After two and a half weeks of fattening up for the cold, we’ve finally left for the Dry Valleys. There are a lot of inane steps that occurred prior to us leaving, but if I ever get bored enough to write a blog post specifically to bore you, I’ll be sure to include those details. Briefly, we had to get science equipment, field equipment, food and medical supplies all together ready for being helicoptered out. It was an incredible grocery list of junk, totaling around 3800 pounds. The science equipment included 1200 hand washed bottles, which took about a week of my time. It did allow me the time to listen to my Spanish language tapes. Needless to say I scared onlookers by repeating “Hola señorita, soy el señor Sancho” to bottles for hours on end.
The food-pull was fun. Imagine a small grocery store, with the warm lighting of a damp third-world market, boxes piled in a vague semblance of order. Only here, everything was free. Steak, cereal, jams, teas, coffee, chocolate bars (over 12 types of Cadbury), everything. Since the field teams endure “harsh” conditions, we’re given a better assortment of things to choose from than those who stay in McMurdo. A limitless, endless supply of chocolate.
Medical supplies. Not much to say about it. Other than there’s more Vicodin, Percocet, and antibiotics than any human would need.
And field equipment: -40 degree sleeping bags, ice axes, crampons, pee bottles.. all the fun stuff.
After the weigh-in, our cargo was loaded onto a helicopter and we were set to leave. I could see the blades on the helo start to spin. I double-checked to make sure my seatbelt was on and my helmet strapped (it wasn’t). We started to lift off and I wished I had stayed awake for the helicopter safety video – too many buttons were within arm’s reach. After some strange screaming noise, the engine revved and we took off.
The view leaving McMurdo was incredible. As we crossed the sound separating Ross Island from the continent, Mt Erebus was still smoking in the distance. We could see the sea ice edge where the summer’s melt was breaking apart.
As we approached the continent, the first mountain range loomed in front of us. We flew through a pass between two peaks and the only word to describe the valleys is enormous. Terrain passed: mountain, glacier, mountain, glacier, mountain, glacier. It’s a cold place. We slowed as we approached Lake Hoare in Taylor Valley. Struck dumb by the scenery, I vaguely remember getting out of the helicopter, but absolutely recall the glacier that loomed over the Lake Hoare camp. I’d be sleeping right in front of it that night.
More to come on the Valleys soon, the last few days have been quite long. More pictures next time!