Thursday, August 23, 2012

Shark fishing and snorkelling

Back on the ship the expeditioners got to go snorkelling with the Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) crew, and most of us saw sharks and lots of fish. Some lucky ones even saw turtles. We had a professional underwater photographer with us, Steve Hathaway, so I didn't bother to take any photos - here is a link to the video on youtube.

Rochelle and I ready to go snorkelling

Clinton Duffy also spent most evenings fishing for sharks of the stern ramp. He was taking DNA samples from the sharks (a little clip off one of their fins) to determine how related these Galapagos sharks are to others around the South Pacific. Many of the crew and students helped out with the fishing, while Clinton just wrestled the sharks as they were brought on board. The first night they weren't biting when squid was put out in the berley bag, but then they switched it to pilchards and it worked a treat. They managed to catch 17 galapagos sharks and 5 smooth hound sharks that are unknown, so Clinton kept a sample to take back to the Auckland Museum to describe and name it.

 Clinton getting the fishing rods ready

 The undescribed species of smooth hound shark

Clinton and co. wrestling one of the larger galapagos sharks to take the measurements, DNA sample and attach a tag

Unfortunately, despite a lot of patience and a couple of chases on the RHIB, Rochelle Constantine only got a couple of photos of dolphin fins and one biopsy sample from a whale for her research on cetaceans from this region. It was a lot easier to collect plankton samples and I used my net on 3 nights and got a whole range of beasties that we looked at down the microscope I had brought along with me. As far as we know this is the first time that anyone has sampled for plankton in this area, so hopefully there is something of interest for the experts.

After 10 days it was time to sail back to New Zealand, a relatively uneventful and smooth trip back, with time to discuss many things that had happened and for the kids to discuss the problems of the world and how they were going to solve them (I'm sure I was that naive too at that age). Although there was one last bit of excitement as the Navy had to rescue some guys whose boat was sinking just off the Coromandel Peninsular. They had just been practising their helicopter winching the day before, so they were ready to go. It took them 38 minutes. Go the Navy!

Raoul Island - part II

Day two on the island, the rain had stopped, so we headed up and over the hill to the other side of the island, to Denham Bay. This was rather a steep walk with a couple of ropes to aid you down/up the Denham Bay side. It was great to get some decent exercise stretch our legs and explore the island a bit, especially the beautiful Nikau forest. I was keen to look down into the crater that erupted in 2006. You can still see the devastation of the eruption.

 Walking on the ridge through the Nikau forest

Looking down on to the 2 lakes: blue lake (left) and green lake (right) with the dead trees around the lake from the eruption

On the beach in Denham Bay there is the remnants of a Japanese fishing boat that grounded itself, some pumice from the pumice raft, and sadly quite a bit of rubbish on the beach. It seems our plastic rubbish can get to every remote region of the world.

 Looking down on Denham Bay

 Climbing down into Denham Bay

The japanese fishing trawler and lots of pumice on the beach

Raoul Island - part I

After two days of steaming and a lot of pumice,we finally arrived at Raoul Island. Unfortunately Raoul is rocky and difficult to land on unless it is really calm. So the first half of expeditioners got on to the island via the RHIB (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat) and Zodiac on to the rather sketchy Fishing Rock landing. However, the weather packed in, so when it came to the second half of the team to swap over, the transfers had to be done with the Seasprite Helicopter. Fortunately the helicopter had finished hauling gear back and forward for the Department of Conservation (DOC), so it was available to shuttle us on and off the island. So I got to go in a helicopter for the first time in my life. Not sure I would rush to do it again as the sudden jolting and changes in direction didn't sit very well with my stomach. So while I don't get sea sick, I am definitely prone to air sickness - possibly due to the more random nature of the movements.

