Saturday, December 19, 2015

Another Wild Week

On Monday we hiked back from Lake Hoare and hit the streams on the south side of Lake Fryxell.  It was insanely windy, constantly holing at around 40 mph with gusts up to 70 mph.  We were hoping everything at camp was right where we left it, especially our tents.  When we returned we were happy to find everything still in its place.  Some of our tents were a little jostled around, but they fared much better than the tents left up at Bonney.  The Limno team had their tents up at Bonney and we heard a helo pilot announce over the radio that the remaining tents were flattened and one was completely gone (still hasn't been found).

Tuesday we flew south out of Taylor Valley, up over the Ferrar and Blue Glaciers and dropped down into Miers Valley.  It was a beautiful clear, calm day which was especially appreciated after the winds yesterday.  To give you an idea of how harsh the conditions were, we were doing our work in t-shirts.  

Miers Valley has two little glaciers, the Miers and the Adams, which sit at the upper reaches of the valley.  These two glaciers have streams that form at their terminus that share the same names as the glaciers (oddly enough).  On our first visit in late November, there was a trickle of water running through Adams Stream, while Upper Miers was dry.  Now they are both really going at around 30 cfs.  We half expected this because Renee had been in the Miers Valley earlier in the week with the Limno Team, and she had told us that the streams were raging.  She was also kind enough to take a couple of bonus water samples for us which was great!

The Outlet of Lake Miers with the beautiful Royal Society Range in the background.
These two streams flow down valley into Lake Miers, which has an outlet that flows down the valley to the McMurdo Ice Shelf.  The outlet of Lake Miers is also gauged, so we stopped here for our second stop of the day.  Mikey said that last year they never saw more than a trickle at the outlet.  This year, as you can see above, the outlet turned out to be providing a bit more than a trickle.  It turned out to be a killer blue bird day in Miers (which is not always the case), and all of our equipment was cooperating, which makes the day so much sweeter.

The Ferrar Glacier with some melt pools, and super-glacial rivers.
This picture was taken on the return flight to F6.  This is the Ferrar Glacier which consumes the next valley to the south of Taylor Valley.  From this view you can see some really crazy stuff.  Glaciers are often times described as giant rivers of ice.  You can see this description in action by looking at the parallel cracks running along the length of the glacier.  The ice at the outer edges flowing along the valley walls experiences more resistance from the walls, which causes the outside edges of the glacier to flow more slowly.  The ice in the middle of the glacier flows at a faster rate due to less resistance.  The longitudinal, parallel cracks you see are the result of the ice sections flowing at different speeds.  The pattern you see in the different speeds of ice is very similar to the different speeds of water you see in a river (with liquid water).  There are also some really cool super-glacial lakes and rivers on top of the Ferrar that are crazy shades of blue.

I was reading a new book (thanks Annie!) called The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard who was part of Robert Falcon Scott's tragic expedition to the South Pole.  In the intro he gives a bunch of Antarctic exploration history, and history on the McMurdo Sound area.  He gets into who all the geographic features were named after, which is pretty fun to learn while you are sitting in the spot he is talking about.  Anyways, he mentions Scott's first expedition and he says that Scott and a team walked up the Ferrar glacier to the polar plateau.  I just think it is a pretty special experience to be able to read about these unique historical events that unfolded right spot I am sitting.  It also amazes me how recent these events unfolded.  It was only about 100 years ago when Robert Scott reached the South Pole on January 16 1912, only to be beaten by 5 weeks by the Norwegian team lead by Roald Amundson.  I do have to say I think our life down here is slightly more plush these days.  It sounds like the majoirty of their transportation of supplies and gear was in the form of sledging (man hauled sleds).  Why they didn't use helicopters is beyond me.  They also ate a lot of seal and penguin, which unfortunately is not allowed here anymore.  Needless to say, things have come a long way in 100 years.

