Part 6: Fieldwork III

Friday 23rd November

It has been an exciting few days as we near the end of our third week. Yesterday we had a good, fruitful day in Unnamed Valley and today we walked right to the head of Ablation Valley. We climbed to the top of The Mound, a large bedrock hump in the middle of the valley, where we found some massive boulders on the ice surface. They probably originated from a rock fall onto the glacier surface, at some unknown time ago. We also mapped and sampled some cosmo samples from the high glacier lateral moraines. At this elevation, we appear to be above the drift bearing Palmer Land granite erratics.

The warm mild weather continues with some southerlies, and the snow is melting. This evening, for the first time, there was a small pond where we were able to collect fresh water (instead of melting snow blocks). It seems we are the sledge with the best weather; a team on the Larsen Ice Shelf has been stuck in lie up for 6 days, and another team is struggling to get into the Ellsworth Mountains.

We have about 1 week left and it will take about 3 days to strike camp and man haul out to the depot. We also have about 2 days of stones to count. Hopefully the weather will continue and we should just about finish what we set out to do.

Was tired on the way home today but upon returning to the tent was somewhat revived by biscuits brown and marmite, tea, soup and manfood. We are having a treat for dinner, adding to the manfood some of the sun-dried tomatoes I bought in Punta Arenas. They add taste and texture to the rather bland (and occasionally crunchy) manfood!

Sunday 25th November

Yesterday we enjoyed a trek across Moutonnée Point, looking at the ice-shelf moraines on the far side of the lake. Walking back across the frozen lake next to the ice cliffs was spectacular. They were as large as a three storey house and blue in the strong sunlight. The ponds at the base were frozen and glittering. Unfortunately I was so preoccupied photographing the ice cliffs that I fell into the tide crack and had to be rescued by Ian. Mike got the wrong end of the stick and thought we were wrestling!

Today was another day of data entry and processing, stone counting and tent-working. We all feel refreshed and have recharged our batteries with bacon and cheese sandwiches and chicken breast and smash.

We have been given our uplift day – 30th November. That means we have five days left. Tomorrow will be a long day as we plan to trek out to Ablation Point, and then we have 6 bags of stones to count, one transect to make across a moraine, and Mike would like to take some more ice foliation measurements. Hopefully we can complete all that in three days, leaving two days to strike camp and haul our kit out to the depot. If the weather holds, I think this is achievable, and we will have had a very successful season.

Ian is to fly to Halley on the 5th, so he is glad to get back on the 30th, which will give him time to turn his kit around, sort out photos, and sort stuff out. Arriving back at Rothera on the Friday would also be good: fish and chips on Friday night; formal dinner with wine on Saturday and brunch on Sunday. Lovely.

Monday 26th November

Today we got up early and were out of camp by 0830, for a long walk to Ablation Valley via Erratic Valley. It was a pleasant walk, and fairly easy as the snow was still hard. However, the Big Melt has definitely started, and our original route through the ice has become impassable with melt ponds. They still have a skin of ice, but not thick enough to support us. This meant lots of cumbersome detours, up and down steeper slopes, which is sure to be challenging when we man-haul out all our kit for our uplift.

We had a very useful day in Erratic Valley, fitting together some of the final pieces of the jigsaw. We inspected the snout of a glacier where we saw a frozen waterfall; water was just beginning to flow out of this englacial channel once more.

Erratic Valley is very interesting, as in this valley there are overlapping valley glacier moraines and ice-shelf moraines (bearing granite), indicating that at various times the glacier has advanced and retreated and that the ice shelf has come and gone at different altitudes. We have taken cosmo samples from all the main geomorphological features in the hope of untangling this.

Although the sub-zero temperature have remained (today it was -05°C), it feels warm in the sun, which is, of course, up for 24 hours at this latitude and this time of year. The short summer season has absolutely started in earnest.

During our radio sked, we were informed that a pilot had inspected our skiway and that landing would not be possible because of sastrugi. We will speak with Rothera first thing tomorrow morning to learn if we will have to move the entire depot 2 km away, as was suggested tonight. Although we are looking forward to uplift, this task is very daunting so we are all a little demoralised.

Tuesday 27th November

Icicles

Today was our last science day. It will take the rest of the week to get uplifted. Mike and I finished the stones and a transect while Ian took a full load out to the depot. The man is a machine, and Mike and I do not know where he gets his energy! He found a suitable place for the plane to land, only 560 m from our original depot, and while Mike and I were walking home we watched a twin otter checking it out and trailing skis. We’ll find out in our sked tonight if it’s a suitable landing site.

It seems that we are to be uplifted just in time. The ice shelf and the moraines are changing daily, and soon it will be impossible for a plane to land at all.

The ice is getting dirtier as the debris melts over it

Our plan is to take a heavy load out tomorrow, and to strike camp and move out to the skiway on Thursday. We’ll overnight in a small geodesic dome tent, ready for uplift on Friday morning (we hope). Now, it all depends on the weather and the state of the skiway.

We now need to eat up all our goodies. No manfood tonight! Bacon and pesto and sundried tomatoes and dehydrated random veg and pasta, followed by hobnobs, peach slices and custard. Living it up, field-style.

So today is a day of resting and recuperating; of drinking tea and eating soup, and of mentally preparing for a long day tomorrow. We are definitely going to Fossil Bluff – again, we are very grateful to BAS for organising this – where we plan to do 4 days of fieldwork before returning to Rothera. Mike Dinn has kindly sorted out the permits for us.

The plane investigates the proposed skiway

Ian says we can request treats on the plane – perhaps a box of red wine! I have been enjoying his Glenlivet whisky, which he was kind enough to share.

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