Bumpy blue ice

(11-12-2018)

BLOG 6 10/12/18


It’s been a while since I wrote a blog, but it is because of the simple reason that not a lot happened last week. Tuesday a new group of scientists, glaciologist, was supposed to arrive and we were , also supposed, to go to Romnoes again. The game breaker was the Antarctic weather! It has been limiting our moves the whole third week here and sometimes even locking us up inside. During this week the most exciting thing was an infection of the water supply on Monday. The water we drink is actually just melted snow so an infection of the centralized system would cause severe troubles. Luckily, when the water engineer detected the bacteria the colonization was still in an early state and they were able to kill the bacteria with a hypochlorite treatment. The infection did cause some rumble amongst the people here as they were informed not to use water that evening. The next day I could let out my inner scientist, Aymar asked me to quantify the remaining free chlorine and we put the bacteria under the microscope to let everyone have a view as a sort of information campaign.

Tuesday, the news arrived that the plane carrying besides the scientists also a lot of food and parts was not going to arrive before Friday. But we were not complaining, the guys who should have been arriving that day must feel terrible with the 3 day delay and furthermore they are stuck in Novo Air Base. Not the most exciting place on the planet. With the high winds outside the choice in things to do is limited. Fitness, watching movies and helping in the kitchen gets boring rather fast so, I offered my services to Mathieu, the chief carpenter. I could help with the isolation of the garage, putting up a vapor screen and finishing the walls with OSB. Mathieu and the guys were very happy with the helping hand and so was I, feeling useful again.

Benoit and I made it our specialty to launch weather balloons in the high winds (50-60kph constant). It is impressive, barely being able to see the station from the launch site 200m away because of the amount of snow in the air and the need to have the balloon firmly between two arms while the other fills it in order to prevent the wind from tugging it away prematurely. Friday, the weather finally got better and it enabled us to check upon all the instruments that were exposed to the storm. It definitely gave us a lot of confidence to find everything in perfect working shape; they should all be able to get to the end of the season before they are brought inside again for the winter. The sunny weather should also allow planes to take off and land again right? Again bad luck for the glaciologist team, a medical evacuation on the Japanese station occupied all logistic services the whole day. Finally the next day, Saturday, the plane arrived and I went with a small team to welcome and unload the DC-3 plane. In the afternoon Manu and I went out in the field to re-flag the route to Teltet. It’s been some years since this was done and most flags disappeared so Alain asked us to put new ones. Every 200m to the mountain, we put a bright red flag indicating the safe route to follow.

On recreation day, Sunday, we immediately got to use our new route since Aymar and I went again to Teltet, this time by skidoo bringing ski’s and a snowboard. The wind of the last week has an advantage; it deposits a fresh layer of snow on the mountain slope. Perfect conditions for some winter sports. It is an incredible feeling to go down, drawing long curvy lines on the powdery slope. Snowboarding in Antarctica; with incredible views over the mountains, we both took some time to just sit in silence and let it sink in! The only downside is that there is no elevator so the only way to go up is to climb, but it is most definitely worth it!

Monday we would finally have another go to try to get to Romnoes to exchange filters. At 10 am we departed, a team of three consisting of Manu, Stefania and me on skidoo’s. The road was, like last time, rough. Consisting of deep icy holes and ridges it was difficult to maintain speed. The bumps also caused issues with the sledge and the cargo to loosen. We were really pushing the skidoo’s, trying to go fast enough to fly over the little bumps but no too fast to anticipate the big ones. After four hours we finally surpassed the point where we had to return the previous time, it already felt like a victory to me. The last 10 km another obstacle came up. Bumpy blue ice. It is beautiful but the skidoo’s have very little grip on this hard ice. It may sound like good times to do some small drifts but the fun quickly ends when the track catches a bump and nearly tips the skidoo. Again, it forced us to go slow and steady but that way we finally arrived at the site. Weather was as good as it gets and because of this we could go very easy and clean on the exchange. Following our tracks with 2 Prinoth snow tractors, a lot of trailers and a Case tractor was Alain and his machine operators. They were going to Perseus 10 km south of where we were to clear a blue ice runway for an Ilushin plane to land. Of course, we stopped on our way back to say hello, drink a coffee and thank them for creating a highway back to the station. The tracks of the big machines broke the tough ice and filled the holes creating a perfect surface for the scooters to go back to the station. Averaging 40 kph everyone in the station was surprised to see us pop up before supper started. Wednesday the final big field trip is planned, we will set up camp near the coast, 130 km away from the station and stay there for 3 days. In that time we will service the two stations there and set one new one up at breid bay right on the edge of the ice shelf.

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