Sunday, February 5, 2012

Dark January - Part One.

   It started to cool off in the early afternoon the middle of January with a light snow that didn't amount to much. By nine that night it took my breath away when I stepped out of the shop with quite a fierce wind out of the north. So it wasn't any big surprise to me to awake at 3am when the power went off. I went over and turned the big valve off and decided to take the Honda up the hill and remove the intake screen that I know by now is just chock full of frazzle ice. It was a pretty refreshing trip up the mountain to the intake pond with the cold and the sideways blowing snow, I couldn't believe that I had got out of a warm bed to do this.
   I parked above and skidded down the frozen bank to the intake dam. I keep a stout stick on that side to use to steady myself as I pick my way across the top of the dam in the rushing water, trying not to slip on the abundance of ice that forms anywhere near the turbulent creek. I keep a hatchet up there to chop a section of ice on the pond surface if need be to reach my screen, along with the pole to get the ice cake out into the current and over the dam. It had only been about 5 days since I had been up to install my new screen and I used the wooden handled fishing tool to reach down into the water and hook onto the screen then loosen it from the intake pipe. I had to get a good foot hold and really reef to get it out and up on the bank it was so packed with ice crystals and weighed twice as much. They actually kind of jingle when you drag the mass up onto the bank, but of course freeze in short order once exposed to the air. In extreme cold I run the intake pipe open with no screen or filter. So I leave the iced up screen there and head back down the hill to crank up the water driven generator on reduced output. When things get sketchy like this the hot tub is the first thing to be turned off, and is quite process to get it and the filter and pump drained.
So finally I get back into my bed and hope for the best.
   It was about 9 am the next day when it cut out again. This means that with the open intake, frazzle ice has built up on some spot inside the penstock and restricted flow and the ability to generate electricity.
This means its time to break out the candles and light the wood stove until warmer weather prevails, and a flurry of activity as I scurry around draining water lines and prepared for a freeze up.

This is the only time I use my wood stove is when the power is down.
I used to get froze out pretty regular back in the old days, usually for month total spread over the winter. This larger power system has a greater tolerance for extreme cold, but susceptible to the same problems. I've been down many times over the years, usually for 2-3 days, or maybe a week in a few extreme cases. This time had all the makings of a good one with extreme cold and high wind from the north, it felt like it came right through the log walls and the stove consumed arm loads of wood at an alarming rate.
I put up a sheet across the hallway and move into the front "original" area of the cabin for warmth.
Cold and cold running water.

Skook and Chuck just lay low in the cold weather. They enjoy the heat from the wood stove, a rare treat.

 I went up to the intake to have a look in the light. I couldn't bear the thought of a breezy ride up on the quad so I took the pickup. I had to pick my way through the wash outs at the lower end from last fall and it was a rough go of it in several sections..
 My nemesis the intake pond, the water is just a few degrees above freezing.

 This is the screen I pulled off the night before, I've shook it off but you can see how it clogs with ice.
It was terrible cold, and no day to be working here.

 .                             Hmmm...

Luckily not too far away I enjoy the luxury of T'sek. Oh darn, theres no one there.
 Ya thats too bad theres no one around.

I ventured into town one day to stock up on coal oil for my lamp.
A quick stop along Lillooett Lake.

We got a dump of snow after a week so I hoped it signified a warming trend.
The snow didn't make it any easier for me. Just as long as we don't get dumped on again.

I let it settle out for a day or so and headed up to do some work on the intake.

Well OK, didn't make it very far. Maybe try again in another day or so.
As long as we don't get any more snow, because I sure need to get up there and get to work.

I spoke too soon.....

Not funny...

    I can't just wait around for my power to come on there are things I need to do to.
Every day I work towards getting the lights back on.

