landscape emptied quickly as we drove, but turning west into the cordillera we found lush forests again. O brought a couple pack rafts which we used to float the Río Rivadavia, locally referred to as "the aquarium". It runs crystal clear through the rainforest of Arrayanes National Park, but heavy pressure from guided rafting trips through the summer meant we saw a lot of huge trout that wanted nothing to do with our flies. This was also where we first realized the value of river wine.

After a few notable missed takes and a snapped leader that I'll never forget, we found ourselves in need of some fish to hand. We headed east to the foothills and the Río Chubut, a river flanked by dense willow, winding through pasture, reminding me of a smaller and more wadeable Bow River. We found rainbows, willing to take big foam hoppers. The largest we could see feeding behind overhanging willows, and sight fish right to them.

I fished foam nearly everywhere. A yellow bodied foam hopper and a black beadhead woolly bugger accounted for at least ninety percent of the fish I landed. Though here on the Chubut deer hair caddis were also on the menu. 

At the end of this first stretch it became clear that we weren't going to fish straight through several weeks of car rentership. So we took a few days away from the river to rejoin society, get a beard trim, talk politics in a mixed crowd of Germans and Israelis, get wine drunk on a glacier - until a bizarre series of events led us to a late night meat grill in the house of a Canadian expat. His open fireplace featured an ingenious swing-out grill contraption, which every home should have. 

Much wine later, maps were drawn, advice was given (fishing and otherwise). We were directed south again, to new water. The first creek on the map (which we were unsure would exist until we physically saw it) seemed sterile until the impossibly large cruising rainbows appeared. Only one could be enticed to take. This was becoming the norm - seeing fish in insanely beautiful places, touching only a few of them. 

It is worth noting that we fished this stretch of water only after sleeping off the wine in the dirt next to the car for a few hours in the afternoon. 

The map then took us further south, across yet sparser landscapes, to what felt like the end of the earth, the outlet of Lago Vintter. Here, football-shaped brook trout cruise the mouth of the Río Corcovado for just one hour after legal fishing light, a time loosely understood to be sunrise-ish. 

A makeshift camp of the diehard forms there each year in the fall, drawing Argentine fly fishers in the way that the Skeena draws steelheaders. 

We tented alongside the trailers, discovering quickly why others were taking off on quads and returning with mass quantities of firewood. The temperature dropped below freezing in the night, and the next morning we had to thaw our waders and boots in the lake before we could wrestle them on. I was still thawing when O took a brookie that only he ever saw. 

As a testament to what is possible when you befriend the local fisheries officers, a group of Argentines set up camp under the bridge over the Corcovado, complete with a woodstove, bunks, and an outdoor meat cage. The ability to have an outdoor meat cage is one of many advantages to having nearly no large predators on the landscape. After the short window of good fishing every morning they would head to the forest and pick mushrooms, lay them out to dry on the river rocks, hit up the meat cage, and start making dinner. 

From here we did a lot more driving. We went to Chile and did not fish, but threw small sticks into a luminescent-blue river only to watch them be picked off by the rainbows we did not have a license to catch. 

And found ourselves back in Argentina nearly at the end of our trip, on the Río Malleo as the winds picked up and the weather began to change. 

It was here in the final few hours on the water that the fishing became more like it had been in my imagination. Hungry, naive trout. Rainbows, and finally browns. Cue the fish pics. 

This river left us wanting more. More time casting in the relentless wind, more mornings being harassed by goats, more black coffee brewed in a sock, more red wine on river banks. 

We were chased off the water as much by the arriving cold front as by the need to make it back to the city to return the rental car. There was a fresh coat of snow on the mountains, and it felt like fall. I'd like to say I'll be back again, and maybe I will, but man is it ever far.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Why am I doing this again?

It has been 14 months since I defended my thesis. While still being very junior, I have started testing the waters for faculty positions (all in Merica). I have also started keeping stats on who gets shortlisted. For fun, here is the first rejection letter I received:

This is a rejection letter to a friend here, who coincidentally just got a faculty job. Note the date of posting, number of applicants, and date of rejection:

On average, there seem to be >150 applicants but less than 500 for each posting. Of the stats I have been keeping, most notably, but unscientifically:

1. Time matters. All the shortlisted graduated <2010.
2. (Unfortunately) Nature and Science on CVs keep popping up - and it is not their subsidiaries.
3. Postings are never what they seem, i.e., they advertise for a generic evolutionary biology position, but only interview plant people.

As of now it is still fun to apply and think of living in these places. I suspect this will change.