Professor Michael Ashley is currently in Antarctica, to deploy a telescope at Ridge A, approximately 850km from South Pole. This is the second instalment of Professor Ashley’s Antarctica Diaries. You can read the previous instalments by following the links at bottom of the article.
Final Inspections Before McMurdo
Today is our last chance for us to meet various critical support personnel in McMurdo Station prior to heading to the South Pole. We meet with the fixed-wing coordinator at 9am to discuss the schedule of the Twin Otter flights from Ridge A to the South Pole, what cargo we can transport, and other details. Our flights will schedule for the week commencing January 16, 2012. We find that 800 litres Jet-A1 fuel, which we require, has been deliver to a location called AGAP-South. It is located approximately 200km from Ridge A.
We meet at 10:15 with MacOps the McMurdo communication centre to discuss our communication needs (Iridium Satellite phones, high frequency radio (HF)) and protocols for coms. Every morning, Ridge A residents must check in with MacOps by Iridium at 8am. They will attempt to contact us if we fail to check in by 8am. If they are unsuccessful within an hour, a full-scale emergency response will be initiate.
While we don’t wish to cause that, it is comforting to know that the US Antarctic Program has a lot of resources behind our project. There are approximately 200 people currently living in remote locations across the continent. They also have about 30 camps. Mac Ops keeps photos of each team member on a noticeboard, so that they can identify the person calling in. The highest and remotest camp will be our field camp.
We meet again with Loomy, the mountaineer who is accompanying us on Ridge A, just before lunch to finalize our survival gear and clothing inventory. We did a 4.6km loop to Grey Dome on the opposite side to McMurdo to Observation Hill. The views were spectacular, as shown in the photo below.
As I crossed one ridge, I saw a familiar green-and gold-coloured hut. This was the AASTO, the Automated Astrophysical Site Test Observatory. It was a project that UNSW’s team started in 1997. The AASTO collect data at the South Pole for a while and was originally intend to be transport to Dome A via LC-130.
Bumped By a Day
We discovered that we had been delayed from today’s flight towards the Pole. Tomorrow will be our next flight. The three-letter airport code that is used for the South Pole skiway, NPX, is quite interesting. The fact that the South Pole Station was first established by the US Navy is why the N stands in for Navy. I have been reading Deep Freeze by Dian O. Belanger. It describes how the US established bases in Antarctica in the 1950s to support the International Geophysical Year (1957/58).
Makes you appreciate all the pioneers work. It took 14 hours to fly from Christchurch to McMurdo, as opposed to the current five hours. This was the maximum distance at that time. To give crew members some hope of survival in the event of an aircraft having to abandon ship, four ships were placed at 400km intervals.
Campbell and Luke, younger members of my research group, have a special connection to Scott Base nearby. They have visited it several times during our McMurdo stay. Since 1957, there has been a rugby match between these two stations. I’m told that the Americans have never won one.
The Mount Terror Rugby Club is the American name for the club, but it can’t match the blood-curdling haka of New Zealand’s Maori players. Later, when I look at the Pegasus runway from the rugby field, I find that there is only one set of goal posts. This could be a reason for the American failure?
Gorgeous Blue-Sky Day
Today is a gorgeous blue-sky day without clouds or wind. I took the opportunity to hike up Observation Hill again and capture the stunning panorama. Now that Mount Erebus has been completely clear of clouds, it’s stunning. At the top of Ob Hill, I feel the wind pick up, and I quickly retreat down the steep slopes to warmth.
We will be doing bag drag tomorrow at 6:30pm. Bag drag is when you must collect all of your luggage and bring it to MCC (the Movement Control Centre). The flight attendant will weigh your checked baggage and then palletize it. You can keep one small bag for carry-on until you board the plane. MCC is located on top of a hill so Bag drag is an appropriate title. The bags can be awkward and heavy and you will need to bring your ECW (Extreme Cold Weather Gear) and heavy boots to check in.
Recreational Travel Antarctica
We will be attending a 30-minute safety talk on recreational travel from McMurdo at 7pm. This allows us to visit some of the slightly-further-afield sites, such as a 10km loop. It is important to follow the trail to Castle Rock as it is mark with flags. A few years ago, hikers tried to follow a trail but ended up walking straight along a thin snow layer that covered a crevasse. It can appear like a trail because the snow tends sink into the crevasse. The snow bridge gave way after a few kilometres and one hiker fell into the crevasse. They were rescue by McMurdo’s rescue team.
Three hikers made a decision to shorten their trip to Scott Base, at the end the Castle Rock loop in 1986. Two fell into a crevasse 20 meters deep, but the third managed to stay on top and was able get help. They had already lost their companions when they reached the surface.Categories: Uncategorized