I’ve landed in Antarctica, albeit 2 days late, and it’s a very pleasant -3 degrees C (with wind chill)! It might be Summer but this is warm. The sea ice runway which I landed on last year in the C17 is now almost open water, and the back-up runway on the Ross Ice Shelf is melting to slush. So instead of the usual snowy conditions of a white-out causing problems for landing, the issue lies more with aircraft attempting to take off. We flew by Hercules fitted with skis and it was quite an experience, despite it taking a noisy 8 hours with minimal leg room and then an hour ‘road’ trip to Scott Base.
Last year I talked about life at Scott Base as an inexperienced foreigner. This time I am still a foreigner but I’m familiar with the set-up of Scott Base and operating with Antarctica New Zealand, which is more than the other two of my team. So my intention was to give a tour and then head to the bar for a Scott Base Pinot Noir. Annoyingly red wine stocks didn’t survive Christmas but at least there was still cheap ($3) Moa beer (Antarctica Edition) to moisten our lips in the dry air.
The following day was busy. We started with two briefings before being taken through some survival skills. To break down the days, Scott Base has a 10 am coffee break (often with sausage rolls and a sweet pastry) and 3 pm afternoon tea (with some other tasty snacks). We were to miss afternoon and evening feasting as our field training developed into an over-night camp on Ross Island. This gave us the opportunity to test out some equipment, including a polar pyramid tent and some lighter-weight mountain tents. A series of locations and accommodations meant that this was my 5th bed in 6 nights, but the eventful day meant I slept well.
On return the following morning, we had to clean, dry and mend the tents, and clean and sort out all other camp items. Once we had been given the thumbs up for not killing ourselves or others in the field we could move on to the final field preparations for Mackay Glacier. This required hoarding first aid kits, gas stoves, kitchen boxes (with standard bowels, mugs, pans, cutlery, etc.), food boxes (for tinned and dry food, and for frozen meats, cheese, etc.), climbing equipment, sleeping gear (including an inner down-feather bag, an outer synthetic sleeping bag, and a padded and insulated mat), a generator with fuel, toilet buckets (with plastic bags and a wooden seat), pee barrels, and numerous other useful items (like sledge hammers, shovels and maps).
There’s a back-log of science events needing helicopter support, so despite our efforts to catch-up with our original schedule, we still need to wait. But it’s best to get everything ready to go! The final things we sorted out were weighing all of our field camp gear, with the aim of using just one fully loaded helicopter, and then ordering some liquor for the field. We need it to keep warm and happy inside; 5 bottles of scotch whiskey (minimum for any Antarctic expedition), a couple of gins with tonic bottles (for hopefully those sun-bathing with sight of penguins moments), and a bottle of Kahlua for an extra treat.
My next post might be on return from the field. Cross your warm fingers and toes for good weather, plenty of rock samples and no camp breakdowns (of equipment or personnel!). I’ll report back.