Monday, October 14, 2019

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA

My 10 day US visit was coming to an end soon and there was only one weekend left before I was to head back home to Vancouver. I had a good time so far with the rafting trip and the casual care free stroll in downtown Denver. For the last weekend my brother in law made a plan to visit the Rocky Mountain National Park which was just a couple of hours away from Denver.

So on a clear pleasant Saturday four of us including my sister sheereen, her husband Azaan, their friend Rohini and myself started off for the RMNP at around 8 am in the morning. The air was fresh and sunny making the drive an enjoyable one. As we approached the hills the landscapes were beginning to turn more picturesque with grassy carpets and quaint homes studded on hill sides. We made a stop at the famous Stanley Hotel which is situated just 5 miles away from the entrance to the RMNP. It was built in 1909 in a Colonial Revival style of Architecture. Stanley Hotel's claim to fame is that it served as the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's best selling novel 'The Shining'. Stephen King stayed here in room no. 217 and after a nightmare the concept of 'The Shining'was born in that very room. We took a tour of the hotel albeit a short one which featured just the reception area and the surrounding grounds. I am a big horror fan and this visit was very special to me.

From here we proceeded to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Set up in 1915 it is one of the world's first biosphere reserves and also ranks as one of the most visited National Parks. From the entrance itself we could see a number of vehicles on the road. As it was summer and a Sunday there were a lot of people. We made a number of stops as we moved along. There were some spectacular view points where we spent a considerable time just enjoying the views.

We reached the the last point which is the Visitor Centre in the afternoon. Here we walked to the top of the nearby hill from where there were some excellent views of the surrounding mountains. After this short hike we had some delicious lunch at the cafe at the visitor center. With our energy levels recharged and rejuvenated we decided to do the Bierstadt lake trail near the entrance of the park. It was a short and easy hike. The thing which made this hike special for me was that for the very first time I was hiking with my sister. She had started hiking recently and was still a little hesitant about doing even the moderate hikes so Azaan bhaiya had selected this. The hour long trail leads to a lake called, you guessed it, Bierstadt lake where we spent some time just enjoying the solitude. The sky was beginning to turn dark and it looked like rain was imminent anytime. We resumed our hike and sure enough it started raining. It was gentle at first but then picked up pace and in an hour it was pouring. Taking in the conditions we decided not to retrace our way back to the trail start point and instead join another trail and go its end point. In retrospect this proved to be a wise decision and we reached the end point soon. By this time all of us were soaked to varying levels. Soon enough a bus picked us up and dropped us where we had parked our car. We immediately started off on our return journey and took a quick break at a Starbucks to get some hot coffee.  We reached home a couple of hours later content and happy. And thus ended a fun 10 day trip to visit my sister in Denver. I had a good time thanks to Azaan bhaiya and Sheereen.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Field trip of UBC Master of Engineering Leadership in Clean Energy Engineering Program 2019

Every year, University of British Columbia organises a field trip for the students of Master of Engineering Leadership in Clean Energy Engineering Program. This year too for the 2019 cohort we were to have a 4 day field trip to Trail,BC and the surrounding industries there. There was a clean energy conference in Trail which we were to attend on Day 2 and 3. Day 1 and 4 was for site visits to nearby industries. Here is an account of this year's field trip. I have kept it as short as possible and keeping in view the nature of this blog I have deliberately avoided going too technical. 

Day 1

Today's agenda was take our 7 15 am flight from Vancouver to a place called Castlegar from where we were to go directly to the Teck Smelter in the town of Trail. The second half of the day was to be spent visiting the Mercer Celgar Mill.

The MEL CEEN 2019 batch consists of 20 people from 8 different countries. Joining us on this trip were, our Professor Vladan and our program coordinator Olivia.

At the Vancouver Airport

Everyone gathered at the Vancouver airport by 5 45 am and by 8 am we were gliding in the 50 seater plane over some spectacular mountain scenery.  I was sitting beside Andres who,during our conversation revealed that he is a Ultimate frisbee National level player and had represented Colombia in the world championship in 2012. This is one of the things I like about going on trips together. They stimulate a deeper level of conversations.

Spectacular mountain scenery
It was only a 1 hour of flight and we reached Castlegar at around 8 30 am where two vehicles were waiting for us. From the airport, as per plan we headed towards Trail for a tour of the Teck Smelter. Unfortunately due to some unforeseen problems, we couldn't go inside the Facility and we had to contend with the exhibits in the conference room of the main office. Their representative was a nice and jovial man who kept answering our questions patiently for a long time. After a couple of hours we left and before our next site we took a break for lunch. After lunch we had an hour to kill so we just took a stroll around town. This town with the smelter and its chimneys reminded me of the cult famous American TV Show Twin Peaks of the 90s.

