Packing it Out

By Peter Beedlow

Photograph taken on horseback, looking over the head of the horse to the trail ahead.

Riding to the glacier.

This September, along with my fellow EPA colleagues Tom Connolly and Steve Cline, I was tasked with retrieving government equipment from the face of Collier Glacier in the Three Sisters Wilderness area of Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest. Ten miles of rugged terrain—unaccessible by road—stood between us and a decommissioned weather research station.

So on a Friday night in late September, we camped out at the trailhead along with nine rented horses and four wranglers.

The next morning, we saddled up for the all-day trek, riding 8 ½ miles across the Oregon wilderness before dismounting to hike the final mile over lava flows and moraine to finally reach the field station. It took us three hours to hike in, pack up the remnants of the weather station (about 200 pounds in total), and make it back to the waiting horses.

The weather station was originally set up in 2008 by an Oregon State University graduate student to gather data for calibrating a mountain glacier model. It also provided high altitude weather data, which is scarce throughout the western US. The station was run jointly by EPA, Oregon State University, and the US Geologic Survey.  When the graduate student completed his project, the University pulled out, leaving the two remaining partners to continue maintaining the station, which we used for climate monitoring activities.

Peter Beedlow with EPA colleague Steve Cline at the foot of Collier Glacier

Peter Beedlow with EPA colleague Steve Cline at the foot of Collier Glacier

I hiked in once a year to check on everything and conduct any needed maintenance, but the combination of the remoteness of the area and the severe conditions turned out to be too much to keep things going. So, EPA decommissioned the station in 2014, hence our final visit to pack up the equipment and bring it safely back to the lab.

I will miss my yearly hike, but I’m happy to say the research will continue. EPA researchers continue to use the data already collected on the glacier to model climate conditions. We are also collecting data from our seven remaining—and easier to access—weather stations along the Oregon Coast and in the Cascade Mountain Range.

See historic photos showing Collier Glacier.

About the Author: Peter Beedlow is a research scientist in EPA’s Western Ecology Division in Corvallis, OR. His main focus of study is on the effects of climate change on forest ecosystems.

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