Summer came on January 4th. Since that time it has been autumn at F6. Our flight to the Miers Valley on the 7th was cancelled due to weather, so we went out and worked gauges around Lake Fryxell. I was measuring flow on Aiken Creek that evening in a heavy snow storm–small fluffy drifts were forming in the gauge box where I had left the door open for roughly an hour while I made the measurement. We had a nice pasta dinner that night.
The next morning Helo Ops had us back on the schedule for Miers. This time we were making a stop at a new location in the Garwood Valley, where we would make a flow measurement and grab samples. Pilot Kareem dropped us off in 08 Hotel, and left us with instructions to call Helo Ops on the Iridium and ask them to come get us if the ceilings started dropping. Problem was, when we unloaded our packs we realized the Iridium was back on the table at F6.
We’re not supposed to be dropped off anywhere without two forms of communication. One is our VHF handheld transceivers and the second is the Iridium. So, at that moment we were at odds with the rules. But, there wasn’t much we could do about it, since in the Garwood and Miers Valleys there are no repeaters (automated radio relay stations) that are necessary for the hand-held radios to connect to anyone that is not close by and in your line of sight. But, there was a crew of carps (carpenters) setting up a camp at Lake Colleen, just 300 meters away, who would have an Iridium, and 36 Julie was flying up and down the valley with sling loads of camp equipment for the carps. So, we were OK for the moment.
But, if we could not find an Iridium, we could not go to our two stops the Miers Valley. No one wants to mess with marginal weather in the Miers even with good comms, but it would be nuts to go there with no comms. The issue is not so much our safety–we would have plenty of resources left with us in the form of the survival bags–but the safety of the people who would risk their lives to come rescue us once they realized we were stuck out there with no communication.
To make a long story short, Mikey walked to the carps and used their Iridium to scrounge a loaner that Kareem brought out on our pickup flight. Helo Ops is a full-service organization.
In the Miers, we kept a close eye on the ceilings, which fluctuated down and up–nerve wracking. In the end we completed all our work and made it home safely.
For me, this meant a trip to Mactown. I stayed on the helo at F6 and went into town to get a shower and wash some clothes. While I was there, the weather got worse, and a trip by Mikey and Rob to the Bonney basin on Saturday was scratched. In fact, there was little flying on Friday and none on Saturday. Things were getting backed up. I barely got back to F6 on Monday, along with our Principle Investigator, Diane. We had plans for Tuesday, but Antarctica had a different idea–a substantial snow storm rolled in. We did domestic chores and I rehabilitated the SS Von Guerard so that we could use it to get to the ATV. We’d need the ATV to get fuel if we needed to fire up the generator to supplement our dwindling supply of solar electricity. There was enough snow that we actually had some drips from leaks in the F6 roof.
Today we finally got out to the Bonney basin, to do our standard stream measurements but also so Diane could take algae samples. After an hour we heard 36 Hotel returning–weather was closing at the mouth of the Taylor Valley and we needed to grab our gear and hotfoot it back to the landing zone so Scott could take us back to F6. We got quite a bit done at Lawson Creek, and the Santa Fe Stream, but we need to go back to finish algae and water sampling, and we still need to get to Bohner Creek. We’ll be trying tomorrow. If we succeed, we’ll be on schedule for last Saturday. We’ll need to go immediately to the Wright Valley. One must not get obsessive about schedules in Antarctica.