Friday, December 23, 2005

Adventures in Los Alamos

A while ago, I used to work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico. To this day, those were the best days of my life. In every sense, I had a wonderful time. Most of the people working there were incredibly smart, but they were not your geeky types either. Almost everybody had a love for the outdoors, and we would almost always head out to do cool stuff. For instance, there was Ian, my neighbor. Ian is a roboticist, who has worked with such people as Mark Tilden of the BEAM Robotics fame. But Ian is also an excellent rock-climber and adventure enthusiast. Ian and I used to climb at Whiterocks regularly, and even went out to a few other places around New Mexico and Colorado. And then there was Robert. Ah, yes. Rob. He is a Chem.E. major from New Mexico Institute of Technology, who used to work with hazardous materials. Fun stuff, I know. But the fun part is not that - it's that in about four months, Rob had saved my life thrice. Once, I was caught in a landslide during a caving/spelunking trip. Second time, I was a lousy climber. You would think that something like this would really discourage someone to not do stupid things, but nope. The third time, we all had gone cliff-jumping, which basically involves jumping off really high cliffs into water. There were a lot of us, Rob, Ian, Sabina and a few others that I don't recall. In case you do not understand what cliff jumping is, the following pictures help provide a fairly good graphical description - think of it as bungee jumping into water without the ropes.

You can see Ian contemplating his jump in this picture. Should I or should I not, umm? Oooh! Rob actually jumps, oodles of fun. Spooky but fun!
Anyway, during one of my jumps, what had happened was this -- I jumped, I got cramps, I couldn't swim up. Yes, I was well and truly *drowning*. And it sucked to be drowning, trust me. Of course, Sabina thought I was joking and insisted that I stop playing the prank. Ian did not have a clue, because he was far up contemplating a jump. And Rob was the only one who'd realized what was wrong and jumped into the water, and saved me. If it was not for him, I'd have been in serious trouble. Well, the dead-kinda trouble. On the bright side, Sabina helped resusciate me.
Am alive! Dried up and ready to go home, yayy!
Oooh, nice adventure. So, that was the end of the adventure saga with these guys. And then, there is Austin, Brendan, Daria, Vidya and Janak, with whom I shall recount yet another adventure. Of course, what's the fun if I didn't do something stupid once again, right? So, we had gone to climb Mt. Walter and Wheeler Peak, because we had nothing better to do in life. Well, it so happened that I got stranded on the peak and search and rescue ensued, until I was rescued by two fellow climbers. Anyway, just so you know I was there - here's some proof for posterity...
Mt. Walter - Elev. 13,141 ft. - Named for H.D. Walter - who loved these mountains And of course, at Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico at 13,161 feet.
And somewhere amidst all this, I managed to get stranded on Wheeler Peak. Well, on the return path, to be accurate. Actually, somewhere after reaching the peak and on the way down, I got caught in a landslide, lost the grip, ate ice, almost killed ferrets for food and generally became the coolest cat in town. If you are interested in this incredibly fun saga, you should definitely read up my writeup on this incident - Search and Rescue at 13,161 feet. You can then tell me how amazingly awesome I'm, and ask me if I'm the Karthik, at which point I'll tell you that I'm a Karthik and that I come in six packs etc etc. Anyway, back to our buddies. Austin is a weather nut. Well, he's a meteorologist who quite literally goes storm chasing and things like that, so it's only natural that he'd be into this stuff. Anyway, he's a fun guy. The next person was Brendan, who is a geologist, so quite obviously he likes the mountains and the rocks. He's a rock-climber extraordinnaire kinda dude. And then there was Ryan. Ryan is a mechanical engineer from the Colorado School of Mines, but he's from Colorado and he's grown up climbing the fourteeners. 'nuff said. And of course Daria, who's Russian and is from UC Berkeley and is also an outdoors enthusiast. But, by some stretch of miracles, I actually managed to climb more mountains after that incident (heh). Yes, I know, isn't that swell? We wanted to climb Mt. Blanca, but could not, so we instead ended up climbing Mt. Lindsey.
Daria, Ryan, Karthik & Austin at the peak of Mt. Lindsey, 14, 042 feet.
My whole experience at Los Alamos was surreal. Here I was, working at one of the world's greatest research laboratories, and here I was, having the time of my life. You'd think a place like that would be full of geeks and nerds, but nope. Sure, they were smart people, but they also loved life and having fun. Of course, apart from the binge drinking sprees, the definition of fun kinda varied (well, such as, being part of several disasters). I mean, it was not even funny - once Ian and I were climbing in white rocks with a few other people - I do recall Anya being amongst the group. And we were caught in a thunderstorm, and there was forest fire. I called the fire department, of course, and they came and did something (fires are a big risk at Los Alamos - the whole place was almost burnt down in 2000 or something because of a large forest fire). The ironic thing was, my previously dialled number list on my phone included the fire department and all kinds of stuff - the worst part was, all of that was for a good reason. Anyway, I look back at the time I had had there, and I can quite honestly say that it was the best time of my life. Fond memories are an odd thing. :-) On a completely unrelated note... So, my friend Megan saw this blog entry and was wondering if I'd ever done anything outdoorsy where I hadn't done something stupid. After much thought, I actually realized yes! There are such (rare) instances. And so, here you go - Team India whitewater rafting down river Nantahala in the Smokies. And I did not do anything stupid - I was not stranded for my life, I did not try and get myself (or any others) killed. The only thing worth any consequence that happened during this trip was that we met some black bears and I caught a cold. And oh, I met some National Geographic folks doing a study of sorts. And I had a cut on my foot. And oh oh oh, I caught my friend Srikanth on candid-cam doing some things that I hope will earn me oodles of money when he becomes a millionaire. Billionaire. Whatever.
Diddly doo!
So, then. I need to go do something stupid. Fröhliche Weihnachten und Schöne Feiertage!