Thursday, 4 September 2014

I slept with an Apple!

So something that has been out of the ordinary lately is the amount of time we have been spending up on the Antarctic Plateau at Woop Woop. I'm sure everyone remembers my blog from when we travelled up there to retrieve all the equipment that was being used during the summer when I fluked 'that' Aurora Australis shot...

Anyway, the reason for Woop Woop's existence is as a summer skiway for any fixed wing operations in the area once our sea ice deteriorates. The fuel that the aircraft use, ATK/Jet A-1 which come in 200L drums is typically flown to Woop Woop via helicopter during the summer. This winter, it was decided that a more cost effective method of resupplying Woop Woop with fuel would be to modify some of our Smiths Sleds and tow fuel up behind the Prinoth BR350 Snowgroomers.

Modifying a Smiths Sled

Also happening at the same time is planning and preparing for a traverse across the Sorsdal glacier to the Rauer group of islands which is the closest landmass to the Vestfold hills where we are currently. Sarah and Alyce, our wintering marine scientists need to get over there to carry out a never before achieved winter sampling program on the lakes in the area.

Here is a map which shows exactly what I am talking about and how we plan on getting there.

Map of our 'Backyard'

Preparation for the traverse involves lots of training. The trip comes with inherent risks such as crossing crevasses on a glacier, extended periods in the extreme cold and wind on the Plateau and living from a camp-site at a hut for near to a week. So a logical decision was made to kill two Skuas with the one stone and head up to Woop Woop and camp for a night to 'experience' what we may be up for and also combine it with preparations for our Prinoth 'fuel runs'.

Lugging the machinery

Camping on solid ice at an altitude of 600m is an interesting experience to say the least. We had a pretty constant temperature of below -30deg and a persistent breeze of 20kts which really forced you to consider how to setup the camp. We went with four 'Polar Pyramid' tents with two people per tent. Unfortunately I didn't take any photos of the camp as it was purely too cold, not for my camera, but for me. Once the tent was erected and the beds made the last thing on my mind was standing outside to take happy snaps.

Inside the tent, we positioned the two beds on the outside and had a storage and cooking area in the middle. During cooking dinner the temperature inside the tent mercifully rose to a balmy -6deg but also had the effect of drastically humidifying the air and acting like a sauna! Once our bellies were full the decision was made to retire to the sleeping bags and camping mats to make use of the 'warmth' we had created.

When you are in a place that is twice as cold as your Freezer at home it is crucial to use any heat available. This means putting anything that may ice up in the sleeping bag with you. I had my drink bottle (need liquid water for the morning), Pee bottle (I wasn't getting out of that sleeping bag for ANYTHING), Torch (batteries die pretty quick here), boot liners and socks (nobody finds frozen feet fun) and an Apple (for breakfast).

I found it a bit tricky getting to sleep, not because I was trying to sleep in a frozen 'supermarket' but because as you breathe out, you exhale moisture from your breath which of course instantly freezes and leaves nice little ice crystals on your beard and eyelashes. I somewhat bypassed this by covering myself entirely apart from a small hole for fresh air and managed to sleep for almost 12 hours!!

The morning involved packing everything up and returning to station. The experience was invaluable not just due to the stories we gained from the trip but also knowing what we could be in for if we have an issue on the traverse and just how much cold each of us can tolerate.

Back down the hill

Since I have no photos of the camping itself, ill leave you all with some from the fuel trip proper which were taken in the same area but a few days later.

Loaded up the day before

The convoy

Pretty amazing morning for it!

Picking a path through the icebergs

About to start the ascent

Pretty average weather at Woop Woop

Pesky bergs getting in the way...

They do look amazing in the right light though! (HDR shot)

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