It’s been over ten days since our much anticipated put-in to Taylor Glacier, and we are only now beginning to settle in to a regular daily routine here at camp. As things are going well now and it’s been some time since our last blog entry, I thought I’d write a bit about put-in and all the work, collaboration and (best of all) helicopter flights that took place to make it happen.
Put-in of the I-159 team occurred over a two day period, with helicopters dropping off our priority cargo at the campsite up to five days in advance. The first day people were dropped at the camp was Monday, November 17th. That morning, helicopters began shuttling both people and cargo to Taylor Glacier at 9am. The first group of people to go in was a team of five carpenters, or “carps” as they are commonly referred to here. They were tasked with the difficult job of building our fixed structures for the kitchen and dining tent, the lab “Rac Tent” and the enclosure for the large melter, all of which would take until Thursday to complete. I imagine that there are few other carpenters who commute to work on helicopters and level floors on blue ice.
Next to fly in were Kathy and Michael, along with Nicky and Kerry from the BFC. They arrived at 2:30pm and spent the afternoon hauling and sorting cargo, getting the Polar Haven operational and setting up camp. The last people to arrive on Monday were Andy, Jayred and Jake, departing McMurdo on a 7:45pm flight and arriving to Taylor Glacier at 8:30pm. Stepping off the helicopter, the first thing that struck me (aside from the realization that the stabil-icers I was wearing had already fallen off) was the incredible cliff face towering into the clouds above the camp. The rock in the hill was layered, with a dark dolorite intrusion contrasting sharply with two light-colored granite layers above and below. There wasn’t much time to admire the scenery however… there was much to do. Activities on the glacier that first evening included setting up mountain tents and drilling lots of “V-Threads” to anchor down tents into the ice. All the while, helicopters announced their approach with a reverberation booming up the valley, and we’d all pause our work to help unload cargo from the helicopters.
The next morning the work continued. After breakfast the endurance tent was raised and the floor to the Rac Tent began to be constructed. Around midday, Vas, Ed, Rachel, Sarah and Thomas arrived on a 212 helicopter and the Taylor Glacier population grew to a bustling 17 people. More tents were constructed and more cargo was delivered, hauled, sorted and tied down. Looking up the glacier, the clouds still remained low in the sky and those of us who were here for the first time could only guess at the true magnificence this place; we caught occasional glimpses of distant snow-swept peaks and immense glaciers pouring down through endless valleys. It would be another day before the wind and clouds lifted and the sky cleared.
In the following days the Rac Tent was completed and the lab began to be setup and equipment carried in. The two drilling teams – Thomas and Sarah on the Sidewinder and Jayred and Jake on the Blue Ice Drill – were able to begin pulling up ice cores near camp, and semblance of what our days might begin to look like took shape. More helicopters arrived, carrying everything from fuel and generators to lab equipment and sleds. Unloading gear from helicopters as their rotors and engines roared above our heads studded the calmness of working on the beautiful glacier with bursts of excitement and adrenaline.
Things have reached equilibrium at camp now and everyone has settled into their daily routines, whether it is drilling ice, analyzing samples or managing camp. Three times a day we all get together and pack into the Polar Haven to escape the wind and cold, warm up and eat a hearty meal. The peculiarities of living here have become normal – walking on sun-cupped ice, waking up extra early to allow ample time to get dressed and put on boots without standing up, dealing with everything left in a tent freezing solid, etc. It is an amazing place and these little things all add to the allure and unusualness of living and working in an Antarctic field camp.