Sunday, December 13, 2015

I Spoke Too Soon

Oh man where has the time gone?  I began this blog post about a week ago and am just finishing it.  Well the melt was on a roll, and then I opened my big mouth.  Just like everybody had said,  it can get cold again, and things can slow down.  Well sure enough, on Monday evening some weather rolled in and started cooling things down.  Here's a picture of what it looked like up valley from F6.

It really didn't get terribly cold, the ambient temperature still felt like it was in the 30's, but the clouds really cut down the amount of solar energy reaching the glaciers and substantially reduced stream flow.  It was kind of a bummer.  I was getting my hopes up a little that this might be a big flow year (which still isn't out of the question).  The stream that flows by our camp (Von Guerard) completely stopped running which was kind of a bummer.  It was our new source of drinking water, now that the moats are too melted to chip ice.  Now we might switch to just drinking moat water from the lake.  I just asked a limnologist and she said that the lake moats are really fresh (non-saline), so we should be alright.

On Tuesday we were supposed to fly to Wright Valley to tackle a couple of projects, but from the moment we woke up we had our doubts.  The clouds were really low in the valley, and visibility is the most important factor for the helo pilots.  One pilot was explaining that flying in clouds can be pretty disorienting, and it becomes even more dangerous when flying through white clouds over a white glacier.  Sure enough we got put on a weather hold until noon.  Then we got a call from the helo coordinator who asked if we minded if our flight was moved to Wednesday.  We didn't mind, so we had to come up with a new plan for the day.  It was pretty windy out, and it would have been really easy to just hang around inside all afternoon and be lazy.  Luckily we were able to find the motivation to get dressed and head out.

It is pretty funny because it really wasn't that cold out.  The majority of last year's season was much colder than this weather and windier, but we had grown accustomed to the calm warm days last week.  We hiked out to Commonwealth, which was ambitious considering the conditions.  We brought the waders because of our river crossing experience last week, but as it usually works out, the waders were completely unnecessary this week.  We hiked back and hit Aiken on the way back.  It turned out to be a pretty productive day, and it was nice to knock those streams out early in the week.

Wednesday the helicopters were able to fly.  The weather still didn't look that great in the morning, but our flight came.  I knew we had a possibility of getting stranded in the Wright Valley so I was sure to pack some extra food.  We were meeting some carps (carpenters, not to be confused with fish) over there so they could fix a staff gauge plate we have out there.  A staff gauge plate is essentially a ruler that we have in the water for us to read the water level.  The staff plate at Vanda (which is the lower end of the Onyx River, the longest river in Antarctica) is a little crooked, as you can see in the photo below. So the idea was that the carps were going to build a new one that was straight for us.  We landed at the lower end of the Onyx River (the largest river in Antarctica) and the flow was a little bit higher than the carps had expected, and they needed to borrow our waders.  We surveyed the setup before they made any changes, so we could relate the new staff plate readings to the old one.  We finished up our regular routine of gauging the river and collecting water samples, then we hopped in the helicopter to work on our station up at the upper end of the Onyx River.

Control at Lake Vanda. You can see the crooked staff plate in the middle of the stream.

View looking downstream over Lake Vanda
Up at our gauging station called Onyx at Lower Wright Valley (very confusing because this is the beginning of the Onyx River, however it is the Lower Wright Valley because the Onyx actually flows inland from East to West.  Anyways, we hopped out of the helicopter and the pilot told us we should hurry up because the weather was closing in.  Luckily everything went smoothly and we were able to wrap everything up within an hour.

Mikey hard at work gauging the flow with our FlowTracker

Trying to show the clarity of the Onyx River.  Some of the purest water I have ever seen.

Weather rolling in.

The plan was to drop us off at Marble point (helicopter refuelling station), and the pilot would go back to Wright Valley to pick up the carps so they didn't get stuck there overnight.  We had to navigate the low lying clouds to make it back to Marble safely, but we made it back without too much issue.  We touched down and headed inside.  They have a pretty cool little set up at Marble and they seemed really excited to have guests.  We came in and were treated to cookies, and some coffee.  One of the coolest perks there that I appreciated was a TV and real couches!  We put in a movie and kicked up our feet, not knowing when we were going to be picked up and if we would make it back to F6.  After the movie we caught word over the radio that our pilot was headed back with the carps and we would be getting a ride home.  As we were leaving we couldn't help but laugh at how much we felt like little kids getting cookies, and a movie, then to top it off we were sent home with soup. All the staff at Marble were amazing, if you ever find yourself flying around the Dry Valleys I would recommend a stop.  What a great spot to get stranded for a few hours.

Marble Point.
Due to the fact that it took me a whole week to get this post up, weather conditions have changed.  Friday things began to warm up again and the streams once again are flowing at relatively high discharges.  We went on a hike yesterday up on Mount Ray right behind Lake Hoare Camp.  It was a straight up hike with a killer view.  I will be sure to post some pictures soon.  Today we have some crazy down valley winds gusting at 44 knots (50 mph).  I hope the holiday shopping is going well back home.  If you are having a hard time trying to find a gift for me, just browse Cabela's and it shouldn't take long.  Miss you all!

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