Dressed in my helmet and life jacket for the helicopter flight

The seasprite having dropped us off on Raoul Island

Life on the island was very different. DOC is a very different beast to the Navy. The island had been hit by a cyclone just 5 weeks earlier and some areas were devastated, including several of the buildings that were being fixed. There was also the annual changeover and lots of annual checks on instruments etc.. However, it seemed a lot more relaxed. We were camping on the lawn in front of the Hostel, with the Pukeko, friendly Tuis and Kakariki. Now I can understand how the Tuis and Kakariki got to the island from mainland New Zealand as they can fly pretty well... although we are told these are different subspecies so must have been here a while, however the pukeko are rather pathetic flyers - so their presence didn't make much sense unless they were brought there by maori (or they could have floated on pumice rafts!)

 Nikau palms knocked over and killed by the cyclone

The roof of the shed had been blown off and was a few hundred metres away in the trees...

Our first day on the island it was pouring with rain and we looked around and chatted to the DOC guys on the large verandah at the hostel. The DOC team spend most of their time weeding on the island trying to get rid of the plants that europeans brought with them, including peach, passion fruit, guava etc.. However, there are several orange and other citrus fruit trees and fig, that are allowed to stay and not be removed as they are now deemed historical (I assume as long as they don't spread). They also have several veggie patches so that they get fresh greens throughout the year and to supplement the food that is airlifted in once a year.

 One of the veggie patches

The hostel and tents on the lawn

In the evening we were given army RATion packs to eat. See below for what they contained. I barely managed it through the noodles and the main meal. One of the students took it upon himself to try and eat the whole lot - it does say that you should consume the whole thing in 24 hours -but I assume that is only if you are in a intense combat situation when you are burning lots of calories. I think he had a rather bad belly ache after he tried.
The contents of the RATion pack - it is canned cheese!

The hostel lit up at night by the newly installed solar panels and batteries


I had just given a lecture to the expeditioners about the geological evolution and formation of the Kermadec region and why the volcanic Raoul Island exists - when there was a commotion on the bridge and we were changing course to go and check an expanse of white/cream on the ocean surface, up to 250 km long and 100 km wide, that had been spotted by a maritime surveillance plane flying back from Tonga. The Captain Sean Stewart called me over to ask me what I thought it might be? "Well it is unlikely to be an ice-berg this far north - most likely it is pumice from a volcanic eruption." He was a little reticent about approaching it as it might do damage to the ship, but we set off to see if we could intercept it.

A few hours later we started to spot the first few pieces of pumice floating by (we were actually trying to spot whales and dolphins at the time as we were still quite a way from the original sighting by the aircraft). The concentration of pumice started to increase over the next few hours and we used some high tech ropes and buckets to try to catch pieces as they floated by. The pumice pieces ranged in size from marbles to soccer balls. Unfortunately the wake pushed the pieces out from the side of the ship, making it rather hard to catch them. It became quite competitive between the guys with the buckets.... after about 30 minutes we had collected just 30 pieces of pumice and the largest one the size of a tennis ball.

The captain and the buffer with the largest piece of pumice

We continued to see pumice streaks for the rest of the afternoon, but assumed that the wind and waves had dispersed the original expanse seen on the photos. However at midnight the ship hit a large concentration of pumice, 1 m deep and stretching as far as the spotlights could see, although only 600 m wide. Unfortunately they didn't take any photos or collect any samples, or wake me up, but they did take down the position. Th officer of the watch Lt Tim Oscar described it as "the weirdest thing I have seen in the 18 years I have spent at sea." However, I did get some samples as it turns out that some pumice got sucked up into the water intake system that cools the engine and they were cleaning out their filters the next day and gave me some of it.

Science writer Rebecca Priestley was writing a daily blog for the expedition and as an ex-geologist she decided to cover the pumice story. The navy also decided to put some photos up on their website and reposted her blog - for some reason the media jumped on the story and it was reported all over the world. It must have been a slow news day! Several other organisations jumped on the band wagon with their own interpretation and information. The satellite images from NASA show that the pumice was first seen on the 19th July and that its most likely source is Harve volcano. We originally thought it might be Monowai as we  knew there was ongoing seismic activity there, but it was a lot further north. I have given the pumice samples to a student at Victoria University in Wellington that is studying this region and working on pumice to analyse. The chemical fingerprint of the pumice will help us to determine which volcano they are from. Hopefully we will know in a couple of weeks - watch this space.

