Sunday, December 28, 2014

Post Christmas Blues

No, I'm not feeling down, or suffering from seasonal affective disorder like those of you in the Northern Hemisphere.  The "Post Christmas Blues" is in reference to the water in the Dry Valleys rapidly undergoing the conversion from the usual solid white state to the liquid blue state.  I know, it's cheesy but I needed a title...

Yesterday we left the comforts of the Lake Hoare camp and flew up Taylor Valley for Blood Falls again.  The flow was higher on the streams in this area than they were when we visited a week ago on my first day in the field.  After we collected what we needed for these streams we headed down the valley to Bohner (pronouced Bahn - er, the helo pilots get a kick out of mispronouncing this stream...) and Priscu streams.  We took the helo back to Lake Hoare to pick up some bacon and other tasty treats and we flew them back to our home at F6.  We will be eating well!

When we got back someone had to hike back up to Canada Glacier to pick up our ATV that we left up there when we originally hiked up to Lake Hoare.  This is only about an hour hike from F6 and I volunteered for the job to walk off some of the Christmas calories I consumed over the past couple of days.  The weather was beautiful, around 32 deg F, and not much wind.  This was my solo first hike, and some of the first alone time I have had in the Valleys and it was spectacular.  I noticed a lot of things when I was out hiking alone.  The first thing I noticed was the lack of noise.  It was just complete silence, which of course I had to interrupt with a couple of shouts that made their way back to me after a couple of seconds.  Needless to say the silence was pretty awesome.  Here is a picture I took on my hike.

Another thing that began to sink in was the magnitude of this landscape.  I could see the glacier I was headed for from my camp.  It looked as if I could make it there in about half an hour, but it took twice the time.  Also, there is no movement here at all.  There is not a single animal, aside from the rarely seen occasional skua, to catch your eye.  The simplicity and peaceful nature of this place is a unique experience for me and quite amazing.  However, the complete desolation of the landscape reminds me that we are out of our element here.

Anyways, I got to our ATV after about an hour of hiking and I struggled to find a place to cross the melting moat.  I tried a few spots, but the ice was too soft.  I finally found a rock where I could get out a couple feet from the shoreline, then I quickly shuffled across the thin ice.  Don't worry the depth around the moats is never more than a foot or two, but wet boots are no fun.  I grabbed the ATV and decided to pick up some glacier berries while I was down by the glacier.  Glacier berries is a new term to me, and they are the chunks of glaciers that break apart when a large chunk of the glacier calves and hits the ground, or lake ice.  We melt these "berries" for our drinking water which is pretty cool.  Someone told me these glaciers are around 2000 years old, so we are apparently drinking water that was frozen around the time Jesus was around which is really interesting to think about.  This pile of berries was  on the lake ice so I drove up to them, harvested my berries, threw them in the back of the ATV and headed on home.  It is funny because you do have to "pick" the berries because they thaw a bit and freeze to the lake ice so it takes some effort to dislodge them.  They are pretty big too, I'd say the average one I grabbed was about 30 lbs.

I booked it back to Camp F6 on the ATV and apparently my "NSF approved" driving busted up some of the berries on the way home... oops.  I headed in and helped one of my teammates process the stream samples we had taken.  This consists various filtering and sub-sampling of the samples to send them off to McMurdo for further processing.  It is amazing the amount of precautions we use when handling these samples, so not to contaminate them.  I have never had any experience with water chemistry sampling so although this stuff is tedious it is good experience.

Today we had a full day measuring flow and sampling all of the streams flowing into Lake Frixell which is the lake our home base, F6, is located on.  We traveled around on the ATV to get from stream to stream.  Out of the 12 streams we visited, there were 7 flowing which will likely continue to increase as the summer progresses.  Here is a picture of Canada Stream which was flowing pretty good today.

It was a full day today.  We hit the lake at about 10:00 am to start sampling, and we made it back to F6 at around 6:00 pm.  Nothing extremely notable happened today, other than the fact that I stepped through the moat in about a foot of water and soaked my boots.  I should have tested the ice, but it was the same location that I used to get off of the lake no more than an hour before.  I hopped on, and boom one foot went through, and I used the other one to push me back to shore, which went in as well.  Luckily I had wool socks on.  As far as I am concerned wool socks are the greatest thing that has ever happened to footwear.  My feet were completely soaked, but warm for the rest of the day.

Just a random cool photo I found that I took today of the Canada Glacier.

Another notable thing was we saw the great Kiwi t-bone.  It is a t-bone left over from a steak that the Kiwi's had left from a camp many many years ago.  It is funny because it is still well preserved and you can still see some residue of some fat on it.  

We just processed samples, and ate dinner tonight.  I have a feeling flows are going to be low tomorrow, and thus there won't be much to do.  There is a huge mass of clouds to the west, up the valley, and that is the stretch of sky the sun occupies during the "night" here.  If the sun stays covered up all night, the lack of solar radiation heating up the ground and the glaciers will shut the majority of our streams off.  The direct influence of the sun on the hydrology here is really unique and very interesting to observe.

I am going to go read a bit, then hit my -40 degrees rated sleeping bag.  I will likely post tomorrow if these clouds don't disperse.  Good night!


  1. Beautiful photos! That profound silence and nothing moving - your great description takes me right back to it. The monumental scale and presence of Place becomes so immediate and amazing as a full/all senses experience. The sampling reminds me - when I was there or around that time the Russians found an enormous lake very deep underground (a mile? Thousands of meters?) and wanted to drill into it. Science community went nuts worried about contamination of that water. The streams - running water ... I'd liked to have seen a real stream, I only remember vast sleepy areas of wet at McMurdo. I like the Blood Falls you posted pics of a few days ago; there's so litte color in the volcanic rock, that must be like a screaming party of color. Drinking 2000 yr old water ... You're the bridge over history, like a time warp :-) driving around on thin ice with an atv - better you than me haha - hoorah for wool socks!!! Hope the clouds aren't a big blizzard ... Unless you want a big storm for a change of pace ha

  2. (Frixell, Bohner, L Hoare ... Love these names coming to life through your descriptions - places I wanted to go and never got to! L. Natalie)

  3. We really like reading your blogs, they are very descriptive! Sounds like you are getting plenty of exercise, it finally snowed here (2 days after Christmas!), so we can finally do some cross country skiing. We are missing you at the holidays, but sounds like you are having a blast down there!
    Love ma 'n' pa