Gloomy morning outside of F6.
This is the scene I woke up to Wednesday morning.  We were supposed to fly over to the Wright Valley to replace a leaking nitrogen tank, but I didn't think we had a chance of flying in this weather.  About two hours later, the clouds lifted and the helicopters started flying.
View looking up Wright Valley over the Onyx River.
View from the same spot looking down Wright Valley.  If you look hard you can see the helicopter parked down there.  It was a pretty awesome little spot he found to land.  Our pilot flies heli-skiing operations in the off-season, so I don't think he was too sketched out by landing here.
After landing down at Vanda and replacing the leaking nitrogen tank, we flew up to Mt. Loke.  There is a radio receiver and a satellite phone modem here that collects our stream gauge data and met station data from Wright Valley and transmits it back to Boulder, CO.  We had to change a program on the radio because it wasn't working properly.  As you can see the view was pretty terrific.

We finally had to inflate our zodiac for crossing the moat to the ATV.  Mikey is pumped that rafting season is finally here.
The warm weather continued throughout the week.  As a result, our moats only increased in size.  It was finally time to inflate the zodiac.  You know it's been a good day when you get to travel by helicopter, boat, and ATV.  The real trick is pulling the boat up onto the lake ice far enough to step out and not fall in.  I am going to do my best this year not to join the Lake Fryxell swim club.

New double wide trailer at Lake Fryxell.  Should be some pretty sweet digs when it's all done.
Working on the rest of our Fryxell run on Thursday, we stopped by Camp Fryxell where the carpenters were working on moving the camp to a higher elevation as well as building a new hut.  The old hut was a cozy jamesway (you can see what a jamesway is below in the Lake Bonney photo), but this new one looks pretty spacious.  I wish they were completing it in time for us to break it in.
Four balled snowman at Lake Bonney
What people back home picture every day here looks like.
Friday we were planning on flying up to Lake Bonney to complete our work up there, and spend the night at Bonney Making x-mas cookies and hanging out.  The weather had different ideas for us, as it usually does.  The day started off with low dark clouds rolling through the valley.  The hillsides were getting dusted with snow, and every once in a while the valley floor would get a flurry.  We thought there was no way we were flying, so we were suprised when we heard over the radio that our helicopter took off from McMurdo.  We were picked up and flew up the valley to check out the weather.  The clouds were creating a barrier on the west edge of Lake Hoare, so we were forced to circle back and land at Hoare to wait things out.  It couldn't have been better timing because Rae had just pulled out fresh baked bagels from the oven when we landed.  We sat down, enjoyed some bagels and coffee at the local cafe on the way to work, then hopped back in the helicopter to try again.  This time the clouds had cleared enough to make it through to Bonney.  When we landed we were greeted by a four balled snowman, and some suspicious looking friends.  They were all huddled around the heli-pad and had arm fulls of something.  When we exited the helicopter (and were far enough away from it to ensure no damage was done) we were pelted with snowballs.  The snow was so much fun!  I felt like a little kid on a snow day, and it definitely helped things feel a little bit more like Christmas.  It reminded me of when I was a kid at my Grandparent's lake home for Christmas and all the cousins would go out and drive ATV's and snowmobiles on the lake ice pulling sleds and tubes behind.  Of course we would never dream of doing anything like that now that we are mature adults.

The Rhone Glacier
We headed out on the ATV at Bonney to complete our work for the day.  It was amazing how the streams reacted to the recent change in weather.  The snow on the glaciers, and the clouds blocking the sun reduced stream flow significantly, but it wasn't enough to turn them off completely.  All of our work went pretty smoothly, so we headed back to Bonney Camp for dinner and cookies.  It sounds kind of funny but it was pretty great to hang around and make/eat cookies with Christmas music on (as much as that music drives me nuts).  I have to admit I did more eating than decorating as I usually do. Oops.

Yesterday we set out from Lake Bonney and Hiked back to Lake Hoare.  We completed our work on the streams we passed on the hike back.  It was a pretty long hike, especially with a cookie hangover, and all of our sampling gear.  We are pretty beat from a busy week so the three of us are still here at Lake Hoare lounging around at 10:00 AM on a Sunday.  This is kind of unusual because normally we'd be going for a hike, but I think things finally caught up to us.

Right now I am going to get back to reading that book.  Somehow next week is already Christmas.  This season is flying by right before my eyes.  Take care everyone!

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