Alone on Mars

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The Matterhorn, or at least its Antarctic equivalent.

As I write this somewhat overdue post, it’s our fifteenth full day in the field, and it’s just about time to leave our second camp in the Taylor Valley. There’s one moment, looking back, that drove in the fact that I’m really about as isolated as I’ll ever probably get in my life: a few days after landing at Lake Vanda, Demian and I were deposited by helicopter, geology gear and survival bags in tow, at Mt. Loke in the Eastern Wright Valley, for a day of dike-hunting.  We scrambled off the helicopter onto the bare slopes and then lay face down to avoid being flattened by the blast of its spinning rotors; as it disappeared into the distance, Demian rose up and shouted something to the effect of, “we’re really in the middle of nowhere now!”
And indeed, I’d been out here for several days already but that was probably the moment at which the remoteness of this place fully sunk in. Of course, McMurdo isn’t really that far away, even if the memories I have of the fresh bread and warm showers seem distant, now, and the support staff there have been more than helpful when we’ve come across them; on one occasion, when we were expecting helicopter support, we asked them half-jokingly if they could bring us pizza, only to be surprised by not one but three boxes of pizza straight from the McMurdo kitchens! But still, it’s basically just the four of us in this desolate land, chipping off rocks, searching these barren hills for good dike exposures, and enjoying the scenery when we get the chance to.

 

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Among several mummified Weddell Seals seen in the Wright Valley.

As for myself, I’d say that while the cold has been a challenge (to say the least), the biggest obstacle is that this has probably been one of the most physically intense periods of my life; as they say, geologists are the only people whose packs grow heavier, not lighter, while hiking. But I’ll probably be in quite decent physical shape at the end of it, and after about two weeks, I think I’ve somewhat settled in. I’ve made some progress on the art of stopping my water bottles from freezing in the field, and thanks to a French Press from McMurdo, some beans from Santa Barbara Roasting Company, and the hand-crank coffee grinder my brother gave me several years ago, I’ve had plenty of good coffee to warm me up. There are a lot of dikes and metasediments to sample, but there’s also the likes of the ventriforms and seal mummies to take in; somebody in our group joked that the latter had wandered out to this strange place as part of some bizarre and ill-advised pilgrimage. Needless to say, we’re far better off than them: we’ve gotten some good samples and stayed warm, or at least thermally sound, and our field season is in full swing. Until next time.

— Nick for the Antarctica360 team

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John takes shelter in an ancient ventriform.

4 thoughts on “Alone on Mars

  1. Dear Nick:
    Our weather report was “winds from the Arctic”. I put on my down jacket and think Nick is feeling far more chilly than I will ever experience.

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