I figure by now that if I could get the ice out of my intake pipe at the dam, I was probably not far from getting it working.
Its just a matter of getting up there in this deep snow.
   In the old days before there was a logging road up the hill to drive to the intake on, access was by the steep climb up the mountainside. I've done it a thousand times over the years out of necessity, usually in the snow or rain, or cold, sometimes with a load, and I've never been afraid to venture up there in the dark either. Maybe I was just younger then. For some reason, the hill has got steeper, and longer. It got down to the fact that I was going to have to do a run at the hill if I wanted to get my electric blanket working again. Just the 'hill' it self is enough of a deterrent, let alone when its covered in knee deep snow.
I wasn't really sure if I could pull it off.
Late one afternoon I thought I would just go try and beat a trail to the waterfall.
Just about did me in.
So I figure I will just go to the base of the hill so I have a broken trail for when I come back next day.
Just about did me in.
Now I had reached the hard part.
Then I get up the hill a ways and find I'm at the half way point, so there is no turning back now.
 Ropes were tied on the steepest sections years ago to aid the 'Dam Keeper'.
I had to dig around under the snow to locate them. For use going up, or down.

When I reached the dam I uncovered the first few meters of pipeline. This green pipe is used on the first short section and is usually where the ice forms and clogs it off. If I get water flowing in here I am very close to having power.

 Where it joins the PVC it is sealed with a rubber sleeve and hose clamps. I have pulled the sleeve back onto the black pipe, you can see solid ice between the two. The pipe is actually frozen beyond, possibly the entire length. That was a new one, I don't recall that ever happening before.
This is not a good sign for getting my Internet working anytime soon.
There is not much I can do, I pulled the sections of green line apart and let them lay there exposed and hopefully loosen some of that ice. Ice is slow to melt, the air is the same temperature as the water.
The ice in the penstock I was going to have to go home and think about a bit.
Note ice 'inside' pipes. Oh my.

 Looks like I'm going to be needing more of this.

Every day I tackled the hillside once. This is looking down the line at the start.
The trail follows the penstock route for the most part.

 Are we there yet?

There are several spots on the penstock that we have it anchored to trees with cable.
This holds the 700 odd meter water line on the steep slope where it belongs.

Those are some big ice cubes.

You need to be really careful with the long section of green pipe. Full of ice it can be quite heavy and when it gets on snow is slippery like hell and bounce off your shin and land on your gumboot toe and make you jump around swearing for being so stupid. Not that it happened to me or anything.

 I'm not sure if this is a Workman's Compensation approved work area or not.
If getting washed over the falls isn't bad enough you still need to scan over your shoulder for cougar and Sasquatch.

 The Dam. I'd just love to turn this into electricity.

There is a look out at the old helipad close to the dam that gives a good look to the area below.
The cabin's green roof is just visible center right.

After a trying afternoon I got the intake clear of ice and ready to feed the penstock. Only problem was the penstock from there on was full of solid ice. Some of it. Or all of it. I had no way to know.
This was new territory. All I could do was wait for things to thaw a little and loosen in the line, then I assumed it would migrate downhill.There was a lot of line down at the lower end still covered in snow that was not going to melt anytime soon.

Little did I know soon after that very thing would happen in a rather spectacular fashion, and I would end up further than ever from getting the system fired up.
                                                                           To be continued...


  1. Thank you, That was fasinating! really it was.

  2. Great read! I'm so glad I found you and your blog!

  3. A reallly good read.

  4. Hmm Just thinking after it eventually thaw's out. Would it be possible to run a heater wire through the pipe to just before the gen? If it refroze you could use a gas gen or battery inverter to power the wire to melt the ice? Just an idea.
    Happy soaking Steve B.

  5. Keep writin'there boy , you have a talent that needs to escape.
    Bruce Trethewey

  6. Thanks there cousin. You say that now, wait until I get to the stories that include you!! Robin

  7. Great read Rob. I had been asking some of the hot spring regulars if anyone had heard from you. I'd sent a Christmas E-mail that was returned "undeliverable", now know why.
    Best Wishes,