[Editor’s note: The American Alpine Institute has teamed up with the American Climber Science Program to support a variety of important research projects in mountain environments. High mountain regions – especially those with glaciers – are a treasure trove of important data that can reveal a lot about the functioning and health alpine ecosystems and their individual components as well as inform upon large-scale phenomena like climate change. Click here to read about the Institute’s commitment to alpine research and that research’s potential for helpful impact on social policy (e.g., land management) as well as more on the research to be done by the author.
Elsa Balton is a participant in the current research expedition in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. She has worked as executive assistant to the Institute’s president and is a senior molecular biology and Spanish major at Western Washington University. This is her first trip to high altitude, and she’ll be posting narratives describing some of her experiences, challenges, and rewards while conducting research on microbes at high altitude and in a challenging environment. Her first posting is simply about getting started.]
Pre-Departure: Bellingham, WA
I have known for a long time that I wanted to do some sort of study abroad during in my college years, but I was very picky about it. It has always been a dream of mine to travel to South America since one of my majors is Spanish, and I also wanted to find a program that closely related to my cell and molecular biology major. So it is not hard to see why spending a month trekking in the Cordillera Blanca studying microbial environments sounded pretty cool to me.
Besides doing research, I’ll also be taking an ecology class over the course of the trip which will help me finish my biology major. I’m hoping that this class will also help me build a more solid foundation for my future research.
This blog is mainly meant to be a log of the experiences I have on this trip and the lessons I learn from it. My goal is to write at least once a week with posts about the places we are visiting, the things we are learning in our research, and my thoughts on the former.
In this first post, I chronicle my adventures in: 1) figuring out what to bring to the Peruvian Andes for a month and 2) figuring out how to fit everything in a reasonable arrangement of bags that I will be strong enough to carry by myself.
I ended up choosing the enormous 120-liter Patagonia Black Hole duffel because I couldn't figure out any other way to fit all my gear in one bag (clothes, snacks, research supplies, climbing gear, tent, sleeping bag, etc.). While we are trekking, we’ll have mules carry our gear (!), so I chose this monstrosity of a bag because it can hold everything I could possibly need in the field, and because it is water resistant and hopefully resistant to other gross things such as dirt and cow and mule poop. I will also be bringing a 35L backpack for days when I don’t feel like lugging around a bag that can fit a body in it.
I fly out of Seattle on Tuesday morning and from there I will fly into Houston, then on to Lima, from which I’ll take an eight-hour bus ride to Huaraz. The team I am joining includes other students from Western Washington University (WWU), two professors from WWU, and researchers from several universities in the US as well as the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
We’ll spend a few days in Huaraz getting used to the 10,000-foot altitude before heading into the mountains. We’ll explore the town and nearby sites, and meet the graduate students and professors from the regional university in Huaraz who will be conducting both their own and collaborative research projects during this month-long trip.
I was so stoked about my new boots, jacket, and backpack that I
had to try them on a few times while getting organized and packing.
And now I am ready to head for Lima! My next post will be from Huaraz.
--Elsa Balton, Kodner Laboratory and American Alpine Institute Research Assistant