The eclipse was amazing, but it wasn’t the only thing I got to do at Grand Teton National Park. We also planned a 3 day backpacking trip. We went 28.1 miles over three days and gained over 5,000 feet in elevation. We started at the bottom of Death Canyon, climbed up the cannon walls, hiked over alpine terrain to a set of beautiful basin lakes, and then pushed on to summit Static Peak for the eclipse (more about that in my last post), and hiked back down to our rental van.
The first day was our canyon day. We were staying about two hours outside of the park in Afton, WY (a small little town famous for having the world’s largest elk antler arch), and we wanted to make sure we got a good parking spot at the trailhead, so we ventured out early. I woke up at 4:30, deciding to forgo a shower, picked up my bag, went into the car, and promptly fell asleep. We ended up getting to the park very early, but I wasn’t complaining. When I woke up again, the terrain had changed drastically, giving me loads of little details to look at. Instead of the grassy, desert hills of Afton, we were faced with mountains. We had postcard views of the Grand Teton right in front of us. They probably chose the sight of the ranger station for that very reason: the rangers probably love to look out their window 24/7 and just study the beauty of nature. Well, I wasn’t complaining.
The ranger gave us bear cans to use in order to prevent animals (namely bears, obviously, but also marmots) from stealing our food while we were sleeping. Luckily, the Caltech Y has sleeping bag, pad, backpack, tent, and stove rentals (among other things) for a very cheap rate, so we were prepared with the rest of our gear.
We then drove to the trailhead, got one of the coveted “good” parking spots, and hit the trail. The first part took us by a nice stream and waterfall, however I was a bit winded so I didn’t really see too much. I get pretty bad altitude sickness, and was able to get some meds from the Caltech health center to help me, but they hadn’t really kicked in yet. Needless to say, at nearly 7,000 feet, I was feeling the altitude. After about a mile, we came to a beautiful lookout of Phelps Lake. It was so beautiful and clear.
Here I am with my full pack by Phelps Lake! It was a beautiful, sunny day!
We ventured on through Death Canyon, walking through a good amount of forest. Finally, we reached the middle of the Canyon, which was almost treeless, but filled with a sea of beautiful wildflowers. There were blues and reds and pinks and yellows all nesting in every shade of green imaginable.
The path through the valley. Look at all of the wildflowers!
A cool looking mushroom I saw along the way. From later research, I believe it's an Amanita muscaria, better known as a fly agaric.
You can see the snow covered peaks in the background! We headed up there on our second day.
We spent about 6 more miles in the beautiful valley until we came to our campsite. We set up camp, ate a quick dinner of freeze dried, and the went to bed early to prepare for the next day. I think I was all zipped up in my sleeping bag by 7:30 PM!
This summer I had the incredible opportunity to do a 10-week internship at Gilead Sciences in Foster City, CA. For those unfamiliar, Gilead Sciences, Inc. is a research-based biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development, and commercialization of innovative medicines.
With 45 Nobel Laureates on its Faculty Roster, it’s not surprising that research is an integral part of the Caltech undergraduate experience. One of the programs that promotes such research is the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). There is no minimum knowledge or experience required to participate in a Caltech SURF. In fact, students can participate in a SURF as soon as the summer after their freshman year. It is not difficult to get a SURF. All you need to do is find a mentor who is working in an area of research that interests you and willing to mentor you through a research project. The mentor can work in a Caltech lab, at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), or at another participating institution. Once you find a mentor, you work together to write a project proposal that you later send to the SURF office for review and approval. About 98% of the SURF proposals get approved. This fellowship is a great way to explore various fields of research and obtain real, hands-on experience where you get to apply the theoretical knowledge you’ve learned in class. Not only do you get to work and learn alongside your mentor, but you also get compensated for your time. The length of the SURF is ten weeks, and it starts at the beginning of the summer. However, it is not uncommon for many students at Caltech to continue their research project throughout the academic school year.
Like many students at Caltech, I suffer from a slight boba addiction, where side effects may include over caffeination, minor sugar highs, and of course, a large toll on one’s wallet. This addiction is not helped by the fact that there are at least three boba shops within walking distance of campus. So, after an entire term’s worth of boba runs, I came back from winter break with a new year’s epiphany: it was time to get a job. Rather than try to curb my addiction, I decided to find a way to subsidize it.
Research at Caltech looks different for every student, and can often vary term by term. As a chemistry major, my course requirements are on the lighter side for a Caltech major, and many chemistry majors take advantage of the lighter course load to join research groups. This can be whenever the student wants, but many people join labs during their freshman or sophomore years. Some may work in one lab only, and some may switch between labs during the course of their undergraduate studies, depending on if their interests change.