Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Big Cr nr Grisdale

This is the Big Creek near Grisdale, Washington gage. It's in the upper Wynoochee River basin, just west of Montesano and north into the southwest Olympic Mountains. Big Creek flows into the Wynoochee River just below the outflow from Wynoochee Lake.

When I transferred to the Tacoma, Washington office from Phoenix I was given the "old man's" field trip which was the network of gages in southwest Washington, from the southern Olympics to the Columbia River and east to the towns of Chehalis and Centralia. I never figured out why except it rarely snowed. It had tons of rain at times, sometimes all week during the field trip. I enjoyed for the time before transferring to data management, which this gage was the reason.

But not for this gage. The gage was a love-hate relationship. On good days, it was the best of streamgaging. On bad days, the worst, and all you wanted to do was go home and get warm and dry. Yes, those days the rain pelted your whole body - the upper Wynoochee river basin averages well over 120 inches of rain per year, and the cold with the dampness penetrates into your bones. And if it snowed, it only added to the misery.

The gage (house in right of photo) was a cinder block building over a stilling well. We later added a manometer and then a sonic ranger trying to get decent stage data from this gage and site. The reason was the problem with the river reach above, at and below the gage.

This is the channel about 100 feet above the gage. The flow during storms literally rips out of this small canyon into the reach through and below the gage and under the bridge over the creek. The top photo is looking upstream (gage on right). The creek flows into this reach from the canyon on the right in the photo. From above the canyon to the gage, the channel is bedrock which contains the entire flow and controls the movement of gravel.

Just past the gage, the creek spreads out into a long gravel reach for several hundred feet before merging with the Wynoochee River a little farther downstream. The continuous erosion and deposition of gravel from the high flows means the necessiity of a lot of measurements, especially low flow measurements to discern the changes in the channel which governs the stage at the gage. This meant more measurements than normal just to keep the discharge data accurate.

That, as you can guess, meant a lot of trips. But that's not really why this gage wasn't all that loved. The gage house was full of equipment. It was always dark and damp, and usually full of spider who made themselves at home. Where in Arizona, the first few minutes after opening the gage house door was spent finding and chasing scorpions out, here it was sweeping the spiders out of the house and still well.

And then there was December 1990. I was on the Olympic field trip,six gages in three days. It was cold and had been snowing several days before. By the time I got to this gage, there was a foot of snow on the ground and a lot more in the air. The sad reality is that streamgaging usually means the minimum or no gloves so you can write. It was here and this day I discovered I had Raynaud's Syndrome.

I waded across the creek to set the tagline to measure the width and sections. I made the discharge measurement, which took about 45 minutes, and when I got to the bank to put the wading rod (being a 4+ foot long aluminum rod used to measure depth and hold the velocity meter) down on the bank I couldn't let go of the top of the wading rod. My gloved hand was frozen in the position holding the rod. The fingers wouldn't move.

When I tried to undo my fingers around my left hand holding the rod I noticed I couldn't move the fingers of my right hand from holding the pencil and clipboard. I was stuck with two hands I couldn't move the fingers. I had to slide the wading rod out of the left hand without hurting the fingers, release and reel in the tagline, and carry everything back to the truck with curled fingers of both hands.

I slowly got the truck keys out and started the heater. After about 20+ plus minutes with my hands over heater vent my fingers would move enough to finish the field work and put everything away in the truck. For the next few days after my hands recovered they were painful to move or hold anything. The doctor confirmed the condition and advised not doing field work in the winter. He said once it's triggered it doesn't go away.

Well, you can't be a part-time streamgager, so I had to continue the field work until May of the next year and transfer into the office when a position could be accommodated. And the condition not only continues but slowly worsens each year. So the gage is a good and bad memory. And my hands remember it too. And in the end, even the worst gage and hardest field work was worth the effort because the reward is being there and the rest is what you do and what happens.

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