The streaks of pumice intercepted again on the way back from Raoul

So I became a vulcanologist for the trip - there was supposed to be a vulcanologist from GNS Science on the voyage up to Raoul, but he had pulled out at the last minute due to the eruption of Tongariro in the north island the day before we left. You just can't escape geology in New Zealand.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Kermadec expedition - In the Navy!

While Aaron was busy thrashing the mountain bike trails of Oregon I was cruising the South Pacific in a large grey, metal box, also known as the HMNZS Canterbury, with the New Zealand Navy, and a bunch of school kids from 16-18 years old on an expedition to Raoul Island in the Kermadecs - approximately 1000 km north of New Zealand. The expedition was organised to commemorate the death of Sir Peter Blake, a sailor and adventurer who also tried to raise awareness of environmental issues. I was one of a couple of scientists invited to go to share my knowledge and experience with the kids.

We set off from Devonport Naval base in Auckland with a lot of "pomp" and official "faffing" - mainly due to the fact that the Governor General came to see us off. The HMNZS Canterbury is a large ferry used for transporting troops and humanitarian aid. (It was used during the Christchurch earthquakes as a floating hotel.) It is quite a lot larger than the RV Tangaroa that I usually go to sea on. The ship wasn't just for us, it was on its annual trip to Raoul Island to resupply and change over the department of conservation staff that work up there trying to rid the island of weeds (they got rid of pests a few years ago). It also has a meterology station and several geological instruments (seismometer, camera and instruments to study the caldera, and tsunami gauge) that have to be checked by a team of technicians that spend a couple of days on the island.
HMNZS Canterbury at Devonport Naval base, Auckland

The weather was a little bit interesting on the way up and many of the kids retreated to their beds with sick bags in hand. Personally I could barely notice anything as it was only 3 m swells and the ship was so big. But I guess I am just lucky. The forecast for the trip wasn't looking so great, but fortunately it didn't eventuate and we managed to do a lot of stuff, although like any good sea trip the timing and order kept changing.

Personally I found it very strange to go with the Navy. The discipline, heirachy, controlled shouting using a Navy language (much of which I never worked out), were in complete contrast to a typical scientific voyage. Several of the characters were so clich├ęd that I had to try not to laugh when the Seargent Major threatened to punish people who stepped out of line. While the helicopter pilot was straight out of the movie "Top Gun", American accent included. I didn't cope very well with the early morning announcement to get us up at 6:50 am "All hands, All hands, All hands, Wakey, Wakey, Wakey".

The captain and the crew were very accommodating and joined in with many of the activities. They embraced and supported both the activities for the kids and the science. I think they ended up getting more out of the trip than they imagined, as the crew morale was high as they were getting new experiences and learning stuff, they got a lot of good media attention (see later), and they even got a couple of new recruits!

The new guys on the ship have to do a dance on the Foc'sle - as did we!

To be continued in following posts...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

MacDonald Forest - Final ride

Well, this morning was my last ride Oregon for this trip. I fly out of Eugene tomorrow afternoon.

The bike that I have been riding is one that I left in my parents attic the last time we came back to visit. It isn't the flashest bike by any means but it has served me well, and saved me heaps of money in excess baggage fees.

The Oregon Bike

I headed back to Corvallis to see if I had gotten any stronger with all the riding I had been doing. According to Strava I did quite a bit better on several of the tracks that I had ridden a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Catching up

After spending all day Saturday riding and fishing, we decided to do a little sight-seeing today. We chose to drive up to McKenzie Pass - one of my favourite places in Oregon. At the top of the pass is the Dee Wright Obervatory, a little castle-like structure built out of lava rocks. Inside are a bunch of slots you can look through which identify all the Cascade volcanoes that can be seen from here (there are a bunch).

