I had heard stories about the 48 hour party since I started at Ohio State last summer. I’ll admit that the idea of a 48 hour party was intriguing, and perhaps a bit painful. The talk of 2-5 AM shifts had the sound of cruel and unusual punishment. The overnight shifts never materialized, however. The final plan involved manning the infrared camera from 1 PM to 10 PM, with an overnight break before resuming at 6 AM and continuing to 1 PM. Photos of one of the glaciers behind Cuchillacocha were to be taken every 15 minutes. Once every 30 minutes qualified as acceptable but not ideal. Once every hour would be considered “scandalous”. The photos would become part of a large collection of atmospheric and hydrologic data taken in the Cuchillacocha basin over a 24 hour period.
Being behind the camera was not particularly demanding. Once every 15 minutes the camera operator would insert the battery, turn on the camera, focus on the glacier above the lake, and take and save a photo. The time between photos was spent acquiring sunburn or shivering, depending on the hour of the day.
By the time my first camera shift began, the sun had disappeared behind a distant ridge. It was after 6 PM, which usually means one thing for researchers still out and about: get back to camp. Instead I climbed the short scree slope with a thermos of hot water in one hand, setting three glowsticks up on rocks to light the way, albeit dimly.
Blundering my way past the cairns we’d built along the ridge earlier in the day, I showed up at the camera site, where Camila waited, surprisingly upbeat considering the simultaneous darkening sky and plummeting temperature. The next two hours were cold, but flew by. I demonstrated my mechanical ineptitude by consistently failing to figure out the correct method to remove the battery from the camera. Camila joined in the effort with more success, though between the two of us several fingernails paid a heavy price. On the plus side, this continuous struggle kept me a little bit warmer, probably simply from embarrassment.
Once the stars came out the setting was brilliant. Perched in a rocky hollow on the side of a massive moraine, we had enjoyed a view, while the sun still shone, of the alarmingly green Lago Cuchilla (Cuchillacocha) and the glaciers crouching above it. After nightfall, the ice and sky became the major elements of the view before us. Sure, the only constellation we recognized was the Southern Cross, but that could not dim the wonder of the star-speckled night sky. The eerie rumble of distant icefalls was the only sound apart from a light breeze rustling through tussock grasses and threading between rocks. It was a magical spot, and only the growing cold, seeping up through my fingers towards the rest of my body could persuade me that dinner, hot drinks, and sleep were the best options for the rest of my night.
At 4:55 AM I was awake and preparing for round two of infrared photography. Taking down my frost-covered tent created enough noise to save me the trouble of waking Dorian, who I was to share a shift with. We had chosen the 6 AM to whenever-anyone-else-managed-to-get-up-to-the-lake shift, which would begin in moonlight and the coldest temperatures of the night.
Stunningly we didn’t get lost on the half hour hike up to the camera, and even made it on time. Seeing the glow sticks still glowing bright came as a welcome sight. Our shift saw the sky lighten and sunlight splash across the ridges jutting up along the horizon. The initial heat we generated hiking slowly abandoned us, as did the feeling in my toes. The sun couldn’t come soon enough, but even by 8:00 it was only creeping down the moraine across the ridge. When would the sun peek over the ridge to restore our vitality? 9:00, guessed Dorian. 9:15, I thought. Thankfully we were both wrong, as the first rays relieved us at 8:34. Upon the sun’s arrival we let out a cry loud enough to trigger an icefall (just take my word for it). Soon, the rest of the team showed up, and Kelsey replaced me at the camera. My part in the party was over, but would not soon be forgotten. I took photos, a glow stick, and severely chapped lips along with me as souvenirs.