In the Teck Office

Chilling in Trail

The Smelter

From here we moved to our next destination, the Mercer Celgar Mill. Situated near Castlegar, it is a NBSK pulp mill which produces approx 520,000 ADMTs annually. We were met by one of the Managers at the Gate who gave us a brief introduction and safety talk before we were handed our PPEs(Personal Protective Equipment). It took me right back to my work days. The last time I wore a Helmet or a Hard hat as they call it here, was in November 2018 back in India. So the sensation of that helmet sitting on my head felt good. We were then split into two groups and started off on our tour. We were shown different equipment and processes involved but the most striking image was that of a huge wood chip truck unloading, where they lift and tilt the whole truck to unload its contents. After a 2 hour tour we all assembled back at the meeting point where we thanked the manager and other personnel there and left for out hotel near Rossland.

We checked into Hotel Josie around 6 pm. Hotel Josie is set at the base of a ski hill, the famous Red Mountain Resort. As it was summer now, there was no snow and all the sky chairs were still. There are no homes nearby except for a complex of other buildings, some hotels and some restaurants. Quite a lonely location but spectacularly beautiful.For dinner and some wandering around we decided to go the nearest town Rossland. Born as a result of the Gold Rush in the 1890s, Rossland was at one time, Western Canada's largest city with world famous Gold mines. These days it is known for its excellent ski slopes and the world class ski champions it produces.The present town is filled with a lot of heritage buildings and we wanted to take a look around. Namendra, Thivya, Deepak, Balaji, Divya and Benjamin and myself went there and after a delicious dinner we went for a long walk. Its a pretty little town and we had a good time there.
Arriving at the Hotel Josie
Hotel Josie
Some beautiful streets near the Hotel

Strolling in Rossland

Dinner at Idgie's

The 'Wild west' look of the stores in Rossland

Day 2

Today's agenda was to visit the Clean Energy BC Spring Conference in Trail. The whole conference was held in the Best Western Hotel. After a quick breakfast we headed directly to the conference venue by 9 am. We were a couple of minutes late but we managed to grab some chairs. There was a nice roster of speakers coming up and I was excited to hear them. Session 1 was about Clean Energy Funding Opportunities in British Columbia. Speakers were from Ministry of Energy and Western Canada Economic Diversification Canada. Next was a keynote address by Andrew Weaver, a Canadian Scientist, Politician and Author.
Andrew Weaver

I liked his talk a lot. In addition to all the thought provoking points he made one stuck in my mind. He said ''Targets without a plan are not worth the paper they are written on''. Something to note down which I did then immediately. I also made a mental note to check out his books. Next session was titled '' Think Global and Act Local'' Speakers included people from Northland Power and Nelson Hydro. After this there was a break for lunch. After lunch, Jifa and myself went out for a stroll and were back in the venue by the start of the afternoon session. This session was titled  ''Building the Clean Economy: Job Opportunities with Clean BC'' Speakers were from Delphi Group, Fortis BC and Selkirk College.  The final session was the ''Kootenay Showcase''. After the session ended there was a brief period of networking and we met a lot of awesome people there. After this we went back to our Hotel. There was going to be a Gala dinner so we had a little bit of rest and after that headed to the Gala. It was a nice event. we got to know and talk to a lot of people from different industries. Meanwhile there was a game going on between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors. Talk now and then drifted to the game and by the time the gala ended people were already drifting off from the dinner to the hall outside where everyone was glued to the TV. I stood there for sometime enjoying more the camaraderie these sports games bring out in people than the game itself. After the dinner, Sara, Anna,Thivya and myself took a stroll behind the hotel in the vast open space at the base of the mountains nearby. All the chairlifts were lying there silent and still. Reminded me of the pics of Chernobyl they show where everything is still and silent.  A bit ahead in the distance was another Hotel. Its design and location reminded me of the Overlook Hotel from one of my favorite Horror movies 'The Shining'. Anna mentioned that there was a plan to hike to the top of the nearby mountain the next day. I was happy to join them.

The Gala Dinner

Day 3

As per plan, today I woke up early and was at the lobby by 6 am. Soon Anna and Sonja joined and we started off on our little hike. There were two mountains nearest to our hotel and they looked beautiful as the carpet of green grass on them shone brilliantly in the clear morning sunlight. The air was fresh and the tip of the taller of the two mountains was engulfed by clouds. Overall it was a brilliant day for a hike. We chose the shorter of the two mountains to climb as we did not have much time on our hands. We started our hike keeping the chairlift line as our line of reference. We walked on the marked trails there and as we gained elevation the beauty of the surroundings slowly unfolded. We reached the top after maybe 40 minutes and the view from this point was spectacular. Our hotel and the cluster of buildings surrounding it, was perched in the middle of a group of hills. The valley beyond these hills was totally enveloped by a blanket of fog. With the Sun sometimes peeking out from the clouds, the whole of this blanket lit up now and then. Beyond the fog rose a layer of mountains again. The view was surreal. We took some pics here and immediately started our descent. We were back in our hotel by 8 am. After a quick breakfast we were on our way to attend the 2nd day of the conference.