Dee Wright Observatory

On Monday I drove Stan and Hilairy back to Portland so they could catch their flight the next morning. On the way up we stopped at the Willamette Valley Vinyards for a bit lunch and wine tasting. WVV is home to some very tasty Pinots, both of the Gris and Noir variety.
Tuesday I spent the day in Scio and Albany hanging out with my brother and his family. It has really warmed up again (35+ degrees yesterday) so we spent the day eating lunch, shopping, eating ice cream and playing board games.

It is hot again today and Dad has the truck so I am just hanging out, having a day to myself to get things organised and start thinking about heading home. It has been about month since we left New Zealand now and I am starting to miss it.

Helen left two weeks ago so that she could go on her expedition to the Kermdecs, so I am missing her too. We both get back to Wellington on Sunday the 19th.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

17k In A Day

Today was the 17k In A Day, A full day of shuttling trails in Oakridge with a promised 17,000 feet of descending. All of that descending didn't come without a price - over 4000 feet of climbing.We started the day at 8:30am. There were about 24 people in two seperate vans.

The first trail we tackled was the Alpine Trial. This is one of my favourite trails in Oregon. We were only able to ride the top half of the trail due to a forest fire.

The second trail of the day was Hardesty Mountain. We had a pretty significant climb to reach the top of the trail. And since I was one of the few people on a hardtail they made me lead the climb. The descent was another story. I went as fast as I could - too fast in many cases, but managed to stay upright.

The next trail, Lawler, was loose and not very fun. Plus it had a climb in the middle. I had to take it easy especially after taking too many chances on Hardesty.

Heckletooth was added to make up for the loss of the bottom half of Alpine. It started with a push up a very hot and sunny hill. This was followed by some of the steepest switchbacks I had ever encountered. One of the guys in front of me went over the bars and hit the gound pretty hard. I walked probably half of the switchbacks and managed to lose my front wheel on one of them.

The next trail, Flat Creek, more than made up for the last two tracks. It was extremely fast and some of the most amazing singletrack I have ever ridden. I was hitting speeds of 40km/h on a track barely 30cm wide. So fun!

Aubry Mountain had a few sketchy sections but was also pretty fun.

We started the last trail of the day, Larrison Rock, just as the sun was setting, which made for some amazing light coming through the trees. This was the first trail I had ever ridden in Oakridge nearly 20 years ago. It was great to ride it again.

I finally made it back to my motel room about 8:30pm just as it was getting dark. It was a really fun day and I would love to do it again on a better bicycle. By my GPS we rode about 60km with 14,500 feet (4300m) of descent. Not quite the promised 17,000 feet, but then I stopped my GPS a bit early a few times and didn't record some of the fire trail and paved descents.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Moon Point and Middle Fork

View from the trail. Mt Thielsen and Mt Scott peaking out above the ridge

Nice cross section through an old lava flow

One of the trickier sections on the trail

Riding down along the ridge

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Stan and Hilairy come to visit

My friends Stan and Hilairy decided to come up to Oregon and visit while I was here. I drove up to Portland to collect them from the airport and we spent the day exploring Portland. We went to Voodoo Doughnuts, which appears to be the new Kripy Kreme. And found an Icebreaker store that was designed by the same architect that designed the renovation of our house.

Portland Icebreaker store

We are all going to drive down to Oakridge tomorrow so that I can ride while they do some fly fishing.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

McKenzie River Trail

While riding today a group of women stopped me to ask how far away they were from Tamolich Pool. After I finished telling them that they weren't far away, one of them asked where I lived. Two of them guessed before I could answer, one said Australia and another New Zealand. Do I really sound that different now?

