A hint of sadness…

cheap cytotec no prescription  There is a hint of sadness in the air in the mess tent this evening as we have just farewelled our fearless leader John on the helicopter – back to civilization, his wonderful wife, and the joys of office work. We’d been watching the cloud level all day and then, in the whirl of helicopter wings he was gone and in place we were left with some boxes of food and some empty rock boxes. The tent is now somewhat quieter but also noticeably more spacious. As we sit down to eat our spaghetti bolognaise John will be looking forward to dinner at MacTown before heading to NZ on Wednesday. It’s just started snowing again so despite the MacTown menu, he’ll be glad that he got out when he could. Speak soon John!

Since our last post we’ve only been able to spend one day out in the field because of the weather. We had a more relaxed day back over above the Roaring Valley which was memorable for the insipid stagnant cold. Low cloud blocked out all rays of sunlight and the temperature hung between -4o to -7o C without any wind. As we wandered back across the moraine at the end of the day, the cloud lowered and the snowflakes started, and by the time we had ridden back to camp the visibility was poor and our tents were white. Home just in time! With the anticipation of a 5 year old, Graham frequently checked outside the tent as dinner cooked, with the hope of a snow day the following day.

Snowy camp

Graham’s childlike excitement was rewarded as the snowflakes were still falling when we woke and we couldn’t see much past 50m around the camp. Back to sleep until mid-morning before a late breakfast and numerous cups of tea – John and Jo teaching Bryan and Graham the ancient mountaineering art of the ‘pit day’. Graham started reminiscing about ‘sticky buns’ of his childhood and after discovering we had most of the necessary ingredients embarked on his first ever baking mission. Mom – you’ll be proud – he did a great job, they were cooked to perfection and delicious (see photo). The rest of the day was spent reading geological papers (Bryan), fantasy novels (Graham), or mountaineering stories (Jo), calling family on the satellite phone, and undertaking domestic tasks (see photos of Jo being the good nanny that she is – sewing up Graham’s jacket and sweeping the floor). Dinner was pizza made in the frying pan and we weren’t long out of bed. Not much to do and despite little change in the weather we were aiming for an early start for John’s flight out.

Graham and his baking
Jo sewing Graham’s jacket

When we stuck our heads out of the tents this morning the clouds had a grey tinge (different from the white of yesterday) and we took this as a good sign. By midday the cloud still hadn’t lifted and the chances of John getting out were looking slim. More tea drinking and more reading (but no more baking for today). Mid afternoon the cloud base started to lift and after making a call to the Heli Ops crew at MacTown we were given 40mins to before the chopper was due. A final rush of sorting and packing of gear, rocks, and waste to be flown out, the chopper arrived on time and John was gone. In the quiet of the tent we excitedly sorted through our resupply of mostly snacks. Oh the excitement – we’ve only been away for 10 days, imagine what it will be like in a months’ time! We’ve decided to divvy up the Bumper Bar and chocolate bar supplies – for two reasons 1) to ensure we can each choose how we consume our supply over the next 6 weeks and 2) to introduce the potential for a novel bartering system when supplies run low – ‘I’ll swap you one Apricot Bumper Bar if you do the dishes for the next week’. The third reason is that it provides Jo ‘the Nanny’ with increased powers of coercion should the boys decide to misbehave in the weeks to come. We’ll keep you updated on how this plan actually works out. But for now, it’s time to melt some snow and get the dinner on…

Descending a lava flow

Dr. Suess and Mummified Seals

In the last few days we have worked across the Walcott Glacier and the Roaring valley – long days with a lot of hiking. We have had 1–2 hour commutes by foot each way, so we try to make the most of our time when we get out there. The work has been good, and we have seen a lot of interesting things. Uphill return hikes are always gruelling, especially with 15 kg of rocks in our packs (excluding John’s).

The trek across the Walcott glacier was like entering a Dr. Suess book. The ice formations were spectacular (see below)! The day before, we came across a mummified seal approximately 20 km inland and at 1300 m elevation! Guess it became lost. It was entirely desiccated and mummified– there aren’t many microbes around to promote decomposition. Who knows how long it has been there?!

Dr.Suess Ice Formations

Mummified Seal

The weather over the past few days has been unsettled with multiple snow flurries and some wind. Currently the weather is a little cold (-5C) and the cloud layer is only a few hundred meters above our camp.

For entertainment during the day we have races to ridge-tops and other awesome features. At lunch time we have been having trivia quizzes, with most of the questions referring to animals. During the evenings, Graham and Bryan continue to work (unsuccessfully) on their kiwi accents.

We’re making the most of John’s company – he is leaving us in a few days to head back to the states.

We’re about to eat a huge meal of nachos, so until next time, keep your teeth clean!

Staying in the tents today…

Yesterday we had an excellent day in the field – we drove our snowmobiles up the Radian Glacier onto the Pipecleaner Glacier. We spent a couple of hours collecting xenoliths from a volcanic crater. The xenoliths are really cool rocks – they are up to tennis ball size chunks of mantle rock (lherzolite and dunite) as well as lower crustal rocks (granulites) that were bought to the surface during a volcanic eruption. We then spent the next 8 or so hours wandering up a long ridge looking at some intrusive igneous rocks including a syenite – a rare kind of intrusive igneous rock. Because it is light for 24 hours a day we were able to stay in the field until around 9pm, before we headed home for some dinner and to bed around midnight.

