Field Update: Nov. 3, 2010

The next morning we woke to clear blue skies and the outlook for driving the remaining 60 miles to Coulman High appeared bright. We had parked the Pisten Bully (PB) close to the side of a row of containers, in a gap that allowed us to plug in the heater for the engine into the mobile generator. The containers that the tractors had brought with them the previous day were arranged in rows, along with the containers, fuel tanks and sledges that were already transported to the site beyond the Shear Zone the previous week.

We all began to get ready for the long day ahead, which involved warming up the vehicles as well as ourselves, breaking free the runners on the sledges and hooking up the tractors to the load straps that were used to pull the sledges and containers in lines behind the tractors. Snow blown by the wind had drifted in spots, so the tractors went to work clearing drifted snow and getting the containers organized in suitable loads, with appropriate weights for each of the “prime movers” (that’s what these tractors are called by the USAP because they do the heavy hauling for the program). Each of the vehicle operators knew their tasks well, and no time was lost getting everything ready to go. Meanwhile, the PB crew got the radar set up again and prepared to set out in advance of the rest of the party. It seemed a bit like a wagon train from the wild West in the U.S., hauling all of our possessions to a new land, which in a way it was for the ANDRILL Coulman High Project, recognizing that for almost 40 years the majority of previous Antarctic scientific drilling projects have been operating in the Victoria Land Basin to the west of McMurdo Station and Scott Base.

We fell back into our GPR routine, driving, stopping, driving again while trying to move in a straight line across the featureless ice shelf using local landmarks (mountains) or even clouds to help orient our direction of travel.

Dar Gibson road close behind us on the skidoo trailing a sled filled with flags tied to bamboo poles that he stuck into the snow at ¼ mile intervals. We made good time and kept moving to stay ahead of the tractors as they pulled their loads across the ice, keeping their distance from the PB, which was doing the surveying, to ensure that they didn’t have to stop often and thereby lose the momentum of their motion across the ice shelf. The time flew by and we continually advanced on our goal of covering the 60 miles to Coulman High as quickly as possible while looking for any anomalies in the ice that could indicate potential hazards such as crevasses. We were often bored, but we persevered in our task for the sake of safety and were rewarded several hours later when we reached the GPS coordinates of the northernmost oceanographic mooring site at Coulman High and finally slowed the PB to a halt at our destination. Dar had been riding the skidoo and flagging for 60 miles, staying warm in his ECW (extreme cold weather) gear, with a wind at his back. Suz helped for the last 10 miles – thankful to be able to escape the rear compartment of the PB and get outside!!

We looked back into the distance and saw the line of tractors coming our way, determined to meet us and put on a show by demonstrating their coordinated driving ability. They parted in rows and circled around as we watched in amazement at their ability to control the sledges behind them without effort and position them in nice even rows closely spaced together.

We were where we needed to be and had accomplished our objective by reaching Coulman High from the Shear Zone in one day without incident.

We setup camp, turned on the generators, communicated with McMurdo to tell them that we had arrived and all was well, and then got ready for a well-deserved meal after snacking on sandwiches and energy bars the whole way.

It was time to celebrate – our season was off to a great start and our team had accomplished almost everything we had set out to do on this traverse. All that was left was to survey the 20-mile loop around the four primary sites that we would occupy for the rest of the season, which we would do in the morning. We would then head back to meet the New Zealand traverse that would be leaving on Friday, November 5. We focused on our camp chores, serviced the vehicles, and got ready for sleep – all the while with the sun shining brightly in the sky! It’s great to be in Antarctica on a clear day!!

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