Tamolich Pool

Ropey pahoehoe texture on one of the lava flows

One of the many bridges across a tributary

Clear Lake

The trail through one of the lava flows

Sahalie Falls (stupid branch in the way)

Pool on the McKenzie

McCullock Peak

I had a day off yesterday to give my body a chance to recover a little bit. Today I headed back to MacDonald Forest to ride a few of the trails around McCulloch Peak.

Looking north east on the way up McCulloch Peak

Some of the trials down from the summit of McCulloch Peak were pretty steep and not very fun. I tend to prefer tracks that are fast and flow really well with the odd rock or root thrown in to keep things interesting.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mary's Peak

For today's ride I headed for Mary's Peak. This is another place I used to ride when I lived in Oregon. Back then we used to use two cars to shuttle to the top. Today, I had to ride to the top.

From the carpark I headed up a forest road to the start of the East Ridge Trail (what we used to call Mary's Peak Fast Trail). This is a beautiful trial with lots of old-growth Douglas Fir Trees.

Self-timer photo on the East Ridge Trail

The trail takes you up to the main carpark. From there an access road leads to the summit. At 4097 feet (1250 meters) Mary's Peak is the highest mountain in the Oregon Coast Range.

From the main carpark I took the North Ridge Trail back down to the car. We used to call this trail Mary's Peak Long Technical because is was longer and more tricky than the other trail. It has lots of roots and some tricky switchbacks to keep things interesting on the way down.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

MacDonald Forest

Helen has returned to New Zealand so that she can go out to sea for two weeks. I am staying in Oregon for that time so I can enjoy some more of summer and ride my bicycle as much as possible.

My first proper ride was in the MacDonald Forest. This is where I first started mountain biking over 20 years ago. I managed to ride most of the old trails that I remembered plus a few new ones. I struggled a fair bit but part of that could have been the heat. The temperature managed to reach 40 degrees (a new record high for the day).

View of the Willamette Valley and Coast Range foothills from Dimple Hill

I rode up the Horse Trails to Lewisburg Saddle. Then down the other side of the saddle on Alpha. I manged to miss thhe turnoff I wanted and went a little futher down the other side of the saddle than I wanted to. I found a way back up to Extendo (we used to call it 'that trail we rode twice that one day'). From there I rode up to Dimple Hill. From the top of Dimple Hill, Dan's Trail took me back to where I started from.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hanging out in Sisters, Oregon, at Al and Kathy's house

Kathy and Al King (Heidi's parents) kindly offered for all the Lyman's (excluding Heidi as she just started Law school), to come and stay at their place up in Sisters. It was great to just hang out somewhere different and we took advantage of all the options and toys that they own including bikes and boats. 

Aaron and my accommodation - the house was rather overflowing with people so we got the luxury trailer

Akhen's first bike ride in the trailer, he liked the trailer, but not the helmet

Craig pulling the bike trailer

After bike riding along the trails to town for ice creams, we came back and hit the little swimming pool to cool off. 

The next day we headed out to Suttle Lake with Kathy and Al's pontoons, these are rather strange boats that they use for fly fishing on the rivers and lakes. There was a trick to rowing these things and keeping them straight on the lake. Emma and Kortney both got the hang of it.

Helen and Emma on the Pontoon

In the afternoon, while Akhen was having his afternoon nap, we went to the local distillery to taste some of the locally produced Vodka and Gin. They have lots of juniper berries around and they make a pretty tasty Gin that Kathy had introduced us too. We thought we better go and restock their Gin supply after finishing their last bottle off. 

Kathy and Al were fantastic hosts and fed us very well. We hope we can repay their hospitality when they come to visit in New Zealand. 

Adventures with the Lyman Nieces

It is warm and sunny - so we headed up the North Santiam River with Kortney and Emmalee for a short hike and swim in the beautiful river. We jumped off the rocks into the deep pools and swam back to the edge very quickly. Although the outdoor temperature was warm the water was very COLD.... 

Three pools on the North Santiam River

Emmalee and Helen jumping in to the COLD water

The beautiful, cold water... unfortunately I had to get out before hypothermia set in