The pig, the caribou and the ground squirrel

It’s been a fairly uneventful first week at Kluane Lake, our research site in the south of the Yukon. Despite a major plane delay (but who doesn’t love sitting on the runway in Gatwick for five hours right?) we all made it out exactly to time, Tony Grabowski’s poor Corolla laden down to the ground along the hot and very dusty Alaska Highway.

Loading up the faithful Corolla

This year we are at a new camp – Outpost Camp – a charming cluster of old log cabins that seems to have been built by the Yukon itself. Varnished decking sits beside old ramshackle cabins, roofs still mostly secure, insides mostly abandoned. Rusting signs for root beer hang alongside shining solar panels; tins of paint are stacked beside sleds and moose antlers.

The charming Outpost Camp

Ground squirrels scampered across the dust and the aspen whispered in the still air as we walked over to unpack into our new lab space. A huge old cabin, rooms spilling over into yet more musty rooms, we had plenty of space to ourselves and before long the shelves were neatly ordered with zip-lock bags and gardening tools, sampling equipment and coin envelopes, bug spray and bear barrels. It looked brilliant. Alas, overnight we were raided. I returned to find the contents scattered across the room, through the whole cabin-complex, and out into the trees. It turns out that ground squirrels have a real taste for teabags, and, it seems, boxes of matches!

Organisation skills 101

Since then we have been trying to get on top of the science here. Haydn and Izzy are continuing to maintain the common garden experiment down by the lakeside, and are also setting up phenocams and collecting samples up on the Kluane Plateau. Matt is conducting bird surveys up the mountainside, and Cameron is looking at the transition from trees to tundra. The team have also looked at herbivory up the mountain, collected Cassiope samples for genetics work, and tracked a trailside coloniser. The highlight has been hanging out with our resident caribou at the top of the Kluane Plateau, who certainly seems very interested in our science!

At the bottom of the hill things are jolly as ever and we are enjoying spending time with Sian, Lance, and the rest of the comers and goers in this part of the world. We enjoyed a festival of rugby at the weekend, receiving more cuts and bruises from a mighty three-way tournament on the lakeside than anything the mountain has given us so far, followed by a feast of a whole pig spit-roasted over an open fire. It felt a little primal butchering it up on a big plywood table and then attacking with hands, forks, knives, teeth, anything that could get a hold.

As for now, the sun is up and the heat of the day is setting in. The dust from the Slims River is rising, and the whirr of the propellers is starting up across at the runway. The ground squirrels are still scampering and the aspens still whispering, and my radio is buzzing to tell me to get back to work. Better not keep those willows waiting.

Beautiful morning

Haydn & Team Kluane

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