For the site visits there were two time slots to choose from. A 9 am one and a 10 30 am one. I chose the latter one. There were a few of us for the second slot and we had an hour and half to kill after the first bus departed. Some of us decided to take a stroll and look around the town of Trail. We formed a group of  7. There was Sara, Thivya, Namendra, Divya, Shashank, Harsohena and myself. We roamed the streets a bit after which we spotted a bridge spanning the nearby Columbia river. We went on the bridge and enjoyed the walk over it. It offered some excellent views of the town and of the smelter. Pretty soon it was time and we made our way back to the Hotel.At 10 30 am sharp our group left for the site visits. We were joined by other attendees of the conference. Almost all of them were from the local industries of the region.

Our first stop was at the Waneta Dam. Located on the Columbia River this Dam has two phases. Phase 1 had 4 units/turbines and Phase 2 had 2 units/turbines with a total combined generation capacity of 490 MW. The representatives of Teck, Columbia Power and Fortis BC were there to show us around the facility. We were given PPE(Personal Protective Equipment) to wear which included a Hard hat, Safety glasses and steel toe covers for our shoes to protect our feet. We were taken to Phase 2 first where we walked through the main Turbine Hall. Here a brief explanation was given and questions followed. From here we went to Phase 1. This was much smaller than the other one and  much older. This was constructed in 1954. Over the course of an hour and half, as the tour progressed we asked lots of questions which the personnel there patiently answered.

The second stop for the day was Brilliant Dam. Here we were welcomed by an all Woman team of 3. There was a brief safety talk after which we were taken inside for a quick tour. Situated on the Kootenay River, Brilliant Dam's capacity is 140 MW with a total of 4 Francis Turbines. For me two things stuck in my mind. First, some of the gates were partially open sending the water downstream. I had seen dams before, huge ones too back in India but never saw one with the gates open. This was the closest I came to seeing a dam with its gates lifted. The huge amount of water was creating mists partially obscuring our view from downstream of the dam where we came through a cave. Now, this cave was the second thing which stood out. They had a cave dug out which connected two sections of the power plant.

From here we headed off to our next stop, Nelson Hydro.For me this was the best part of all the site visits. The Upper Bonnigton Generating Station is a living Museum. The First unit was installed and commenced operation in 1907. Over the years more units were added in 1910, 1929 and 1950. The astonishing part is that except unit 1 all of them are still working! Some Brilliant engineering right there. All of them were built by a company called Allis Chalmers Bullock. Formed in 1901,  it was at one time one of the biggest manufactures of Agricultural equipment in the USA. It no longer exists as it was dissolved in 1998. The capacities of the units are Unit 1- 750 KW, Unit 2- 1200 KW, Unit 3- 2350 KW, and Unit 4 - 6000 KW. The head for all the units is 21.54 metres. We looked around, walked past the tops of the turbo-generators in the main turbine hall and took a lot of pics. Overall this was the most exciting site.

From Nelson we headed back to our Hotel and as there was not much to do we had dinner in the hotel's restaurant itself and called it a day.

Day 4

It was time to pack up today as we were checking out from the hotel in the morning itself. Plan for the day was to go for some site visits and then after a celebratory dinner in Kimberly, before heading directly to the Airport at Cranbrook.

First stop today was the Waste Water Treatment Plant at Creston. Here we had a chance to look at the process where waste water from nearby town of Creston was treated. An interesting feature here was the use of Geotubes. After a quick tour of the facility and a question and answer session we headed off to the next site, that is the Sunmine Solar field. Located on a side of a hill, this place has 96 solar trackers on which are mounted around 4000 solar cell modules. This is BC's largest solar project and Canada's largest solar tracking facility. This project is supported by Teck. Total generation capacity is 1.05 MW. One of the Engineers was here with us to show us around.  As this was the last site of our field trip we took a group pic here before we headed to Kimberly.

Kimberly is a small town with picture perfect streets. The street lamps were adorned with clusters of beautiful flowers at the top. And there were triangle flags running from pole to pole. We sauntered around these pretty streets looking around at the stores till we reached Kimberly's claim to fame that is the Cuckoo clock they have. Its the largest freestanding cuckoo clock in Canada. Its a pretty thing, two stories tall, a clock on its main side and a little balcony above the clock. I went near it to have a closer look when I spotted a coin slot there with instructions on how to insert coins. I rummaged around in my wallet but I had no coins with me. I asked around and both Sara and Thivya had some. I inserted one and ran a bit further away to have a look. A moment later the doors of the balcony flew open and a short guy with a thick mustache came out and sang for a bit. It was fun and we had a good laugh. There was demand for more shows and we did watch it a couple of times more. Soon it was time for our dinner and we made our way to the quaint cafe called 'the Shed' where we were to have our dinner. After some nice banter there and some good delicious food it was time to go. We made our way to the Airport at Cranbrook, from where our flight was to leave at 7 20 pm. We were back in Vancouver by 7 45 pm. Thus ended a wonderful field trip all thanks to UBC, Our Professor Vladan and Program Coordinator Olivia!'

Relaxing in Kimberly

The stunning location of the Airport at Cranbrook
Landing in Vancouver!