The last few days have been knackering, but enjoyable. All the equipment has been tested, we’ve made the last of the logistical arrangements and we have completed the necessary survival training. Our practice camp was a beautiful success, pitched on a glacier at the base of the volcanic Mount Erebus. Last night we went ‘over the hill’ to the US McMurdo base for a home-coming party; today we had the luxury of crevasse rescue training with a hangover. No one died.
If all the weather is acceptable for take-off tomorrow morning, we’ll be heading into the field of ice and occasional rock! For the next 3 weeks I’ll be camping on the ice sheet in the Transantarctic Mountains in a team of 5. If needed, you can find me here:
Travel in this environment depends heavily on the weather conditions, which can be very variable. Temperatures in the mountains will be -30 to -40 degrees C (without wind-chill) and katabatic winds off the ice sheet could be over 100 miles/hour at times. We’ll be tent-bound for Condition 1 (extreme cold and/or can’t see something 2 metres away) and Condition 2 (very cold and can’t see mountains). But hopefully the weather will be cloudless and windless (Condition 3) for the majority. A Twin Otter plane will take us to the ice sheet, with ski doos and a sled used to nearby sites, a helicopter to mountain peak sites further away, and good old boots with crampons for everything in between.
I’m hoping for some much-needed rest at some point out there, without a snorer in my tent. But the days will be long, with 5-6 hours a day set aside just for survival (melting snow for water, cooking and preparing the camp for any potential overnight weather extreme) and several more hours for travel to research sites. One possible side effect of such a regime in 24-hour daylight is clock-drifting, where over time we could be waking up to start the ‘day’ at 7pm. One thing that might stop this is a strictly followed timescale with a radio call back to Scott Base once a day.
Although this is a 3-week trip, only 2-3 days will be spent at sites with the potential to be used in my research. I will hopefully have lots of time to get used to the rather unique Antarctic environment and to the sampling procedure at the other sites which will be important for when it’s my turn! However it is hard to predict the weather or the conditions of the research sites, so I’m hoping features and geology of the landscape are obvious and the rocks I need to collect are frequent and not far-between.
If you hear from me before 20 days are up, not all has gone to plan…