Trained up and headed for a glacier

Field work in Antarctica is different than other types of field work. The day-to-day will be focused around finding as many outcrops as possible to hammer and chisel off rocks. That is mostly true of any geology field work. The kicker is that one does not simply just go to the field in Antarctica. Beyond the logistics, costs, and getting to the continent, there are numerous pre-field trainings. These trainings range from understanding the rules of the Antarctic Conservation Act to extreme cold weather awareness, from camping on snow to glacier travel and crevasse rescue training, and from lab facility safety to snow machine training and repair instruction. We will be a team of three in the deep field. This means we are responsible for our own gear and mechanical troubleshooting, rock carrying, and camp maintenance. These trainings and preparations have kept us busy the past two weeks.

But all work and no play would make for an incredibly dull time while stuck in McMurdo before the science happens. So I have found some time to explore the variety of activities available at McMurdo. I went to a science talk on the sea spiders found by dive teams off the coast at McMurdo (living creature below). I joined a few new friends to climb down Obs Tube, a viewing tube about 15 feet below the sea ice. I even saw a seal! Demian and I went on a few runs to check out the views. First we ran up Observation Hill, which overlooks McMurdo Station. On a less than favorable windchill day, we ran to Discovery Hut (built by Robert Falcon Scott on the 1901-1904 Discovery Expedition) and then continued up the coast ridge for great views of where the sea ice has cracked up around the point. There was a big Halloween gathering with a costume contest and dance party. Late that night, I caught a rare view of the sun at the horizon. Summertime here means 24-hour daylight. On a blistery and miserable day, I joined two McMurdo “locals” on their day off to cross-country ski the loop to Castle Rock. The wind was so brutal that it blew all the snow off the trail and we were being pushed all over blue ice. We made a slow scurry up the first two miles where a red hut awaited to provide shelter. We realized how miserable a continued effort would be, so we turned back. But we still prevailed in defying the hard winds from ruining the one day off everyone gets each week.

John, Demian, and I had a three day combined training for glacier travel, crevasse rescue, snow camping, and basic winter skills. Ascending a rope using only Prusik knots is a feat. We loaded up into a massive Delta, headed out to the ice shelf, where we spent a whole day setting up a camp that we then tore down the next day. It was a lot of work to simply sleep out in the cold. The next day we packed up and headed to a crevasse simulator to practice skills with ice axe use, ascending a rope while in full winter gear (using both Prusik knots and ascenders), self- and team-arrest, setting snow anchors, best crampon practices, and 3-person crevasse rescue. The best part was when we simulated John falling into a crevasse (i.e., he jumped off the snow ledge), and Demian and I had to arrest his fall, rig up a pulley system to tow him out, and then actually pull him out of the crevasse. It was pretty awesome! Tonight I went over to New Zealand’s Scott Base. Thursday night is American Night, where McMurdo people are allowed to visit the base (Their gift shop is by far superior in the souvenir department!).

Now we should be all ready to get out to the field. We leave first thing in the morning. So this very well may be my last post for a bit.

Below are several photos from these trainings and adventures.

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