Field Work Symphony

We collect most of the data we use in our research in the field, in recent years to a large degree in the Nepalese Himalayas. Field work can have effects on your health – it’s cold, oxygen levels are low, work is exhausting and you are always a bit nervous about whether the next sensor you read out will actually have any data stored. All we have is ourselves – there is no internet or phone connection in our field site, there are showers, however not all team members know how to use it. We realized that this exhaustion somehow articulates itself by lack of sleep and weird songs stuck in your head. For the sake of future research in high altitude psychology we decided to document this mess from our recent trip to Langtang in October.

All the songs listed suddenly surfaced – mostly while walking – as humming or whistling by some team member and then quickly spread through the group and sometimes remained for days in our heads or quickly disappeared again. Most of them made us laugh, many were a nuisance and for some reason very few were actually good music.

To give you an idea of the deteriorating path we took during nearly 6 weeks in the field I’ll start at the very end. While by all common standards we could be declared more or less sane at the start of our work, on the very last day of our trip Joe, an outstanding musician and singer who has played on stages in a number of countries and myself, trained in classical music at University and hence supposedly with a good taste by upbringing, sang and danced respectively to …

The closest we got to putting a ring somewhere was the ring memory of our sturdy Campbell Scientific CR1000. We were joined by a completely hammered Nepali soldier looking for cigarettes, alcohol and entertainment and our steadfast porters who must wonder again and again whether the work we produce is actually worth anything at all considering our behaviour after a day’s work.

When we were asked by our local porters to sing our field song at parties that were regularly thrown in the kitchen tent or lodge we stayed in, for some strange reason we would sing

regularly, strange because the only Italian on the team hated it and none of the rest speak any Italian.

To reach our stations at the very back of the valley we always have an easy half day hike along the main river of the catchment. This year we could witness wild boars along the sand banks and yak herds crossing the forceful stream which we could only cross on bridges made from flagpoles.

The rockfalls along the river as a result of the earthquake in 2015 are impressive.

Having reached our camp, we played cards the whole evening sipping some of Joe’s fine treat – Whiskey transported in a Nalgene bottle. Like every night our kitchen staff would come around after a while and fill up our bottles with hot water for the night. In the dark, nobody noticed the difference between the half full Nalgene and the other water bottles. The result was a lukewarm, diluted Whiskey. Quite a downer at that point.

Remembering Whiskey ...

Remembering Whiskey …

Although we do make quite silly mistakes at times especially when working very high when the exhaustion and oxygen loss really kicks in perceptibly we do seem to be able to find matching song texts for the occasion. “Plug out that cable!” …”Are you sure? Do you really want that? Really really …?”

And likely on the approach to reading out a precious datalogger in the remotest location (although I’m not sure where that song popped up)

Many of those “earworms” as we call them in German were such a nuisance and difficult to get rid of, that Joe with everyone roped up on the glacier above 5300 m suddenly called for a halt. “Can you please help me get rid of that song in my head?”

Aptly for those sometimes quite difficult ascents at this elevation there was

at one point. That surely came from my side since I also come up with other romantic hogwash like Bryan Adams. But it seems that song only comes to me below a certain 02 threshold, I fail to remember which one it was.

After 3 days in high camp – if you wonder, that’s what it looks like if you can’t sleep:

– words and sanity left us completely and for a few hours the “refrain” of

became a thing. Luckily didn’t last long.

Neither did

which hit Joe’s patriotic side next to a Pluviometer in horrible weather.

What our team of porters produces in this environment on the culinary side is always impressive. So are the views during the day and at night.

Before we are served dinner in our high altitude restaurant, we do get a bowl of soup which prompts everyone to crawl out of the tent again, stopping the late afternoon nap or field report writing. For some unbeknown reason I always whistle

during soup time. I’m too young for the Archies and didn’t even know the song. But always a team, Joe helped out and quickly put a title to my annoying habit.

We arrived back in Kathmandu in a horrible Jeep on a congested road with a song on the MP3 on repeat that really never should have existed.

Well, if you wonder what output we produce with that background noise come and see our talks and posters at AGU this week.