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Wrapping up at WAIS

Posted February 3rd, 2009 by

Name: Logan Mitchell
Date: January 27, 2009
Location: McMurdo Station, Antarctica
Time: 10pm
Latitude: 77°50′46.42″S
Longitude: 166°39′59.78″E
Elevation: 34m (112’)
Borehole depth: 1511.951 m! <- Final depth for the season!
Temperature: -3°C
Wind speed: 5-10knots
Wind Chill: -8°C
Visibility: Unrestricted
Precipitation: None
Animals: 3 Skua and many seals
Breakfast: Eggs, pancakes, plum.
Lunch: hummus wrap with ***lettuce, green peppers, onions!!!*** and a plum.
Supper: A huge salad w/ all the fixins!!! Blueberry cheesecake for
dessert! And a plum!

The WAIS crew with the final ice core of the season

The WAIS crew with the final ice core of the season

The past few days have been incredibly busy! On Thursday night we finished drilling the last meter of ice core for the season, and most of camp came down to the drilling arch for the event. It was the most photographed ice core this season! Once the core was safely pushed out of the drill into a core handling tray, we all congratulated each other with a well deserved glass of whiskey. We all had a lot to be happy about: the two main goals for this season were to get through the brittle ice and also to get past 1500m. Not only did we accomplish both of these, but we finished a day early!

On Friday we started cleaning up which included lowering the final racks of ice core trays down into the basement, securing the trays on the carts for the winter, turning off the AC units (which was cause for more celebration!), packing all of our tools and office supplies up for the season, and general tidying up of the arch. With everyone working, things went pretty fast and we were finished by Saturday afternoon. In the evening I began to collect everyone’s pictures on my external hard drive to facilitate everyone sharing their photos with everyone else. This was kind of like herding cats, but by Sunday morning I had finally done it. On Sunday morning we helped take down the Jamesway that we had used all season and packing up the last few things. It was amazing to me that in the span of two and a half days, we went from production drilling to being completely done with packing and disassembling the Jamesway…the transition was very abrupt. A positive side of all of this was that since production drilling was over, we all transitioned to a single shift and were working the normal 8 am to 6 pm hours that the rest of camp was working. This was great because it was the first time since we started production drilling on December 22, 2008 that I was able to work with and hang out with my fellow core handlers whom I had become such good friends with.

The weather on Sunday began to improve and since our work was done, we were all scheduled to fly out on Monday. This was my last chance to take care of things at WAIS that I had put off, or didn’t have time to do. One of these things was setting up a slackline which is like tight rope walking, but using tubular webbing that stretches when you walk on it. This turned out to be really easy: we attached one end to a Tucker (large tracked vehicle) and attached the other end to the large 953 bulldozer, and drove the 953 a little bit away to tighten it! This was a lot of fun and I kind of wish that I had thought of this earlier in the season. Another thing that I had always wanted to do but didn’t have the time/energy was to go on a run away from camp until I couldn’t see camp anymore and was just out in the middle of nowhere. So, I told someone in camp exactly where I was going and when I was coming back (in case something went awry) and then headed out. After jogging for an hour with nothing but the sun and the horizon in view and the sound of snow squeaking under my feet, I turned around and saw that camp was just a speck on the horizon, barely visible. All around me, in all directions all I could see was flat white ice sheet, the sun in the sky, and a few scattered clouds. This was a great moment for me filled with so many emotions: happiness, accomplishment, extreme aloneness (but not loneliness), and isolation. And I was cold. I took some photos and headed back. I am pretty sure that where I was jogging, no human being had ever stepped before.

On Monday the flight arrived right on schedule, right after lunchtime. We all spent the morning taking down our tents, taking the last few pictures, and saying our last goodbyes to the people who were staying behind. The camp population was at ~45 people and 23 are leaving on our flight, and another 9 will be leaving on the next flight scheduled for Tuesday. The remaining people will take down the rest of the buildings in camp and should be leaving around February 7th.

The flight was pretty uneventful except that as we were taking off the pilots buzzed camp which scared the bejesus out of me because we were flying so low. Getting back to McMurdo has been very interesting and is making me wonder what it will be like to get back to New Zealand. There are so many people here that I don’t know! And there is fresh fruit & vegetables available at every meal! Holy moly! Even though the plums are as hard as a rock and are extremely sour, I eat one at every meal. The temperature here is very mild compared to WAIS, it is barely freezing. There is flowing water along all of the streets. The main ship that resupplies McMurdo with food and equipment will be here in a few days and an icebreaker vessel has cleared a channel through the McMurdo Sound, so I can see ocean water! I walked down to the icy water and looked in and saw some algae growing in it: the first living plant that I’ve seen in 9 weeks. There are lots of seals and skua around, and I am hoping to see a penguin, but I think my chances are pretty small. If I see one, this blog will be the first to know about it.

Well, that’s all for now. We have a few errands to do here in McMurdo, but mostly I’m spending my time catching up on email, reading
about what our new President has been up to, planning my trip to New Zealand, and resting. I’m scheduled to fly back to New Zealand on January 30.

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