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5 Lessons Learned | Working in the Wilderness

Based on ppB’s Fieldwork at Yellowstone National Park.


FIELDWORK | ppB's managing partner/geologist, Chris Carey, sampling groundwater at Yellowstone National Park.

The National Parks Service selected ppB to provide groundwater consulting services at one of the planet's most revered natural wonders—Yellowstone National Park. Our team has performed similar services on a local level, but it was our first time working with a national organization of this magnitude and in the state of Wyoming. An outdoor "office" undoubtedly comes with its challenges (even with all the proper credentials and decades of training). No matter how prepared a team is for intensive fieldwork, there are new lessons learned while on-site.


Here are ppB's 5 Lessons Learned | Working in the Wilderness.


 


1 | BEARS ARE REAL


"It's just the reality of being in Yellowstone to expect to see bears everywhere you go."

All of Yellowstone is bear habitat—from the deepest backcountry to the main thoroughfare roads. We saw several (in all their magnificent glory!); it's just the reality of being in Yellowstone to expect to see them everywhere you go. Your best protection against bears? Studies show bear spray is effective in stopping an aggressive bear. Bear spray is an aerosol used to spray at the bear, not something you spray yourself with to repel bears. However, just having bear spray does not necessarily protect you from a bear attack; you also have to know how to use it.


One important logistical item we learned is that airlines do not allow you to travel with bear spray. TSA was not too happy with us, but luckily let our team return to Kansas. We also learned that each and every member of the field team must have their own can of bear spray, as it was not always practical to be together at all times. Other safety recommendations—be alert and make noise to enhance the likelihood of deterring bears. Our sampling gear was battery powered and quiet and we were in a remote area, so we made as much noise as possible.



 


2 | LOCKDOWN LOGISTICS


Overall safety is a primary concern when working in the wilderness and requires several considerations.


  • Transportation: How will you travel to the field site? In our case, we found that flying was more efficient than driving, even though that meant making other arrangements for transporting field equipment. When it came to car rental, a 4x4 vehicle was a must to drive to the wells that were accessible; notwithstanding, there were many locations where even with an off-road SUV was too cumbersome for the terrain, and we had to park and hike with our equipment instead.


  • Sampling Equipment: This project required specialized sampling equipment. We were able to work with our subcontractors and suppliers to have equipment and supplies drop-shipped to our contacts at the National Park Service prior to our arrival. We arrived a day early to make sure everything was delivered and worked properly. Another note: replacement supplies or equipment are not available in wilderness settings; we brought redundant gear to ensure our project could be completed, even if a pump wasn’t up to the task.


  • Technology: It is crucial to not be reliant on your phone for GPS or maps, especially if your fieldwork takes you somewhere remote, as ours did. We had no cell phone service throughout most of the park. Having a compass and printed maps were key elements to our successful field project.

Having a printed map of our jobsite was essential, as cell services were often unavailable in this remote area.

  • Power Source: Our sampling equipment required a power source; unfortunately, our vehicle could not be relied on as a supplier for power due to accessibility. We used a combination of various batteries and had lots of spare batteries to ensure we were able to complete the job.



 


3 | FORMULATE FAIL-SAFE COMMUNICATION PLANS


You can expect not to have any phone signal or internet in Yellowstone. There were a few times the ppB team was separated while searching for water wells, and there was no way of reaching or communicating with one another. Two-way radios are the most practical communication device for communicating with each other and with the park service in case of an emergency. Another option would be a satellite phone. For us, we were briefed on the nearest park facility with phone services as a last resort that could be hiked to in the event of an emergency.



 


4 | WEATHER DICTATES THE DAY


Yellowstone can experience winter-like weather any time of year. Calm, sunny mornings abruptly turned into fierce, stormy days. At higher elevations, we experienced temperatures which were below freezing—in July! Always bring apparel that can protect you from the elements (rain, wind, sun, snow).


"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt." - John Muir



 


5 | BREATHE AND ENJOY THE VIEW


Most of Yellowstone lies more than a mile above sea level, so we gave ourselves plenty of time to adjust to the elevation before engaging in our field activities. Also, there is not a convenience store on every corner in Yellowstone. We brought lots of water to get us through long days.


The park is big—2.2 million-acres big. With such vastness and variety, the park can be overwhelming, so we took a moment to enjoy the view of America's first national park from the top of Mount Washburn.





 


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