Monday, June 27, 2011

Acronyms and Mountains

What have I been up to... Mostly working and walking around in mountains.

As a quick run-down from when I last posted, there have been a few walkabouts, a few work trips, and a visit from the lower 48!

For starters, there's work. I'm not opposed to getting into the office and hammering out designs and plans on the computer-box, but if that work requires some info from the field, all the better. Better still is if that 'field' is in beautiful mountain country.

As a primer for the work-talk, I should provide you on the interwebs some info on whom I work for and what he does. In the gov't there is a collection of agencies called the Federal Lands Management Administration (FLMA) who oversee all the goings-on in federally owned land. In AK this includes the US Forest Service (USFS), Fish and Wildlife Management (FWM), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the National Parks Service (NPS). Together their holdings constitute the vast majority of the land-area of AK. My boss is the Regional Transportation Program Manager for the AK Regional Office, making him the AKRO NPS FLMA RTPM. Got it?

In non-crypto-speak this means that for all the highway and related infrastructure projects in the AK NPS system my boss holds the purse strings and has oversight. Additionally all the FLM agencies do their best to coordinate efforts so that projects run more smoothly, so that there is a unified goal, and that the projects that cross FLMA boundaries might be more seamless. To this end, Paul typically goes out to meet with various people to identify projects that might be coming down the pike.

Last week, this meant meeting up with some Federal Highway guys (there is an agency in the federal gov't that deals exclusively with the construction and engineering of highways, roads and bridges on federal property) to scope some projects in Denali and Seward. By association, this means that your-truly gets to tag along while pros point at maps, throw around jargon and talk construction.

In Denali, the Federal Highway guys, Paul and I, and some folks from the Denali staff were on the park road (one road that stretches 90 miles into the park form the east, and constitutes ~80% of NPS roadway in AK) looking at an existing automobile bridge and a potential future pedestrian bridge.

For my work, this meant an early start on Monday, driving up to Denali NP and having a look around before quitting for the day. This also meant that I had time to explore the park (gotta love work). So, for 5 hours of my afternoon I followed a ridge line just inside the park boundary that climbed ~2,000' off the valley floor and should have afforded some great views of Mount McKinley and Mount Foraker. While the weather was fantastic, the clouds wouldn't lift over ~7,000', so the big slopes were obscured. However, the hike was great, the weather was sunny and warm under 5,000', and my legs got a good workout.

Tuesday had us driving the park road with the gaggle of engineers of various flavors, park administration and maintenance staff and us two office softies looking at the scope of the two projects that were the day's discussion before headed back to Anchorage.

Wednesday was a day to catch-up with email, upload work photos (sounds great, right? Nope they are just images of road cracks, weeds in the ditch, and guys with vests waving their fingers around) and get ready for the next work trip: the Exit Glacier access road outside Seward in the Kenai Fjords NP. This was looking at why a particular section of road was flooding, but what struck me were the discussion points for the project scoping. Here were these professionals, many of them engineers, who were pretty well-versed in some very progressive environmental considerations. I shouldn't be surprised, but it was reassuring to be in on a conversation with highway engineers that gave equal consideration to traffic safety, visitor experience (on and off the road, with deference given to sound and view impacts), environmental conservation, and road performance. It sounded the way that all massive public projects should in conversation, but I fear that this phenomena might only be witnessed in contexts like this one for the National Parks Service.

For the mountains, the story is much shorter, but much more fun. On my return from Anchorage from Seward, the weather in town was fantastic, and Rob (roommate) and I hatched a plan to get on some climbs down the Seward highway. Turns out respectable climbs can be had right from the edge of the road. One of these climbs is Sunshine Ridge, an fun and scenic 5-pitch 5.6-8 with great views of the Turnagain Arm.

For those that don't speak climber, this was pretty-much a steep slope that required some rope protection in case wither of us fell, and a 'pitch' is a rope-length, or 50-70m. Having not climbed outside in some time, this was a fantastic break-in. I even lead a few of the pitches, which is pretty good considering I haven't lead-climbed in a few years. The climb was not hard enough to wear me out, so I could focus on reviewing all my knots and safety techniques so that more difficult climbing will be more fun and more plausible later in the summer.

Finally, the weekend was another gem in steep topography. Rob, his friend, Jason, and I took a hike out to Lane Hut, near Hatcher Pass in the Talkeetna Range. The hike was easy enough; a few miles over not-too-hard terrain, and the hut had plenty of character. Hiking in on Saturday, we had some very low clouds, light precipitation, and all-around moisture. Literally: everything was just a bit damp from the sky to the ground to my socks. After an evening of scrambling around on boulders dice games and sleep punctuated by the scurrying of hut-mice, the morning broke (at ~3am) to a beautifully clear day, puffy white clouds and all.

These photos show the before and after.

In the next couple weeks, it looks like I'll be strapped to my office desk, but if the weather holds out, I'm sure there will be some outdoors fun. I'll keep you posted.

1 comment:

  1. I love the pictures in my head of you tromping through the park with other geeks, waving fingers and pointing at things. Keep up the fine work, young man!