Adam Lawrance | 6/23/2017
“Doubts, Demons & Tips...”
I signed onto this project in 2016 with virtually no hiking experience, only the notion that I was tired and wanted to try something different. I had a lot of doubts about my capabilities, experience and ability to keep up. This first encounter inspired me to volunteer for the June 2017 expedition and gave me the confidence to trek to Everest Base Camp unaided in April this year. If I had not been around this incredible project and people it would not have occurred to me to attempt mountains or hike glaciers. I now have plans and half a lifetime of uncharted territory to explore. If you're at all anxious about whether you have the minerals to volunteer for this project then I would urge you to reconsider, it was one of the best experiences of my life, entirely feasible and it will open your eyes.
Although I have had two different teams of techs I miss and cherish meeting them all. The guys were amazing, as excited and enthusiastic as I was to be there, all offering up their unique field of expertise and stories for you to bounce off. Although the days are long and uncomfortable at times (insects/extreme weather), they are not overly taxing in terms of hiking. I believe that your willingness to participate and adapt will define your experience. Attitude is more important than physical finesse. In many respects, although having some formidable bodies to crash through dense aspen stands is great, a keen eye and mind is much more beneficial to identify with the research and accuracy of data collection. Something I tried to bear in mind as I fumbled my way through the Eskerine and Y Camp sites with a permanent grin. A good medley of souls makes the best team and there is plenty of different tasks to accommodate all.
On my first visit to Waterton I had planned on exploring a bit of the park. I soon realised that time out of the field was extremely limited. Although technically volunteers are off the clock in the evening, you will find that the logistics of getting the crew showered, fed and watered takes a very long time. It is soon 9pm and you're utterly spent, just enough energy for a cup of tea, wine or beers. If you want to wander around the village in the evening then I would suggest you notify the team early and offer to pick up the washing up or some task to compensate, living is very much a team effort. You will however wake up bouncing off the walls still buzzing from the excellent meal and baked goods from the night before. Even on days with a late gear up I was lying in my bed with a film at 5am waiting for the alarm. One plus is you could bag yourself some coffee and leftovers for lunch before the late risers. I was being diplomatic on the first trip and not packing the leftovers into my day pack, I soon realised it was a slash and grab. Lots of food and energy is important, don't expect anyone to offer you a better lunch, food is abundant and extraordinarily good (Cristina personally trains new techs in a variety of fine cuisine). Trust me, when you unpack a decent lunch out in the field everything seems good in the world. Get to know the dark recesses of the fridge and cupboards.
Your duties in the field become more apparent after the first day, ask a lot of questions and take your time. If you're unsure of anything then make sure you bring them up over the evening meal, you will find that others also have the same doubts. It is better to make sure you understand the techniques before you enter the days ahead and the crew becomes more dispersed in the field. I have had volunteers ask me basic questions on the last day that they never took the time to understand and didn't want to ask the experts. You will soon come to appreciate the techniques and protocol so that by day 3 you should feel like a fully fledged member of a research team. Cristina's crew are a great bunch and I think they actually enjoy the questions and probing. After gear up you head into the field, where you will do a final gear check and radio test. Staying in contact via radio is important even if you are within talking range of your current crew.
The day will consist mainly of aspen surveys or tracking, I personally prefer the tracking although both are surprisingly encapsulating and you might soon find yourself trying to speed things up and the days disappearing amidst your ambition. I would recommend studying the native botany and/or scats before you arrive. With the best of intentions I did not find time to do this while I was there, although it is an option...
I would recommend allowing a few extra days to explore the park after your expedition, you will have a new appreciation for animal tracking, wildflowers and general appreciation for the landscape. Crypt Lake is an amazing hike, you can get the ferry from Waterton opposite Pats garage for $24 and it is worth every inch. This trail is impassable during the early season opening up in June depending on the weather.
Sign up and these guys will look after you!