There were 4 of us on the bench seat because we had so much extra cargo on board... but they let me have the window seat because it was my first helicopter flight!
I was chosen as one of the four carpenters to go out to Granite Harbor to pull out the field camp that had been established there for ANDRILL (www.andrill.org
). Granite Harbor (~100 miles north along the mainland coastline) that had been established for the ANDRILL team to do test drilling (of sea ice and sediment cores) for a few weeks after which we were called in to take it down. It was AMAZING- the 50 minute helicopter ride each way was the craziest thing! We flew really low at one point to ride parallel to the glaciers stuck in the sea ice and actually touched down on a chunk of B-15 (the infamous glacier that broke off of West Antarctica in 2001 that was a wake-up call about global warming- it's featured in An Inconvenient Truth) which was surreal! Since it was my first helo ride they let me sit facing forward so I could take in the whole experience. Don't worry, I took tons of photos and videos…
We worked pretty hard the first day to take down the Rack Tent (semi-circular rubbing with canvas blankets stretched across the top) and bundle it (and all the really heavy fuel bottles
and miscellaneous camp equipment) up to be sling-loaded back to McMurdo by the helicopters. Each "net bundle" or "Christmas package" had to be less than 2,000lbs and many of them came very close so it was hard work in all of our ECW gear to move it all into position. Throughout the day a few helos flew over and Ben, one of my fellow carps, practiced his technique of standing very still with the sling-load loop outstretched above his head while the helo flew down low and hooked it into the underbelly of the aircraft. I tried to take a video of this craziness but almost got blown over (from the rotor-spin and blowing snow pelting me in the face) and finally got a clear shot on the 3rd try. I'll post the video as soon as our internet speed improves and I master the technology…
Near the end of the day we eyed the granite cliffs in the distance and even though they appeared to be very close it took us almost an hour to walk across the frozen harbor to reach them on foot. I am now one of the only people who can say that I WALKED
Another chunk of B-15
This is the famous iceberg that broke off of west Antarctica in 2001 that is an early indicator of global warming... plus it's been messing with the McMurdo ice melting patterns ever since it got lodged in this area. The scientists are all keeping their fingers crossed that this will be the year that it finally drifts out to the ocean and open waters will return to McMurdo...
TO MAINLAND ANTARCTICA! Right along the land edge there were many crevasses and melt pools due to the constant pressure of the sea ice bumping up against the fixed land mass. The crevasses were hard to walk over, incredible to photograph, and meant that SEALS were bound to be plentiful! There were about a dozen mothers and pups laying around on the ice near the air holes; some were nursing, others were coaxing the youngins into the water for a swim, and a few pups were eerily calling out to their "lost" mothers in a seal-speak that sounded strangely like English…We bounced around on the rocks (it felt so incredible to have treads underfoot and not be climbing snow, ice or volcanic ash as I have become accustomed to) and scoped out this unique spot- everywhere else on Antarctica is covered in snow and ice and only 1% of the continent is actually exposed terrain! Later on we returned to what was left of our camp, cooked a great dinner on a Coleman stove and slept in the Polar Haven structure. We then took down that building the next morning, and kept our fingers crossed that the helicopter would be
able to return to pick us up- otherwise we would have had to pitch tents!
The second day we were done by 10AM and the helicopter didn't pick us up until 5PM so we had all day to walk over to take photos of the mother and pup seals laying in the sun along a crack further out in the sea ice that we had noticed as we flew in the day before. It was so warm and windless that we all took off our coats and actually felt bad for the blubber-encased seals who were undoubtedly pretty toasty in the baking sunshine. We then took a nap on our bags in the sunshine (I lathered on sunscreen 3 times and still got pink cheeks- it's amazing what living under the ozone hole will do to your skin!). It was so peaceful and beautiful because the winds were calm and the 360* views were stunning. It was hard work keeping up with my 3 Alaskan coworkers who are all way over 6' but felt good to "rough it" for the evening and enjoy a rarely visited blip on the Antarctic map. Plus, I got to walk to mainland Antarctica for
Granite Harbor field camp
This is the view from the helo before we removed the camp. There had been a team of ANDRILL scientists here for the last month or so drilling test cores from below the sea ice to determine if this will be the next location they choose to drill sediment cores to determine climate patterns of the Antarctic continent and thereby model the future of the ice sheets. Pretty cool shit, I tell ya.
the first time which is something that not many can say they have done and the helo ride touching down on B-15 will forever remain in my top 10 most amazing experiences, no matter what comes next in my life...
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