I expected today to be a long day, but had no idea how exhausted I was actually going to be by the end of it. We were on the glacier by 8:00 a.m. to finish off the GPR transect from two days ago and then perform another transect across the width of the glacier, batteries permitting of course! This was the third time that we deployed the GPR, so the setup went very smoothly and we had finished both by 11:30 a.m. This was great news because it meant that we were able to get back for a nice hot lunch – always a treat. We took a 45 minute break for lunch and then hopped on the trail back to Chukung. Unfortunately, we were walking into quite the detour.
Lhotse glacier had what we are currently referring to as a englacial conduit flood. Alton and Elizabeth happened to be on the lateral moraine of Lhotse glacier on their way to Chukung when the flood originated. The videos that Elizabeth took were absolutely remarkable and fortunately, everyone in Chukung was safe. The video shows a series of landslides that released a large amount of water causing a debris flow to occur (debris flow is simply when the water entrains a great deal of sediment, rocks, boulders, etc.). The flood continued to grow until it threatened the lodge we had previously stayed at in Chukung. When we arrived at the typical crossing at 3:00 p.m. the flood had supposedly died down quite a bit, but was still rather massive. We ended up having to take an hour detour over an ice bridge (literally a place on the glacier where the flood had carved into the ice and was going underneath the glacier such that we could walk above the flood on the debris-covered glacier).
It was truly fascinating to actually witness a flood from a glacier. A similar event had occurred last year, but to actually see the power of this event was something I will always remember. While this is type of flood is not directly what I’ve been studying for the last 4 years, it was a very eye-opening experience and one that I hope to investigate further in the coming days and once we return to the States. By the time we finished the detour and got to Chukung it was already 4:00 p.m. We made the decision that due to the threat of this flood and its proximity to the lodge we were planning on staying at that we were going to continue down to Dingboche… another 1.5 hrs of hiking after this already long and exhausting day.
The good news was that we took an hour rest in Chukung to rest, have some tea and soup, and re-connect with the grid! It feels a little odd being so happy for having internet, especially when faced with the fact that there was a flood going on outside only 100 yards away, but after 8 days in the field, being able to send a few emails was quite a treat. The treats kept pouring in as I was hiking down to Dingboche and was able to get a couple bars of cell phone service to talk to Leigh. Eventually, I had to cut the call short because it was getting dark and the fog had rolled in, so I figured it would be better to get into the lodge with the last bit of daylight.
The lodge felt like a big reunion and there was certainly a lot of buzz going on about the flood. One good thing was that the people in Chukung realized that the flood had originated from Lhotse and was not actually a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF, which is what I study) from Imja Lake; therefore, they did not sound the early warning systems, which would literally have members of downstream communities running up to the hills to be out of the flood plains. At the lodge, I also got to reconnect with Milan, who is leading the social science portion of our project, and it was great to catch up with him and hear how everything is going. Tomorrow, I’ll be able to sit on a focus group session that he is holding, which will truly be fascinating to see this other dimension of our work. After an hour of catching up and eating some hot fried rice, we were all utterly exhausted and departed for the comfort of an actual bed! I will sleep well tonight that is for sure.