Although reacquainting myself with the familiar landscape around F6 camp was a great way to spend a few days, exploring new territory is always exhilarating. A few days ago, Jess and I were lucky enough to spend a day on the shoulder of Hjorth Hill – an area I had only explored on maps. Even my colleagues couldn’t give me much guidance – none of them had been there before either. With our maps, GPS, and sampling equipment, Jess and I headed out for an adventure.
Why did I want to explore Hjorth Hill in the first place? I am interested in what controls the amount of phosphorus available to organisms living in soils. Previous work has identified two main possibilities: landscape age (the length of time a soil has been developing) and parent material (the rock type a soil develops from). Hjorth Hill presented the opportunity to test both of these possibilities: two different parent materials of the same age right next to the same parent material of two different ages. My hope was to be able to collect samples of all these soil types, while giving Jess the opportunity to collect water samples. Thankfully, luck was on our side!
Our good luck started with the weather: it was clear enough to fly, but the top of Hjorth Hill was totally socked in (or, as our helicopter pilot put it, “the clouds were a bit dodgy”). This meant that instead of our original plan of landing at the top of the mountain, we had to discuss an alternate landing spot with our pilot. Once Paul learned that Jess was hoping to collect water samples, he chose the perfect location: a flat area on the shoulder of Hjorth Hill right next to numerous small meltwater ponds. Not only that, but all of the ponds hosted thick algae mats in all shapes and colors. Jess was in heaven.
Landing in unfamiliar territory is disorienting. It’s hard to match what’s on the ground with what is on a map, especially when the terrain is so bumpy. Fortunately, I had marked a few locations on my GPS before heading into the field, so we started hiking toward one of those. As we began walking, I felt confused – how would we know if we crossed over into another soil type? There didn’t seem to be much to guide us. Suddenly, however, the ground surface changed beneath our feet. Looking back, Jess and I realized that we had crossed over a moraine. We were clearly on a different parent material. Slowly, the pieces started coming together.
Of course, spending just one day at a site isn’t nearly enough to get to know it. I’d love to return to Hjorth Hill to spend more time exploring. But for now, we’re eager to analyze our samples to learn what Hjorth Hill has to tell us.