July 26th, 2012

Today is the day we finished the harvest! After about a week of constant cutting, clipping, and bagging from 9 until 7 with only a brief break for lunch, I was ready for the completion. The great thing though is that we finished the harvest 3 days earlier than Laura and Pierre expected!

What the harvest entails is cutting down and collecting all the vegetation, litter (dead matter, such as dead leaves and stems), and lichen. By doing this, Pierre and Laura will be able to weigh vegetation, litter, and lichen, cumulatively known as biomass, and measure the productivity of each plot with its different treatment, watering, warming, or grazing. Pierre and Laura will be able to see how each treatment affects the productivity of the plant community.

One thing I noticed while harvesting is that lichen populations pretty much did not exist in plots which had a high plant density, while in lower plant density plots lichen populations were higher.

After we finished the harvest, it was lunch time, and Khashaa cooked a mean lunch of cabbage salad and dumplings! The dumplings were fried and filled with ground yak meat. I found them incredibly delicious!

Since about 12 of us had been working so hard for the last week on the harvest, Dr. Casper called the rest of the day off! For pretty much all of us, this meant adventure time!

Mongolian students have told us about this mysterious lake up in the mountains. The hike is long they said, but the lake is beautiful and well worth the trip. Apparently, there are two of this gems hiding out in the mountains, so on this free afternoon, eleven of us packed a towel, strapped on our backpacks, and filled our water bottles for a hike to the mountain lake.

I found the hike the be really awesome. There is nothing like being out in nature, walking through the forest whilst admiring all the incredible flora and fauna and just listening to the sounds of the earth. On the marshlands, so many purple wild flowers were in bloom creating a blanket of beauty. In the forest, a wild blueberry bush grows and even though most of the berries were green, I was lucky to find a couple of ripe ones. Yum!

When we got to the lake, I was so hot and sweaty that I waded in pretty soon after arriving. Aurora, one of the graduate students, went in first and found that when she stepped into the mud, it came up to her knees! Interestingly enough, the entire lake was like this! A lot of plants grew right in the lake as well so when I was swimming I could feel these creepy plants brushing against my body while I swam through the water. After a while, I got used to the plants and began to enjoy the fact that the plants grew in the middle of the lake.

On the way back from the hike, all the boys decided it was a great idea to climb up this giant rock face intermixed with earth to reach the top of the hill/mountain. Not wanting to be left behind and yearning for adventure, I decided to step up to the challenge and climb this rock face. Though it looks on the ground like a very difficult climb, I found the ascent to be surprisingly easier than expected and incredibly fun! There were plenty of ledges for hands and footholds for feet, but the face was still pretty steep. I would say I have a healthy fear of heights and so every time I looked behind me I would see how steep the face was and how high up I was and have a bit of a mini panic attack inside. This in turn caused me to just continue climbing forward and avoiding looking down!

Arriving at the top of the face made the scary climb completely worth the risk. At the top of this face awaits an expansive view of the the entire Dalbay Valley. From the top you can see the gigantic mountains to the west hugging the coastline of Lake Khovsgol and to the east an endless valley of green with forests atop the hills.

Dalbay Valley is an incredibly beautiful place, and I have truly enjoyed my stay here. Not only have I gotten be part of a cool scientific project, and learned so much about ecology, but I have been able to experience Mongolian culture. We leave Dalbay in just a few days, and even though this month in Mongolia has gone by so quickly, it is an experience I will never forget.

-Alysen Vilhena
rising junior, University of Pennsylvania, Dalbay Valley

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