A Full Day of Tussock Hopping, and the Discovery of the Expedition!

In the Field 2015

We woke to a chilly breeze that stayed with us through breakfast as the sun rose. In the ravines and by the river it is quite comfortable, but on the exposed ridges it is cool. The plan to today is to cover as much ground as possible to get a better sense of what there is to work with in this new area.

Our first stop is the big outcrop by the river. There are numerous coal seams and the rocks contain an abundance of fossil leaves, fossil wood and tiny broken bits and pieces of plants. In some places, we found upright trees representing trees that got buried before they fell to the ground.

Most of the day was spent hiking on something called tussocks. And while that seems like a fun word to say, tussocks are the bane of the existence of any Arctic hiker. Just because the landscape looks flat, it doesn’t mean the hiking is easy, thanks to the unstable mounds of clump grasses known as tussocks. The height of tussocks can vary, but we seem to be crossing fields of some of the largest I have encountered. They are no bigger in area than the approximate size of my boot, but in places they are knee-high to me. There is no simple way to cross these green fields. If we step on them, we run the risk of the tussock toppling over causing us to fall over as well. And stepping between the tussocks forces us to raise our legs awkwardly and higher than normal causing us to fatigue quickly. And in some areas we cross, the top of the tussock is the only dry ground, so we are forced to decide between wet feet or risking a twisted ankle. Some years ago when I encountered a similarly intimidating landscape covered in tussocks, after a few hours my colleague turned to me and said “forget capital punishment, make them walk across this stuff all day.”

On our way back to camp we make another important discovery. This time it is a bedding plane covered with nearly a dozen bird footprints. The preservation on these footprints is exquisite. With a little imagination, one can easily envision that day some 95 million years ago when a shorebird-like bird was wandering along a river bank. This is the find of the expedition so far!

The discovery makes both Chinzorig and I realize that our knees and ankles seem to be aching a little bit less!

 

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A seemingly innocent looking landscape, yet filled with those challenging tussocks.

 

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The big river exposure of sandstones, mudstones and coals.

 

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Eric and Susi measuring and recording the rock sequence.

 

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Me next to one of the upright trees we found.

 

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The coarse look of an ancient river channel.

 

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Chinzorig looking over one of the ridges for more evidence of dinosaurs. When they were available, the ridges proved to be much easier hiking.