Today the weather has been steadily getting worse. Our fantastic views of the mountains are obscured by lots of cloud and blowing snow. Right now it is about +6C (43F) inside our tent and about -10C (14F) outside + windchill which brings the temperature down to about -20C (-4F). Hopefully this weather doesn’t last too long and we can get out into the field again soon. In the meantime, we are spending the day in our tent catching up on our maps, field notes and eating a lot of chocolate!

Some people have asked us how we go to the bathroom in Antarctica. The answer is quickly! While we’re at McMurdo station there is a normal sewerage treatment plant, but out here in the field we have a slightly less sophisticated setup. We have a simple toilet consisting of a bucket with strong plastic bags. Once the bucket is filled we seal it up and when it is time to go back to McMurdo we bring all our waste with us. Our goal is to leaving nothing behind, so that we can keep this special environment as pristine as possible.

A few other side notes:

– The boys are practising their best New Zealand accents on Jo and John. So far they are sounding British, but I’m sure they’ll get there and be sounding just like Kiwis soon…

– Bryan and Graham are also discovering other NZ treats like Raro (kind of like Gatorade), scroggin (trail mix), and bumper bars (granola bars made with lots of butter)

– Tofu Jerky tastes a lot like teriyaki-soaked sponges.

– Jo has been cooking us excellent dinners – last night we had gourmet pasta with pesto, and tonight is chicken laksa soup! At this rate we will be gaining weight!

– Graham wanted everyone to know about his excellent dental hygiene – he has been stimulating his gums with his rubber toothpick at every opportunity.

Be sure to check out our spot tracker (here) – over the next week or so we’ll be updating it from some of our different field locations (as long as the weather improves!).

Bacon cheese burgers!

We are starting to make great progress with the geology, putting in long days and covering lots of ground. The weather over the past two days has been a bit unsettled but, that has not stopped us. Graham and Bryan got their first real exposure to glacial hiking using ice axes and crampons. Today’s adventure started with a short ski-doo trip from camp followed by a nice climb up the Radian Glacier to a suspect contact at an elevation of 2100 meters.  After collecting a few samples and some mapping we began are long trek back down the glacier to the ski-doos. At camp, Jo cooked us up some delicious bacon cheese burgers and veges.The weather for tomorrow looks nice so we are excited for  what is to come.

Geologizing and hiking…

We’ve just completed our second day of great field work. Graham and Bryan have collected a lot of great samples and we’ve done some great hiking and geologizing. We have seen a wide variety of rock types with great cross-cutting relationships – just the kind of thing we were hoping to find! Bryan and Graham have been collecting lots of samples which has been keeping their packs nice and heavy. Jo came up with the best description of the day –  swirly wirly dike, caramel swirl marble! It looks like the weather is changing so we’re not sure what we’ll be up to for the next few days.

We’ve been riding our skidoos to access the outcrops and learning a lot about riding on blue ice with skidoo trailers! Riding skidoos has saved us a lot of time walking across the glaciers to access the rocks.

Jo has been cooking us great meals, we’ve been eating lots of pasta and rice and lots of hot chocolate to keep warm! The boys have also been trying lots of different New Zealand foods – bumper bars, Raro, real milk powder and cadbury chocolate.  Jo also bought an Advent calendar, so we’ve opened two windows so far and taken turns to eat the chocolate!

First Post from the Field!

We arrived in the field!

This is our first post from the field using our satellite phone and laptop! If you’re reading this then our system is working well!

The four of us and all our gear left McMurdo at 13:15 via a Bell 212 helicopter, followed by a convoy of 4 separate flights. The weather on the Walcott Glacier was cloudy which meant we couldn’t get the helicopter into the area we wanted, so we had to land lower down the Walcott Glacier and pitch our camps near the junction of the Radian and Walcott Glaciers. Although the weather was cloudy there was no wind and we were able to pitch our camp with no problem. Our camp consists of two Scott polar tents (yellow pyramid shaped) and an Endurance tent (black red and white tunnel shape). We also setup our solar panels, radios, and skidoos.

Jo cooked us a delicious dinner in our new home – pasta, bacon and carbonara sauce – a nice change from McMurdo food. We also ate the first chocolate out of Jo’s advent calendar!

Tomorrow we’ll start work mapping and sampling the area around our camp.  So we’ll update everyone on what we find in the next couple of days.

Epic Helicopter Schedule!

We are finally on the schedule to fly out into the field tomorrow! We completed our skidoo training this afternoon (we’ll try to post some photos of that soon), so we’re good to go. The weather looks great for tomorrow, so fingers crossed we’ll be able to get into our field area!

We have about 4000lbs worth of gear (including all our food, fuel, tents, and 2x Tundra skidoos), so we need a few (four!) helicopter flights to get everything in. A copy of our flight schedule for tomorrow is below. It is pretty epic, involving four different helicopters flying various parts of our gear in. Co-ordinating all of this is going to be a challenge, but it should also be a lot of fun! Hopefully in the next day or two we will be able to send our first post from the field!

Here’s a video we took yesterday of a helicopter sling loading a skidoo into the field (this one was headed to Mt. Erebus)

Bell 212 Sling loading a skidoo

These schedules are a little complex, but we thought you might like to see the level of planning needed to make sure everything works as it should. The letter/Number in the gray box is the number of the Helicopter, our event number is G-064, PAX passengers, MCM = McMurdo, MP = Marble Point (a refueling station), SVB = survival bags that need to be carried while flying, External Cargo = sling load, a load carried under the helicopter, Duration GT = ground time – the time the Helo is on the ground. RON = remaining overnight = we’re staying in the field!