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Tearing Down Field Camp at the End of Summer

A hasty exit from Whiskey Lake is par for the course at the end of a busy field camp season. Learn how CIAA marks the end of summer.

by | September 17, 2023

Field camp at the beginning of the season.
This was the Whiskey Lake field camp this summer before the crew struck it for the season. Trenton Schipper, CIAA

Like all good things field season has to come to an end. As the days get shorter and the leaves start to turn yellow and fall it can only mean one thing: field season is coming to a close for yet another season.

This time of year can bring on a mix of emotions: sadness that the field season is over, joy for the end of stressful responsibilities, emptiness for the field crews you came to be friends with, anticipation as you wait to hear about future funding, and excitement as you dream of new projects and how to improve for next year.

An Unpredictable Mobile Pike Wrap Up

Towing wood to Hewitt Lake.
Close to the last leg of getting the platform wood over to Hewitt Lake, the hardest part is behind us at this point. Emily Heale, CIAA

The end of the field season also signals a lot of work to be done by field crews and staff. The flights need to be scheduled to pull the camp and then it needs to be executed and this, despite best efforts, does not always go to plan.

Let’s take our Mobile Pike Suppression project from this year as an example. We had planned for two days of clean up and organizing at the project site (Whiskey Lake) before the float plane was to come and pull all the gear and staff out.

This can be a tricky site to pack up because we work on both Whiskey and Hewitt lakes, which means we have two boats, two motors, and double the safety gear. We store our boats over winter on site and a generous neighbor on Hewitt Lake stores our boat motor for us, while we bring the other one back. We essentially have nearly double the work involved in pulling out the one camp.

Because this was the end of the current project (we have submitted grants for future funding) we were planning to pull everything (except the boats and one motor), including the tent platform that has been on site for six years!

We donated the wood to lake residents who could put it to good use, which required us to transport it over to Hewitt Lake. This entailed taking the platform apart and boating the wood to the trail between the lakes, carrying the wood a quarter mile then loading all of it onto the Hewitt boat and transporting to the lake residents, and unloading it for them. All of this is no easy feat!

Foul Weather Means No Time for Chit Chat!

A helpful tow to Hewitt Lake.
A generous lake resident and her dogs tow us to shore to store the Hewitt boat for a future field project. Emily Heale, CIAA

Once all the wood was moved we sat down to chat with the lake resident about the season and future plans for the project. We got to talking about the weather and how it was supposed to start getting bad, tomorrow.

With that news I sprang into action and called Trail Ridge Air, the flight service we use out of Anchorage. Because of other scheduled activities, we didn’t have a lot of wiggle room for weather delays. Trail Ridge was available that day to pick us up…in four short hours. That meant we needed to hustle back to Whiskey Lake and break down camp.

With the motor no longer on the Hewitt boat we were towed to the access where we flipped the boat and tied it off for the winter, then we hustled over to Whiskey Lake where we divided up the tasks to get things done as quick as we could, time was ticking down.

The Plane’s Coming

After field camp is pulled.
The field camp site with all the gear removed. It won’t take long at all for the vegetation to grow back on Bourbon Mist Island, and erase all evidence of the field camp. Emily Heale, CIAA

All was quiet as we worked hastily to make sure the tents, kitchen shelter, and outhouse were all down and moved to the base of Bourbon Mist Island (in the lake) for our imminent pickup. After a sweaty few hours we had a few moments of rest before we heard our plane circle Whiskey Lake.

We fit what we could onto the flight but made a pile and tarped it, to be picked by Trail Ridge as weather allowed. Once we made it to Anchorage we spent some time playing Tetris fitting the gear into the CIAA truck and then I was off back to Kenai where the gear will be inventoried, cleaned, and repaired for use in future field projects.

The end of the field season is always a bittersweet yet inevitable time for all involved. We wish the field crews the best of luck in their future endeavors, and hopefully we’re lucky enough to have some return for another field season.

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